A former President of the Court of Appeal, Wednesday, came down hard on the Nigerian judiciary, accusing it of harbouring “corrupt elements.”
Ayo Salami, who spoke at the 10th Gani Fawehinmi annual lecture in Lagos, stated that the problem with the Nigerian judiciary is that “some dishonourable people “not fit to be judges get into the system and make it to the highest level of the judicial career.
Mr. Salami was forced to retire in October last year after serving more than 30 months suspension on the orders of President Goodluck Jonathan.
While singling out Ibrahim Auta, the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, as well as some senior lawyers, Mr. Salami noted that the common man’s quest for justice is further diminished with such characters in the judiciary.
“Another major point why the problem with the judiciary will remain unresolved or even compounded for a long time is that Nigerians do not naturally want the truth to be told. Whoever dares to tell the truth is marked for destruction,” Mr. Salami said at the event organized by the Ikeja chapter of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA.
“You members of the Bar often tell sordid stories or tales of certain high ranking serving or retired judicial officers who act as ‘arrangees’ or couriers of bribe. That is, such are engaged at a fee to reach out to judges to influence or ‘purchase’ justice in certain sensitive cases.”
Following a disagreement between Mr. Salami and Aloysius Katsina-Alu, then Chief Justice of Nigeria, over an election petition matter involving Sokoto State, the National Judicial Council, NJC, set up a series of panels to investigate some of the complaints.
Among other things, one of the panels recommended that Mr. Salami apologize to Mr. Katsina-Alu, a recommendation which the former blatantly rejected.
“I should like to let you know that in the course of my travails, the NJC set up the Auta Committee (Justice Auta is a completely junior judge or judicial officer to me) to make recommendation on the NJC Investigative Panel (Justice Umaru Abdullah’s Panel).
“This was meant to humiliate me. But God turned the humiliation to vindication for me, in that the Auta Committee adopted a laughable procedure by introducing a completely new dimension to the case without giving me any hearing at all,” said Mr. Salami.
“The issue of my breaking the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers by speaking to the Press was never raised, not to talk of being tried at the NJC Investigative Panel. The Auta Committee, however, flew above its mandate and said it took ‘judicial notice’ of the fact that I spoke to the Press and this formed part of the recommendations of his Committee which was supposed to act only on the NJC Investigative Panel’s findings,” he added.
Mr. Salami said that the Justice Auta’s panel had already set out from the outset to indict him at all cost.
“During the period, I had a case pending at the Federal High Court in Abuja to stop the proceedings before the Committee. When told by a member of the Committee that I had a case challenging their sitting at the Federal High Court and that they should not proceed on the assignment, he said they had not been served and were not inclined to stop further proceedings on the matter.
“Obviously, the conclusion was already predetermined because it is very elementary that what was important was not service but notice of the process.”
Mr. Salami said that the efforts of the current Chief Justice of Nigeria, Maryam Mukhtar, to rid the judiciary of corrupt elements are being frustrated by the crop of people calling the shots at the NJC.
“When the controversy surrounding my suspension was raging, a young member of the profession soliloquized that if Gani (Fawehinmi) were alive, he would have gone to court.
“I agree, but to which court would he have gone? An intimidated and frightened court? All it requires is a call to the head of the court and it is done,” he added.
The lecture was organized by the NBA, Ikeja chapter, and was titled ‘Nigeria at centenary: A nation still in bondage?’
But the retired judge slammed the lawyers, accusing some of their senior colleagues of contributing to the rot in judiciary.
“There are some who have the capacity to influence and intimidate the Courts and they do so with relish,” said Mr. Salami.
“I wish the Nigerian Bar Association would have the will, ability and capacity to implement the recommendations of the Okpoko Committee that carried out NBA’s independent investigation into the Sokoto Case which led to my travails.
“Unfortunately, NBA which had a good report in its hands could not impose sanctions on members of your Bar that were indicted therein (probably because ‘prominent’ senior lawyers were involved). Again, we have to leave this to history, posterity and ultimately God.
“Sometimes (and when it matters) some members of the Bar representing NBA on the NJC hardly stand up for the truth not to talk of speaking the truth,” he added.