Much has been said about Onnoghen & Salami, but what hasn’t been said is the factual truth about Salami’s 2011 suspension, then removal. You hear: “PMB suspended Onnoghen, so what? GEJ also removed Salami”. Let’s separate wheat from chaff. Let’s go….
Trouble started for the then straight shooting President of the Court of Appeal Justice Salami late first quarter of 2011. There was a background read to background at the time: politics. I’ll return to it las las
Justice Salami was promoted to the Supreme Court, which he publicly refused. Many Nigerians wondered why a judge would refuse promotion to the Supreme Court- dream of all judges
He refused and subsequently alleged that he was being punished by CJN Katsina-Alu because he refused his request to pervert justice in a case involving two heavy weights in Sokoto- Matagakarda and Bafarawa
There was bedlam. The second highest serving judicial officer accusing the top gun of corruption. Nigeria became divided: pro-Salami v Pro- Katsina-Alu; PDP v AC(later ACN)
The bench was dragging itself on the political mud. NJC stepped in and appointed a panel to investigate the allegation of perversion of justice made by Justice Salami and sundry allegations of corruption made against Justice Salami
There were allegations of justice tampering in the governorship elections petitions of Ekiti and Osun states. Salami adversaries swore he took bribes to award both states to the opposition AC/ACN
The NJC investigation panel who was headed by the then Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Auta- the judge who sentenced Saro-Wiwa to death. The panel went to work. Justice Salami headed to court.
Before court papers and processes were settled, the panel submitted its report: 1) found the allegation of corruption made against Justice Salami untrue; 2) quashed Salami’s promotion to the Supreme Court
3) Held that Justice Salami lied against CJN Katsina-Alu; 4) Ordered that Justice Salami should apologize to CJN Katsina-Alu.
Justice Salami refused to render an apology and public said he wouldn’t. At the Emergency Meeting of the NJC August 2011, the NJC suspended Justice Salami pursuant to what it says is its power under section 21 of 3rd schedule of the constitution
NJC relied on its powers to exercise disciplinary control over judges, suspension being a disciplinary procedure or power, outside the power to recommend removal of judicial officers to the President.
Further, NJC recommended the removal of Justice Salami to the President, who acted on the recommendation without delay kia kia. Meanwhile, Salami was still in court.
As it is today, questions were asked about the speed of action of the government, the then AGF Adoke pointed to the decision of the NJC and that the President was duty-bound to accept and execute the decision. Justice Salami’s fate was sealed.
Adoke further told the media, quoting an unreported 2009 FHC Abuja judgment in Alimi v AGF that suspension comes within the disciplinary powers, that the NJC acted constitutionally, without government’s interference.
However 8 months later, the NJC revisited Justice Salami’s issue and by 11 to 7 votes recommended that Justice Salami should be reinstated.
Another round of legal debate ensued. An Abuja-based lawyer, Nzebu went to court to challenge the recommendation of the NJC, arguing that there’s no provision in the constitution that allows for reinstatement after removal.
That when the NJC disposed off the issue in August 2011, it was no longer constitutionally competent to revisit the issue, even if its earlier decision was perverse. The AGF appeared to have sided with the legal argument
When he told the media after the FEC Meeting one Wednesday of May 2012 that the President would not be visiting Justice Salami’s issue.
Political arguments continued, while conspiracy theories were woven around what happened in Ekiti and Osun states: the opposition insisted its mandates were stolen at the polls, and PDP screamed that the opposition bribed judges to claim states it won.