FORMER Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Muhammadu Lawal Uwais yesterday in Abuja said that the National Judicial Council (NJC) was wrong when it suspended Justice Isa Ayo Salami.
Speaking at a book presentation in honour of Salami titled: Isa Ayo Salami: Through Life and Justice, Uwais also said President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan had no role to play in the suspension, citing Section 153(2) of the 1999 Constitution to support his position.
The event was attended mainly by opposition politicians including former Head of State, General Muhammadu Buhari, former Lagos State Governor, Bola Tinubu, the governors of Ekiti, Osun and Zamfara, Kayode Fayemi, Rauf Aregbesola and Abdulasis Abubakar Yari respectively.
Another ex-CJN, Idris Legbo Kutigi, a former President of the Court of Appeal, Mamman Nasir, Acting President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, Justice Clara Ogunbiyi of the Supreme Court, Justice Mahmud Mohammed also of the Supreme Court were among other justices in attendance.
Uwais contended that the NJC ought not to have asked the suspended former President of the Court of Appeal to apologise since all the committees it set up to investigate Salami did not find anything against him.
“It follows that Justice Isa Ayo Salami has been unfairly treated by the NJC. It is disturbing, to say the least, that the NJC, whose membership consists of eminent and experienced judges and lawyers, should act in the manner they treated Justice Salami,” the former CJN stated.
Uwais observed that Salami was suspended for two and a half years, saying “to the best of my knowledge this is the longest period in the history of the Nigerian judiciary that a judicial officer had been sent on suspension for alleged misconduct.”
Uwais said it was incumbent on the NJC to have asked Salami to explain why he refused to apologise to the then Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu before suspending him for refusing to.
In a keynote address, Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka observed that Nigerians had adopted ‘siddon look’ attitude to the many injustices taking place in the country.
The Nobel Laureate said resigning to fate is not the best option and therefore enjoined all Nigerians to cry out loud whenever they come across injustice.
He recalled many unresolved assassinations including that of the former Attorney General of the Federation, Chief Bola Ige, and called on the authorities to resolve these murders even as he said that there were enough trails that could lead to the unravelling of these killings.
He noted that while grave injustices were being committed, state agencies were busy arraigning suspects for forging documents to get visa.
He also said that the national conference being proposed by President Jonathan should be used to dig into the past, adding that no nation could move forward without understanding its past.
In a brief remark, former Lagos State Governor, Bola Tinubu thanked Salami for refusing to bow to intimidation.
He said that Salami had showN to the world that man could resist intimidation by the state.
Also speaking, the governor of Zamfara State, Alhaji Abdulasis Abubakar Yari expressed concern at the fact that Justice Salami, a senior member of the bench could not get justice from the judiciary and wondered what would happen to ordinary Nigerian.
He also agreed with Justice Uwais that NJC did not treat Salami fairly.
He bought 250 copies of the book on behalf of ‘eleven’ progressive governors.
A former Attorney General of the Federation and leader of Senior Advocates of Nigeria, Alhaji Abdullahi Ibrahim said most of the allegations against Salami were fabrications.
In his speech, Salami restated the facts surrounding his suspension and said that he had no regret for refusing Katsina-Alu’s request to pervert the course of justice.
He said: “I realize the public interest that my feud with the NJC and former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Katsina-Alu has generated. It is obvious that people want to know what the fuss was actually about, and briefly put, this is it.
I was invited by the then CJN, Justice Katsina-Alu to his chambers on the 8th of February, 2010 using Justice Dahiru Musdapher’s phone, and when I got there, I met them together. He (Katsina-Alu) instructed me to direct the justices on the Sokoto Appeal to dismiss the appeal of the Democratic People’s Party (DPP) governorship candidate and I responded that I could not do so.
“Contrary to the deposition of Justice Katsina-Alu that he called me into his chambers in respect of leakage in the judgment of Sokoto matter which he gathered from petitions, there were no petitions against me or the justices in the Sokoto Appeal panel as at the 8th day of January, 2010 on Sokoto mater or any other matter.
“Ironically, the petitions in question only emerged on the 15th of February, 2010 seven days after I had unequivocally informed the CJN that I would not direct a competent court on what its judgment should be.
“After showing me the petitions on the 15th February, he asked me to disband the Sokoto Appeal Panel in view of the petitions. I responded that I would not disband the panel as the petitions did not contain any allegation of impropriety against the members.
“The investigating panel set up by the NJC under Justice Umaru Abdullahi rejected his claim that there was allegation of leakage in the petitions as well as his defence that the judgment had leaked. In spite of this they concluded that he was acting in good faith. On this, I wont say more.”
He said he was happy he refused to pervert the course of justice.
According to him, disbanding the panel or persuading them to dismiss the appeal was not the right thing to do.
“It would have offended the principle of the independence of the judges which I so much respect and believe in”, he added.
He said it would have been hypocritical for him to appear in public and talk of honour and integrity if he had agreed with Katsina-Alu to pervert the course of justice.
He said: “But I am proud to be here today to talk about these values. I have no regret about what I did and the God of truth has vindicated me. All the NJC committees’ reports have said that Salami did no wrong as well as the report of the committee set up by the Nigerian Bar Association.”
He urged judges not to succumb to intimidation even as he warned them that they would surely come under pressure in the course of their duties.