The Moment (London)

Nigeria: Jonathan Has Moral Duty to Reinstate Justice Salami - Osibanjo

Peterclaver Egbochue reports that President Goodluck Jonathan has come under intense criticism following the delay in approving the reinstatement of Justice Salami.

FORMER Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in Lagos State under ex-governor, Bola Tinubu, has said that President Goodluck Jonathan has a moral obligation to reinstate Justice Ayo Salami as president of the Court of Appeal.

Professor Yemi Osibanjo who stated this in an interview in Abuja argued that it did not take the president a long time to act on the earlier recommendation of the National Judicial Council (NJC) to suspend Justice Salami, wondering why it is taking him time to act on a similar recommendation.

The delay in approving the reinstatement of Justice Salami by President Jonathan has drawn sharp criticisms from the public.

The NJC had on Thursday recommended the reinstatement of Justice Salami who was suspended on the heels of a disagreement he had with the then Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu.

However, almost two weeks after the decision of the NJC, President Jonathan has not approved the reinstatement of the embattled judge fuelling speculations that the President is under pressure especially from the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to ensure that Salami is permanently kept out of relevance.

Mr. Rauf Aregbesola, Osun State governor, last week said that further delay by President Jonathan to reinstate Justice Salami would amount to an indictment on the judicial system and democracy.

Speaking during the launch of three books as part of the activities to commemorate his struggle before he became the governor of Osun State, Aregbesola posited that the legal case on MTN call log, instituted by former governor of Osun State, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola, and former Governor of Ekiti State, Chief Segun Oni, should not be an excuse to further delay Salami's reinstatement.

The governor noted that the issue of MTN call log was not part of the reasons for which Justice Salami was suspended in the first place, stressing that it should, therefore, not be a reason to delay his reinstatement.

He observed that when the NJC recommended that Salami be suspended, the president quickly approved it, wondering why he should now delay in his reinstatement.

Aregbesola argued that when Salami was suspended following the face-off between him and Justice Alloysius Katsina-Alu, the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, the matter was pending in the court, adding that it never prevented the NJC from carrying out the suspension order.

On its part, the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP) has also called on President Jonathan to approve the reinstatement of Justice Salami.

In a statement signed by its National Publicity Secretary, Osita Okechukwu, and made available to newsmen on Friday, the CNPP recalled its outrage on August 17, 2011 over the arbitrary application of the rule of law and the crude and unethical manner in which the NJC suspended Justice Salami.

'To compound matters, President Goodluck Jonathan swiftly approved the decision and appointed Justice Dalhatu Adamu as replacement with immediate effect,' the statement said, noting that it regarded the action of the NJC at that time as the height of judicial recklessness.

CNPP said it was convinced that Justice Salami was hounded because of the presidential election petition, which pitched the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) against the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) over which he was presiding at the Appeal Court.

'Otherwise, what happened between the nine months interval which made the NJC to reverse itself?' it asked, challenging the judicial body to apologise to Nigerians for not complying diligently with the laws of the land, for discrediting the judiciary and for gross impropriety.

The statement further said: 'We regard the action of the NJC then in suspending Justice Salami as the height of judicial recklessness, which regrettably portends grave danger to not only the temple of justice in Nigeria, but accelerates the dangerous slide of Nigeria into a failed state.

'CNPP had maintained since then that the action of the National Judicial Council is contemptuous, scandalous and had exposed the perfidy of the judiciary and undermines the integrity of the temple of justice in Nigeria. It is good NJC reversed it.

'We reaffirm our candid view that the Justice Umaru Abdullahi (rtd) and Justice Ibrahim Auta Committees set up by the NJC were less than transparent in their submissions; for we were at a loss where Justice Salami went wrong in refusing to take the orders of the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Aloysius Kastina-Alu to pervert the course of justice in the Sokoto State governorship election matter.

'May we also ask, was it not paradoxical that NJC acquitted the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu, who arrested court judgment in the case of Sokoto State Governorship matter at the Appeal Court and suspended Justice Salami for refusing to subvert justice?

'We had severally warned of the danger of monumental corruption bedevilling the judiciary - Food is Ready Justice System - which has eaten deep into the fabric of our judiciary and by extension ravaged the Election Tribunals.

'CNPP is of the candid view that Justice Salami was hounded because of the presidential election petition - CPC vs PDP, which he presided over then at the Appeal Court.

Otherwise, what happened between the nine months interval that made the NJC to reverse itself? In this context, we urge the NJC to apologise to Nigerians for not complying diligently with the laws of the land, for discrediting the judiciary and for gross impropriety.'

The CNPP therefore called on President Jonathan to promptly reinstate Justice Salami; for failure to act as promptly as he did before may fuel the suspicion of double standard which may regrettably erode his image.

Meanwhile, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Adoke, on Wednesday said he had not been officially briefed on the purported reinstatement of the suspended President of the Court of Appeal by the NJC.

In a telephone interview, Adoke said he had just returned to the country from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Tuesday and had not been officially briefed on the development that occurred while he was away.

He further said: 'Until when I am briefed and I see the letter, I can't be reacting to mob action. I think Reuben Abati (presidential spokesman) has said that the President has not received the letter. I am waiting to be briefed.'

But a former AGF and counsel to Salami, Chief Akin Olujimi, urged President Jonathan to resolve the controversy over his approval of the NJC's recommendation.

Olujimi further said: 'If what I read in the papers today that the Presidency has got NJC's resolution reinstating His Lordship, Hon. Justice Salami, is true, then it means the President should be able to seek the advice of the Attorney General promptly.

'The matter has already dragged for too long and any delay by the President in giving his approval certainly will not be proper.'

However, a senior official at the NJC had claimed that a reinstatement letter was sent to Justice Salami on Friday, the same day the council reportedly also forwarded the recommendation letter to the President.

There was confusion on the issue during the week when the NJC claimed that the recommendation for Salami's reinstatement had been forwarded to the President while the Presidency denied receipt of such correspondence.

A prominent lawyer, Prof. Itse Sagay, had decried the delay in reinstating Salami. In a telephone interview, Sagay said: 'The whole story about the non-receipt of the letter is shameful, immature, disgusting and very sad.

'If the Federal Government does not want to implement the recommendation of the NJC, let them just say so and then we will know it is all politics. This is absolute nonsense because if even they had not received it, why can't they just give a call and send a dispatch rider to pick it up?'

A source at the Presidential Villa, which preferred anonymity, revealed that President Jonathan had not received the NJC's recommendation.

A highly placed source in the NJC, who did not wish to be named, however, said the letter got to the President's table on Monday evening, last week. The source insisted that the letter was forwarded to the President on Friday.

The source said: 'The letter was written and forwarded to the presidency on Friday.

'I have it on good authority that, due to administrative factors; it got to the President's table on Monday evening.'

Some political watchers believe that Justice Salami may have been promptly removed on the heels of the general election when the ruling PDP feared that the election of President Jonathan and the attendant legal battle that followed might not favour them with him on the saddle as president of the Court of Appeal.

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