Retired President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Isa Ayo Salami, Thursday gave a vivid account of how he was betrayed by his colleagues and the National Judicial Council (NJC).
In his speech at a valedictory session held to celebrate his retirement, Salami likened his case to that of the Biblical Joseph in the Book of Genesis.
He said: “As his brothers conspired to destroy him by throwing him into a well and selling him into slavery, my learned brothers and friends in the legal profession planned and executed doing evil to me.
“The NJC created by the constitution to protect me, nay any judicial officer, was at the vanguard of my travails.”
According to him, the NJC failed in its duties and thereby surrendered its functions to the executive arm of government, thus ingratiating itself to the executive.
Perhaps for the last time, Salami was clad in a judge’s ceremonial attire and sat at the centre in the midst of his colleagues as if presiding at the ceremony which was attended by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar, a former CJN, Justice Muhammadu Uwais, some justices of the Supreme Court, and other eminent lawyers, among others.
However, the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice Mohammed Adoke (SAN) was neither present nor represented.
Salami said NJC failed to perform its duties in accordance with the constitution.
He said: “For instance, the NJC having cleared me of any wrongdoing, following the recommendations of Justice Aloma Mukhtar’s committee ought to have recalled me to office without asking the president to exercise the power that he does not possess, on the flimsy excuse that it had earlier referred the matter to him.
“In truth, as a matter of courtesy, all it needed to do was to write the president that in view of its recent decision, this matter was now outside his purview. After so informing him, NJC would be free to take the necessary step to implement its decision.
“The position in which NJC has found itself is similar to that of the proverbial cock that betrayed itself to the fox that what was on his head was not fire and encouraged the fox to touch it. The fox having satisfied itself that truly it was not fire has since been hunting cocks to make menu of them.”
Salami said his suspension was a nullity because the emergency meeting at which the decision to suspend him was held was in violation of the constitution.
According to him, Justice Moses Bello who presided at the meeting was, and he is still the President of the Federal Capital Territory Customary Court of Appeal and was therefore not constitutionally qualified to preside at the meeting.
“Also, when the report of the committee the NJC set up to make recommendations on Umaru Abdullahi’s report was submitted to it for ratification, neither the CJN nor the next most senior justice of the Supreme Court was present at the meeting.
“Justice Bello who was neither the CJN nor the next most senior justice of the Supreme Court took it upon himself to preside at the meeting contrary to the express provisions of sub paragraph (a) and (b) of paragraph 20 of the 3rd Schedule of the Constitution,” he said.
The provisions are to the effect that the CJN shall be chairman while the next most senior shall be the deputy chairman. He pointed out that no other member of the NJC could be chairman.
Salami said for sitting as a chairman of the council in violation of the constitution, Justice Bello was an impostor.
He said: “There is no evidence that he (Bello) had been appointed to the Supreme Court and he was neither the next most senior justice of the Supreme Court nor Chief Justice of Nigeria.
“This is the levity with which the NJC treats matters of grave national importance.
“Clearly, Justice Bello has not only behaved irresponsibly but also recklessly. Furthermore, it should be noted the meeting at which Justice Bello presided and took this far reaching decision took place when my application for an injunction restraining the council from deliberating on my matter was still pending in the Federal High Court.”
Salami said the consequence of Justice Bello’s conduct was that both the meeting he presided over along with the decision taken were null and void.
“It is this illegal decision that the NJC had been relying upon to keep me out of office from August 18 2011,” he added.
He said both Justices Aloysius Katsina-Alu and Dahiru Musdapher were aware of the illegality that took place at the NJC, “but for some inexplicable reasons seemed to be comfortable with this act of illegality,” he added.
He pointed out that despite the recommendation of the 29-man stakeholders committee on judicial reform set up by Musdapher as CJN that his case be resolved urgently before any other reform could be adopted, he said Musdapher refused to act timeously.
He said: “Justice Musdapher, the then CJN did not act promptly. It took him several months and several meetings of the council before he presented the report to the council for consideration.
“I could go on and on and on the way the NJC had in its desperate bid to continue to oppress me breached the constitution but I would not say more.
“It is only sad that it is the body that was established to protect judicial officers that has dealt so cruelly with me.
“I have no regrets whatsoever over all that I did having acted according to the dictates of my conscience and in the fear of Almighty God.”