A retired President of the Court of Appeal, Justuce Isa Salami, on Friday described the Corruption and Financial Crimes Cases Trials Motoring Committee set up by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justuce Walter Onnoghen, as a waste of time.
He made the declaration in an open letter to the CJN, in which he also picked holes in the mandate and composition of the committee.
The letter reads:
Hon. (Mr) Justice W.S.N Onnoghen, GCON,
Chief Justice of Nigeria and Chairman National Judicial Council,
Supreme Court Complex,
Three Arms Zone,
My Lord, the Chief Justice of Nigeria,
RE: CORRUPTION AND FINANCIAL CRIMES CASES TRIAL MONITORING COMMITTEE OF THE NATIONAL JUDICIAL COUNCIL
Please refer to Your Lordship’s letter Ref. No. NJC/6/4/76/1/1 of 9th October, 2017 and our (Onnoghen/Salami) discussion of Thursday, 12th October, 2017 in Your Lordship’s chambers on the above mentioned committee.
At the meeting, I raised serious objection to the inclusion of certain legal practitioners in the committee based on their antecedents, divided interest and personal relationship with one of them whom I strongly believe I cannot work with.
Your Lordship apparently agreed with me that their inclusion was inauspicious based on petitions or protests you had received against their membership of the committee but Your Lordship was of the view that their removal at this stage would be premature and should be deferred till after the inauguration of the committee. I do not agree with Your Lordship’s approach to the problem and I am respectfully not prepared to accept it as it would amount to buying a pig in a poke. It is easier to remove them before inauguration than after inauguration.
On my return to Ilorin on that 12th October, 2017, I met the letter under reference, which was forwarded to me by courier, waiting for me. The letter contained the terms of reference of the committee which is mainly to be watching the proceedings of courts designated by the chief judges across the country for trial of corruption cases.
With the greatest respect, I do not know what we stand to gain by merely watching the proceedings of these courts. A judge who is quiet or friendly to counsel may not necessarily be honest neither is the one who is boisterous dishonest. Even then the most reckless amongst them would not be foolhardy to misconduct himself in the presence of the committee. He would clearly conduct himself respectfully for so long as it takes. I wish to remind My Lord that the devil itself does not know the darkest part of a man’s mind. Our sitting in court watching the proceedings would not disclose the intention of the presiding judge. The whole exercise would tantamount to time wasting and a huge theatrical show as we would not be there when he is writing his judgment.
I, therefore, most respectfully stand to be persuaded on what the National Judicial Council stands to gain by setting up this committee. If, however, it feels very strongly about it, council could make one of its members chairman of the body. There are five retired Justices of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal including a former President of the Court of Appeal in the National Judicial Council. After all the committee is that of the National Judicial Council as suggested above and I am not a member of the council. My own duty would just have been to submit a report to the council for its consideration and conclusion, a role that would be better performed by a member of the council.
My lord, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, another dilemma the committee might face is the inclusion of the five chief judges of some states in it. What happens to their primary function – the administration of their various courts? Would they abdicate their responsibility to their courts or be taking time off to see to the running in order to ensure their stability? What would the committee do during their absence; wait for them or proceed without them? Either view is not salutary to the function of the committee. If we wait for them, the work of the committee would be delayed and if we proceed without them, they would not be seized of all the facts to enable them participate fully in the deliberations of the committee and to defend its report in council.
I observe that I am listed in paragraph 3(1) as “1) Hon. Justice Isa Ayo Salami, OFR, JCA (RTD) – Chairman”. With respect, I wish to state that I retired as the President of the Court of Appeal and not as a Justice of the Court of Appeal as erroneously set out above.
Finally, I thank My Lord most sincerely for the honour done to me which I will continue to cherish and would remain evergreen in my memory. Your singular action of vindication or justification will go a very long way to commence the healing process in the system particularly strengthening and encouraging already intimidated judges or justices to hold on to the path of rectitude in the performance of their duty.
However, for the reasons set out above and more, it is not possible or feasible for me to accept the offer.
I wish My Lord, the Chief Justice of Nigeria a happy and successful tenure, long life in good health and prosperity.
Isa Ayo Salami.