by Ihuoma Chiedozie, Success Nwogu
After considering the report of an adhoc committee set up to resolve the crisis within the judiciary, the National Judicial Council resolved to reinstate the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Ayo Salami, who was suspended by the council on August 18, 2011.
The NJC rose from a two-day meeting on Thursday with a resolution to reinstate the embattled president of the Court of Appeal, after a nine-month impasse.
Although there was no official statement from the NJC, a source privy to what transpired at the meeting informed our correspondent that the council had forwarded a recommendation for Salami’s reinstatement to President Goodluck Jonathan.
Efforts to reach the Council’s spokesman, Mr. Soji Oye, were unsuccessful as his phone was switched off.
The source, who did not wish to be named, said that the decision was taken in a bid to reach a consensus on the matter.
A previous meeting on February 29, 2012, to consider the recommendation that Salami should be reinstated made by the 29-member Judicial Reform Committee, headed by a former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Muhammadu Uwais, had ended in a deadlock.
The Committee was raised by the CJN, Justice Dahiru Musdapher, on October 14, 2011.
Salami’s reinstatement was specifically recommended by a sub-committee of the panel made up of Justice Mamman Nasir, Justice U. Kalgo and Justice Bola Ajibola.
The February 29 meeting had failed to reach an agreement on Salami’s reinstatement, mostly due to sharp divisions among the members.
It was gathered that council members seen as loyalists to the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu, were at the vanguard of the opposition to Salami’s reinstatement.
Following its failure to arrive on a decision on Salami’s fate at the February 29 meeting, the Council set up an ad hoc committee to facilitate a quick resolution of the matter.
The adhoc committee was headed by Justice Aloma Mukthar, who is expected to succeed Justice Dahiru Musdapher as the CJN.
The ad hoc committee was mandated to resolve the contentious issues and report back to the council.
According to a source, the adhoc committee advised Salami to withdraw suits he had filed to challenge his suspension, but as at the time of filing this report, there was no indication that the cases had been withdrawn.
It will be recalled that the NJC had on August 18, 2011, suspended Salami for refusing to apologise to the council and Katsina-Alu after a panel of the council said he breached the code of conduct by lying against the CJN.
The NJC had suspended Salami despite a pending suit he filed at the Abuja Federal High Court to challenge the reports of two panels, headed by Justice Umaru Abduallahi panel, and Justice Ibrahim Auta, respectively, which investigated him and Katsina-Alu for alleged misconduct.
The sub-committee, headed by the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Ibrahim Auta, in its report, recommended that Salami should tender a written apology to both Katsina-Alu and the Council.
The Auta’s committee also recommended that Salami be cautioned, following which a letter of caution was sent to him.
The Auta panel had found Salami in breach of Rule 1(1) of the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers.
However, Salami had refused to apologise to the NJC and Katsina-Alu, and instead went to court.
He asked the Abuja FHC to set aside the proceedings and findings of the investigation panel headed by Abdullahi and the recommendations of the panel headed by Auta.
Salami asked the court to declare that the setting up of the NJC Investigation Committee and its composition were in gross violation of the principles of natural justice, and his constitutionally guaranteed right to fair hearing under Section 36 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999(as amended) and is therefore unconstitutional, null and void.
Salami had cause to head for the court again after his suspension by the council, which also asked the President to retire him from service.
Jonathan had approved the suspension and appointed Justice Dahiru Adamu as the Acting President of the Court of Appeal.
Kicking against the President’s action, Salami dragged Jonathan, alongside the NJC and others, to the Abuja FHC, asking the court to declare the appointment of an acting PCA by the President as illegal and unconstitutional.
He also asked for an order directing that all actions in respect of his suspension be stayed and that the status quo ante bellum be maintained by all parties pending the determination of the suit.
Salami’s suit is currently before the Court of Appeal, after the FHC stayed proceedings to allow the appellate court answer some questions.
Meanwhile, a former President of Court of Appeal, Justice Mustapha Akanbi has described the resolution to reinstate Salami as a triumph of justice and the rule of law.
In a telephone interview with our correspondent in Ilorin on Thursday, he said the development was a sign of hope for Nigeria and the nation’s judiciary.
Akanbi said, “Justice and rule of law have triumphed. We are very happy at the development and that God and truth have revealed themselves. There is hope and bright future for Nigeria and for the country’s judiciary. I commend the judiciary and those who are responsible for that position.”
However, the Peoples Democratic Party in Osun State has said it will challenge the NJC’ recommendation.
The party urged President Goodluck Jonathan not to act on the NJC recommendation until all the cases pending in court on the matter were dispensed with.
In a statement by the state Chairman of the party, Alhaji Ganiyu Olaoluwa, the PDP said, “What was done at the NJC meeting of today (Thursday) simply amounts to an affront on the judicial system and the import is that, if members of the Bench could ignore pending court matters, other Nigerians will be right to do so, and the country will surely head for a state of anarchy.”
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