The Federal Government on Tuesday said it would not reinstate embattled Justice Ayo Salami until the court cases challenging his recall to office are resolved.
Speaking at a ministerial platform, a programme where cabinet ministers showcase their achievements in the last one year, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Mohammed Adoke, said the Federal Government received the resolution of the National Judicial Council recalling Mr. Salami on Friday, May 18.
He said the President could however not act on the resolution because a court process on the matter was also served on the government the same day.
He described reports of the President’s reluctance to reinstate Mr. Salami as a misconception, saying no responsible government would proceed to recall the Court of Appeal president when a case against his reinstatement is pending in court.
“As it is today, the matter is subjudice,” Mr. Adoke said. “The matter is in court and no responsible government will try to overreach the court.”
“This government will do the right thing as soon as the judiciary puts its acts together.”
Eight months after it handed him a politically motivated but unconstitutional suspension that brought the nation’s judiciary to disrepute, the NJC had reversed itself on Thursday, May 11 by a majority vote of 11 to 7 asking Mr. Salami to return to his office.
By the terms of the constitution, his interim replacement cannot stay any longer on the seat, putting president Jonathan under pressure to make a quick decision.
Some unnamed leaders of the president’s ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party, had reportedly pressured the president not to reinstate Mr. Salami
Senior lawyers in Abuja who asked not to be named for this story told PREMIUM TIMES they are “worried by the body language from the Presidency,” hinting that “elements opposed to the judge’s reinstatement appeared to be busy shopping for a court injunction restraining the NJC and the presidency from recalling Mr. Salami.”
Presidential body language
An Abuja-based lawyer, Amobi Nzelu representing one Wilfred Okoli, rushed to the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja Friday asking that the court restrains the president from accepting the recommendations of the NJC, because the “recommendations were not binding” on the president and that while the NJC had powers to recommend the removal of the President of the Court of Appeal, it lacked power to recommend his reinstatement.
Members of the Abuja press corps also wondered, Friday evening, why government functionaries had to distribute the Motion of Notice filed by Mr. Nzelu from the court.
“It is curious that the court papers of a private citizen is being circulated by a government agency,” a senior correspondent complained cynically.
Notable constitutional lawyer and public interest litigant, Jiti Ogunye, told PREMIUM TIMES that he would “score that type of legal thinking a miserable zero” questioning the locus standi of Mr. Okoli who was “neither a member of the NJC, or the Senate, or the current acting President of the Court of Appeal.”
Leaning on the security of tenure provisions of the constitution, Mr. Ogunye said the NJC merely corrected the blemish it created through the controversial suspension last year August, arguing that since no medical records certified Mr. Salami as unfit for office and no trial records adjudged him as guilty of misconduct or in violation of his ethical code, the president merely collaborated in a political abuse of the judiciary by approving the suspension of the straight shooting judge in the fist place.
“Now that the same body that took that unconstitutional step of suspending the judge has reversed itself, what argument will the president advance to demur?” queried Mr. Ogunye.
Clash of egos
Mr. Salami was suspended by the NJC under the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Aloysius Katsina-Alu, over what many judicial watchers interpreted as a personality clash between the then heads of the appeal court, and the Supreme Court.
The suspension on August 18, 2011, was partly based on Mr. Salami’s refusal to be elevated to the Supreme Court, and also, on his decision to address the media, accusing the former CJN, Mr. Katsina-Alu, of attempting to interfere in the Sokoto governorship election case that was before the Court of Appeal.
Many saw the punishment as a politically orchestrated move by the ruling party, leaning on a politicized judiciary to remove an uncompromising judge who had supervised the cancellation of two governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun where the ruling party was subsequently defeated.
Mr. Salami is due for retirement in October 2013.