One of the lawyers of the suspended acting EFCC chairman, Ibrahim Magu, has insisted that Justice Ayo Salami said he regretted accepting to head the presidential panel probing Mr Magu.
PREMIUM TIMES had reported two lawyers, Zainab Abiola and Tosin Ojaoma, claiming Mr Salami stated his regrets at the close of Mr Magu’s defence before the panel which has been sitting in camera at the Presidential Villa in Abuja.
Following the report, Mr Salami issued a rare statement on Tuesday in which he described the claims by the two lawyers as false.
“I have no cause to express any regret over my chairmanship of the commission,…” he wrote in the statement he personally signed and sent to journalists.
Mr Salami added that “I have never appointed any of the two lawyers or any other person(s) to speak on my behalf as I can express myself without recourse to the lawyers of the persons we are probing. As an eminent jurist, who retired as the President of the Court of Appeal,
“I have handled much more complex cases than the current one before the Commission. There is no doubt that the false reports were aimed at causing mischief and tarnishing my hard-earned reputation and integrity. I remain resolute and committed to the service of the nation and ready to champion the ideals of justice and fairness.
“I want to point out that such wild claims against me and the Commission are not strange to me, given the manner in which the lawyers to Magu have been carrying on in the conduct of their client’s case before the Commission. Planting such lies in the media about proceedings at the panel has been their pastime. They believe that it is by engaging in such media propaganda against the Commission that their client can be easily absolved of the various allegations that have been brought against him.”
Confronted with Mr Salami’s rebuttal of their claims on Wednesday, Mr Ojaoma, who is a member of Mr Magu’s defence team and has been attending sittings of the panel, maintained that Mr Salami made the comment.
“I am ready to swear an affidavit on the matter,” he told our reporter on the phone on Wednesday. “How can I tell a lie on him (Mr Salami)? This is something I said two weeks ago. Mr Salami is someone that is old enough to be my father, so I would not say something he did not say.”
When asked to name those who were present when Mr Salami allegedly made the statement, Mr Ojaoma said those present were Mr Magu’s legal team and the members of the Salami panel.
He said Mr Magu’s lead counsel, Wahab Shittu, was also present when the claims were made.
Efforts to reach Mr Shittu were unsuccessful. He did not respond to calls and text messages.
However, the second lawyer, Ms Abiola, who had also corroborated Mr Ojaoma’s account, tried to walk back on her claim after Mr Salami’s rebuttal.
Ms Abiola was the first to narrate Mr Salami’s alleged statement in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES.
She had said: “We all sat down as lawyers. After a little period, Justice Salami said he regretted working in this panel.
“As soon as the proceedings opened, Salami was full of regrets. He (Salami) brought out his handkerchief and said he was full of regret taking up the job. Then our team asked him, ‘is it because the panel is yet to find evidence against our client (Magu)?’ Mr Salami did not respond, he only kept saying he regrets taking up the job,” Mrs Abiola had said.
However, on Wednesday, she refused to stand by her earlier statement.
The Salami judicial panel is investigating allegations of corruption and insubordination made by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, which led to Mr Magu’s suspension as EFCC boss.
President Muhammadu Buhari had approved the establishment of the Judicial Commission of Enquiry under the Tribunals of Inquiry Act (Cap T21, LFN, 2004), for the investigation of the activities of the EFCC from May 2015 to May 2020.
However, since Mr Magu’s probe began in July, the panel has been sitting behind closed doors with journalists forced to rely on lawyers and witnesses for accounts of events in the investigation.
Mr Salami has also refused to appoint a spokesperson or assign an official to inform the public on the process of the investigation.