Zainab Abiola, a counsel representing the suspended acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu, has sworn an ‘Affidavit of Truth’ to insist that Ayo Salami told her and others that he regrets chairing the presidential panel probing Mr Magu.
PREMIUM TIMES had reported how Ms Abiola and her counterpart, Tosin Ojaoma, quoted Mr Salami as saying he regrets heading the panel.
Both counsel are members of Mr Magu’s defence team and have been attending sittings of the panel, which has been sitting in camera at the Presidential Villa in Abuja.
However, 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.”
But when PREMIUM TIMES confronted the two counsel on Wednesday, in separate interviews, about Mr Salami’s rebuttal of their claims, Mr Ojaoma maintained that Mr Salami made the comment while Ms Abiola refused to stand by her earlier statement.
“I am ready to swear an affidavit on the matter,” Mr Ojaoma 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,” Mr Ojaoma said.
Ms Abiola has now approached a high court to swear to an affidavit that what she said about Mr Salami was true.
In a copy of the affidavit by Ms Abiola, seen by PREMIUM TIMES on Friday, the lawyer said Mr Salami, a former president of the appeal court, said he regretted accepting to head the presidential panel probing Mr Magu.
According to the court testimony filed at the FCT High Court and dated October 2, she narrated that after ‘’the chairman of the panel expressed his regrets and said amongst other things the following specific words: ‘I regret chairing this panel, honestly. Since 2013 I retired and went back to my place. What is all this? It is embarrassing, very embarrassing.’
“Barrister Tosin Ojaoma went up to him and specifically said the following words: “Your Lordship please don’t be embarrassed and don’t abdicate. This is a national assignment and we are all here for justice” and everyone nodded in agreement.’’
She noted that her claims can be verified using the CCTV cameras placed in the Presidential Villa.
When PREMIUM TIMES contacted Mr Ojaoma, he said he would swear to his affidavit at the court on Monday.
If the retired judge did express the regret, as insisted by the lawyers, it could imply he was not satisfied with the proceedings of the panel or that there was pressure being exerted on him to achieve a predetermined goal on Mr Magu’s case.
However, if Mr Salami did not make the statement, then it could mean that the lawyers are lying against him to taint the integrity of the final report of the panel which has now concluded its sitting.
But lawyers says the claim and counterclaim are distractions l.
A lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, said the panel should be holding public sittings which would have avoided such altercations.
“I do not understand the rationale for holding the panel in secret. It is meant to be held in public,” he said.
“If the whole essence of the proceedings is to unravel corruption, you cannot be fighting corruption in secret. So all these back and forth exchange of words is just a distraction. I do not think the government is serious in investigating Magu, and I also do not think Magu too has an unblemished record.
“As far as I’m concerned it is just a cat and dog fight just to distract Nigerians. For me, to avoid all these, the proceedings of the panel should be held in public,” he said.
Another lawyer, Liborous Oshoma, said the lawyers should concentrate on their client’s case and not what Mr Salami said.
“The lawyers should rather focus on how to prove the innocence of their client, because the affidavits either you swear to it or not, gives to no issue, and do not address the innocence of your client.
“Because the allegations in the public domain are damning, so by also playing to the gallery saying Justice Ayo Salami said he regrets taking up the appointment, for me, it does not prove anything,” he said.
Mr Salami’s panel was set up following allegations of corruption and insubordination against Mr Magu by Attorney-General Abubakar Malami.
Mr Magu denied the allegations and Mr Malami refused to testify at the panel to defend his allegations saying his office does not allow such.