After eight months on a controversial suspension that brought the nation’s judiciary to disrepute, Ayo Salami, who headed the federal Court of Appeal, was on Thursday recalled by the National Judicial Council, ending months of bickering and intrigues.
The National Judicial Council, the highest decision making body of the judiciary, voted 10 to 8, to reinstate Mr. Salami, confirming Premium Times’ earlier reports which quoted senior officials informed about the decision, hinting on his recall.
The decision, a source said, has been communicated to President Goodluck Jonathan, and a formal presidential order for his reinstatement is expected to be issued over the next few days.
Mr. Salami was sacked by the NJC under the former Chief Justice of the Federation, Aloysius Katsina-Alu, over what appeared more of a personality clash between the two heads of the appeal court, and the Supreme Court.
The episode, which sparked court battles and allegations of disregard for court orders by the very custodians of such orders, turned out amongst the most scathing in the annals of Nigeria’s judiciary history.
President Jonathan was condemned for approving Mr. Salami’s removal and appointing a replacement even when the case was in court and had not been properly investigated.
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 Appeal Court.
After Mr. Katsina- Alu’s exit in October, the new Chief Justice of the Federation, Dahiru Musdapher ordered a review of the decision by a three-member committee headed by retired Justice Mamman Nasir(former PCA), under a broader judicial reform committee led by former CJN, Mohammed Uwais.
Other committees constituted by Mr. Katsina-Alu, had earlier found Mr. Salami not guilty of the accusations, but their recommendations were not acted on.
But more than the previous panels, the Nasir committee criticized Mr. Salami’s removal and upheld his allegation that the feud all started with his refusal to influence the outcome of the Sokoto case which the CJN, Mr. Katsina-Alu had asked to be “put on hold.”
“It became evident that Katsina-Alu CJN’s administrative decision that the case should be put on hold, should not.. be made by him. In any case, the CJN should not in the first place have written direct to the Justices in Sokoto judicial division as the power to do so lies in the PCA,” the Nasir committee wrote.
The reinstatement was long expected early 2012. But despite the series of reports clearing him, the effort continued to draw stiff opposition within the judicial ranks.
Since the reports were released late 2011, three meetings to discuss the case were put off after some members of the judicial council failed to reach a position on the terms of his recall.
Officials said even if Mr. Salami were recalled, he would not spend beyond three months in office.
“The fact is the Justice Salami’s ordeal has terribly polarized the judiciary, and generated a lot of bad blood,” our source continued. “So it was decided that he should retire three months after returning to office so normalcy can return to the judiciary once and for all,” a source close to the committee told Premium Times then.
It is not yet clear whether his eventual recall on Thursday came on the same terms.