No doubt, the recent appointment of Justice Ayo Salami by the National Judicial Council (NJC) as the Chairman of the panel to monitor cases of corruption against judges is a refreshing vindication of the upright judge and the sanitization tendency he brought on the Nigerian bench. Justice Salami is well known as that singular judge that was driven by the desire to end electoral malpractices in the country such that his headship of the country’s appellate court saw radical retrieval of some stolen governorship mandate; to the chagrin of the ruling party whose notoriety to spin election results to favour its members, is well known. Justice Salami is a ready instance in integrity and rectitude in our serially abused judicial system and his appointment bears worthy testimony of this assertion. There is no doubt that if the then PDP government of Goodluck Jonathan had not abridged the tenure of Justice Salami, electoral malfeasance and the wild perversion of justice would have been drastically reduced in Nigeria today.
To get the records straight, Justice Salami was the President of the Court of Appeal under whose tenure the Appeal Court, against all hitherto known odds, returned the stolen mandates of Adams Oshiomhole in Edo, Olusegun Mimiko in Ondo, Kayode Fayemi in Ekiti and Rauf Aregbesola in Osun. These verdicts were epochal as they signaled the limits of byzantine electoral impunity and rigging and made politicians to thread with care and caution as they seek to manipulate election results to their favour. Before these epochal judicial interventions involving these states, the only state that witnessed such landmark verdict that overturned the electoral victory of one party in favour of another was the Anambra case where Peter Obi was favoured against Chris Ngige. But this singular case does not compare with the string of retrievals at the Appeal Court where adjudications on state electoral disputes hitherto ended for the period Justice Salami headed that division of our country’s judicial system.
Justice Salami is a wise and upright judge who refused to be either forced or induced to pervert judicial decisions in favour of anybody or system. The recent appointment by the NJC put this redoubtable credibility beyond question. It is the vindication of the just against the deep layered conspiracy and machinations that forced him out of the bench to make way for very manipulable judges to continue the awful persecution of justice, to the favour of those who have the price and the instruments of coercion. There is no doubt that if Justice Salami was not arbitrarily removed, the Nigerian bench would have been more sanitized and much more credible than what obtains today and also electoral malfeasances would have been greatly capped today. This is exactly the point the NJC is admitting by this appointment. You may say, better late than never but the Nigerian judicial system lost several mileages by being deprived of the sanitizing effects of the Salamis and few of his cadre who remain unrepentantly committed to the disposition of justice no matter whose ox is gored.
As to what exactly happened with Justice Salami and how he was illegally removed from the bench by an angry and challenged Jonathan regime, the popularly-held narrative about what actually happened and which later developments seem to confirm, is worth recounting here.
The then PDP government and the entire party were livid with Salami for leading a radical retrieval of mandates they stole through electoral brigandage. As a result, they were committed to getting Salami out of the bench by every means possible. The party and its government then latched on the case of former Governor Aliyu Wamakko of Sokoto who had crossed over from the then ANPP to the PDP and subsequently picked the PDP ticket for the Sokoto governorship through means that were shorn of due process. Salami was hearing the case and was about to deliver judgment. The then PDP had contacted the then chief justice, Aloysius Katsina-Alu, to help in tilting the judgment to Wamakko’s favour so Katisna-Alu, in the presence of his eventual successor, Justice Musdapher, asked Salami to deliver judgment to favour Wamakko. Salami rather told him that whatever judgment he would deliver on the Wamakko case would be strictly based on law and that he was not the only justice sitting on the case. Katsina-Alu was not convinced by Salami’s response and knowing him to be a no-nonsense judge, feared that he would fail PDP if Salami was allowed to deliver the judgment.
To prevent Salami from delivering a judgment that will not be in favour of Wamakko and embarrass the PDP, the NJC, headed by Katsina-Alu quickly promoted Salami to the Supreme Court as a way of effectively arresting his judgment on Wamakko. Being wise and experienced on such plot, Salami refused the promotion as he has the right to either accept or refuse. Justice Salami made it known that his so-called promotion was a plot by Katsina-Alu to pervert justice on the Wamakko case since they have failed to force him to sell a favourable judgment to Wamakko. He said he was bent on refusing the greek gift and proceed to do what is right on the case.
In the light of the Salami revelation, the NJC invited him and Katsina-Alu. The latter denied Salami’s allegation and to prove his case, Salami mentioned Musdapher, his friends of many years who was the person that knew what transpired between him and Katsina-Alu. Musdapher, who was about to succeed Katsina-Alu as Chief Justice, afraid that his saying the truth would truncate his being named the Chef Justice in a little while, denied Salami’s allegation under oath.
Salami was subsequently sent on suspension and the Wamakko case was effectively arrested as judgment was delivered in his favour by another judge penciled for that role. Salami was betrayed by a trusted friend on the whiff of office!
Katsina-Alu retired shortly and in what many still see as retributive justice, he was relaxing one day with his wife in his compound and a strange wind came, pulled down a tree, which crushed his wife to death. He escapade narrowly. Salami went home, with his honour, satisfied he didn’t sell his conscience when it mattered. PDP went clinking glasses at the seemingly perfect plot and all seemed to be settled.
But conscience is an open wound which only truth can heal. Hurt and hunted for betraying his friend, Msudapher, now as Chief Justice, wanted to make restitution for his betrayal. Shortly after becoming the chief justice, he cleared Salami of any wrong doing and recommended his reinstatement. PDP and Jonathan were livid and threatened to jail Musdapher for lying under oath. Yes, the lie he told about his friend, Salami, for which he wanted to make restitution and clear his pricking conscience. But then, like Judas Iscariot who wanted to return the blood money he collected from betraying Jesus Christ, PDP and Jonathan felt that Musdapher had already purchased his position by betraying his friend and should perish with his price. Whatever, it was like killing two birds with a stone for the PDP and Jonathan because Justice Salami was heading the Presidential election petition tribunl hearing the electoral petition of (now) President Buhari against Jonathan. The case itself was proceeding menacingly against PDP and Jonathan for Justice Salami panel had already ordered a forensic audit of the 2011 election results notorious for turning out results where 95 to 99 per cent of all registered voters in most of the South South and South East states were reported to have voted and voted for Jonathan and PDP! You can them imagine the relief of PDP and Jonathan for forcing out Salami. When they forced Salami out, at the conclusive stages of the hearing of this petition, they easily picked whoever they trusted will deliver favourable judgment for them and all seemed good and dandy.
So Salami was forced out of the judiciary. The party threw a ball, they got the judgments they desired on the Wamakko and presidential petition cases, Katsina_Alu went on retirement, Musdapher became Chief Justice. Justice was interred. Electoral manipulation continued unchallenged and everybody went to sleep.
But like a Sphinx, truth refused to be buried. Some light years after, the same NJC has appointed Salami as its anti-corruption czar because they know he is incorruptible. If this is not a just and poignant vindication of truth and uprightness which Salami represented at the hugely besmirched Nigerian judiciary, pray what is? What better way to apologies to an upright judge than this admittance of his honesty and integrity? Can the NJC say such of Katsina-Alu today? Can the NJC give such role to Musdapher today? What of the PDP and its machinations, where is the party today? What footnote does Jonathan attract today in Nigerian discourse if not derision, opprobrium and scorn? What does this entire narrative tell even those in power and at the helm of our judiciary today?
All said, Justice Salami is a positive totem Nigerian judges should hold high. I believe that is what the NJC wants to advertise by this strategic appointment. He is a proof that truth can never ever be buried and the just can never get crushed by evil and its disciples.