Former Osun State governor, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola
By Yemi Ajayi and Tobi Soniyi
Former Osun State governor, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola and ousted governor of Ekiti State, Chief Segun Oni, have expressed strong misgivings over the decision by the National Judicial Council to recall suspended President of the Court of Appeal (PCA), Justice Ayo Salami.
The duo said the NJC’s recommendation to President Goodluck Jonathan to recall Salami from suspension was unwarranted and hasty given the many suits pending over his suspension and reinstatement.
Their opposition came as findings by THISDAY Saturday showed that two days after the NJC’s decision to recall Salami, the council was yet to communicate its verdict to Jonathan.
Investigations showed that neither the president nor the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Mohammed Bello Adoke, had been officially informed about the decision.
When Salami was suspended in August 2011, the proceedings of the council were promptly transmitted to the president who within 24 hours acceded to the recommendations and appointed Justice Justice Dalhatu Adamu as interim Court of Appeal president pending when all issues relating to Salami’s office were resolved.
The NJC, at a meeting in Abuja on Thursday, had in a split decision voted to recall Salami who was suspended in August 2011 for refusing to apologise to the council and former Chief Justice of the Federation, Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu, after a panel set up by the council had indicted him for perjury.
A special sub-committee of three comprising Justice Mamman Nasir, Justice Umaru Kalgo and former Minister of Justice, Prince Bola Ajibola, had recommended Salami’s recall, further adding that the suspended jurist should be made to withdraw his suit against the NJC and Katsina-Alu, while reconciliation between the two should be promoted.
But Oyinlola, in his reaction Saturday, said the recommendation was against the principle of the doctrine of les pendens, in view of the pending suit by him and the Peoples Democratic Party chapters in Osun and Ekiti States before the Federal High Court, Abuja.
He said in a statement by his media aide, Lukman Owolewa, that the court processes on that matter were duly served on the parties before the NJC meeting where the issue to recommend Salami for reinstatement was mooted.
According to him, “Ratifying the National Judicial Council’s inexplicable decision to reinstate Justice Salami would not only be a travesty of justice, but would also be setting a dangerous precedent in overreaching our law courts, as well as becoming a reference point for intending law-breakers.”
He said the confirmation of Salami’s suspension by the president was hinged on his having matters to sort out at the law courts, adding that what has changed since then is that Salami is now enmeshed in more law suits before a few more courts, than was the case at the time he was suspended from office.
The NJC’s recommendation to recall Salami has also triggered a verbal exchange between Ekiti State governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi and Oni.
Oni, in a statement Saturday, described Fayemi's support of the NJC’s recommendation reinstating Salami as a “product of feeling of temporary relief from the palpable fear by a man who is faced with imminent collapse of the house of fraud built for him by a tainted judge.”
Oni alleged, “No matter what Fayemi and his ilk say, write or do, it does not remove the fact that the judgement, the basis of which they are holding office, was purchased.”
Fayemi, while welcoming the NJC’s decision on Friday, had condemned “the desperation with which the likes of (Chief Segun) Oni and his cohorts pursued their goal of demonising Justice Salami, a man who was clearly head and shoulders a paragon of judicial excellence in the murky waters of a political lynch mob.
“This they did through numerous dubious publications and endless manipulation of the judicial process.”
But Oni, in a statement by his media aide, Mr. Lere Olayinka, said: “Fayemi should rather bury his head in shame for his destructive roles in the Ekiti State judiciary, instead of jumping to the rooftops to celebrate the decision by NJC, a body he never respected in the first place.
“Isn't it interesting that the same Fayemi, who refused to act on NJC’s recommendation on the appointment of judges in Ekiti State is now the one hailing the NJC recommendation on Justice Salami?
“And is it also not laughable that it made sense to Fayemi and his cohorts that Rotimi Akeredolu, Action Congress of Nigeria governorship aspirant in Ondo State, was part of the NJC meeting where the decision to reinstate Justice Salami was taken and he (Akeredolu) also voted?
“And to Fayemi, it appears that a recommendation, which was reportedly arrived at by 11 NJC members voting against nine regarding the integrity of a judge should be celebrated?”
Continuing, Oni said people should now ponder how Salami will continue to discharge his duties as the PCA and a judge, in the face of all the controversies surrounding him.
“Will Justice Salami still sit in judgment over cases involving families, friends and associates of those nine members of NJC, who reportedly voted against his reinstatement?
“Will Justice Salami still assign cases involving the Peoples Democratic Party to judges or adjudicate over such cases himself?
“To us, the integrity of a judge should be 100 per cent, not the 55 per cent that Justice Salami reportedly secured in the NJC meeting that gave him 11 out of 20 votes,” he added.
Oni said he would defer further comments on Salami’s planned reinstatement until the full details of how the NJC proceedings were conducted are made public.
Oyinlola was the governor of Osun State before the Court of Appeal, then headed by Salami, while adjudicating in an election petition appeal filed by the then Action Congress of Nigeria governorship candidate in the 2007 election, Mr. Rauf Aregbesola, invalidated his victory in the said election.
Resulting from the judgement, Aregbesola was declared the validly elected governor of Osun State.
Following Salami’s suspension, Oyinlola and Oni instituted a suit before the court, where they are seeking an injunction restraining the NJC and the Federal Judicial Service Commission, being the second and third defendants in the suit, from reinstating Salami, who is the third defendant.
Their counsel, Adebisi Raimi, had averred that recalling Salami now would jeopardise justice in a suit they filed against MTN Nigeria Communications Limited and the Nigeria Communications Commission, in the aftermath of the determination of their petitions against his alleged bias in handling the election petitions against Oyinlola and Oni.
Meanwhile, the presidency and the attorney-general are yet to get official notification of the decision reached by the NJC to recall Salami from suspension.
Although the deputy director, Information of the NJC, Mr. Soji Oye, could not be reached for confirmation as to if the council had transmitted its recommendations to Jonathan, whose approval is required to reinstate Salami, sources in the presidency told THISDAY that the presidency was yet to receive any formal notification to that effect.
According to a presidency official, the decision by the NJC was taken on Thursday when the president was still in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, attending the World Economic Forum.
“He only got back last night (Friday), while the attorney-general is not in the country, so no official communication has been sent to the president or the Minister of Justice on the recommendation of the NJC on Salami,” the official informed THISDAY.
Salami, who was challenging his suspension in court before Thursday’s respite, however, has said he will not withdraw his suit before the Federal High Court, sitting in Abuja, until he has been reinstated.
The case, in which the NJC and Jonathan, among others, are the respondents, is now before the Court of Appeal which is being asked to determine whether Justice Donatus Okorowo of the Federal High Court, has the jurisdiction to preside over the matter.
Although it was uncertain Saturday whether the NJC had taken into consideration the pending suit before taking the decision to recall Salami, his lawyer, Chief Akinlolu Olujimi, said his client would not withdraw the suit until he has been reinstated.