Tobi Soniyi in Abuja
The search for a replacement for Justice Ayo Salami who resigned thursday as Chairman of the Corruption and Financial Crime Cases Trial Monitoring Committee (COTRIMCO) has begun in earnest.
A source who said he was not authorised to comment on the issue told THISDAY that the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, has already commenced shopping for a replacement.
He said already, some names have been mentioned as possible replacement. He however did not mention any name.
Meanwhile, the CJN has confirmed that Salami had indeed resigned his appointment but said he was yet to receive the letter conveying the resignation.
The Media Adviser to the CJN, Mr. Don Bassey, in a short message confirmed that the CJN was aware that Salami, who initially accepted the offer to serve as the committee chairman, suddenly rejected the offer.
Bassey said: â€œI can confirm that it is true. I mean the resignation of Justice Salami.
â€œBesides, what we see in the media, we cannot exactly say what Justice Salamiâ€™s reasons are for declining to undertake this all-important national assignment that he was called upon to perform.
â€œSalami says he has sent in a resignation letter to His Lordship the Honourable Chief Justice of Nigeria but that letter has yet to get to the CJN. Thatâ€™s all I can say at this moment. A more detailed response, if it is necessary, will be communicated to you when His Lordship receives Justice Salamiâ€™s letter.â€
Before Salami resigned his appointment, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) had asked the CJN to remove legal practitioners from the committee.
In an open letter to the CJN signed by SERAP Executive Director, Mr. Adetokunbo Mumuni, the civil society organisation had said allowing legal practitioners to be members of the committee would result in conflicts between the work of the committee and the private practice of some of its members who are handling high-profile cases of corruption involving politically exposed persons (PEPs).
SERAP therefore asked the CJN â€˜to urgently revisit and review the compositionâ€™ of the committee.
It stated that â€œfor the Salami committee to perform its tasks effectively and with propriety, it should preferably be composed entirely of members of the judiciary, particularly drawn from available pool of brilliant andincorruptible retired judges.â€
The group noted that while international law did not prohibit some representation of the legal profession or academics, the CJN in selecting people from these fields as members of the committee should do so based on their demonstrable commitment to the fight against corruption, and after extensive consultation, and a thorough scrutiny of the candidatesâ€™ past record of legal practice, to eliminate possibilities of bias and conflict of interest.
The organisation said doing this would ensure accountability as well as keeping the independence of the judiciary intact and uncompromised.
â€SERAP believes that until the issues raised in this letter are satisfactorily addressed, Nigerians would have a doubt in their mind as to the ability of the Salami committee to discharge its mandates effectively and with propriety, and would have a right to have a doubt,â€ the letter added.
The group said it welcomed and shared the CJNâ€™s commitment to promote judicial accountability and combat corruption in the judiciary.
SERAP said: â€œWe share your Lordshipâ€™s vision of a judiciary that is corruption-free, and demonstrates the fundamental principles of independence, impartiality and integrity. An independent and impartial judiciary is indeed essential for the enjoyment of the right to a fair trial and effective and efficient administration of justice, as well as the credibility of the entire justice system.â€
NJC had approved the appointment of Salami as chairman of the 15-member Corruption and Financial Crime Cases Trial Monitoring Committee (COTRIMCO).
The committee has some judges and senior lawyers as members.
They include Chief Judge of Borno State, Justice Kashim Zannah; Chief Judge of Imo State, Justice P.O. Nnadi; Chief Judge of Delta State, Justice Marsahal Umukoro, and Chief Judge of Oyo State, Justice M. L. Abimbola. Others are representative of NJC, representative of non-governmental organisations, representative of Ministry of Justice; representative of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN); President, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Abubakar Mahmoud (SAN); Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), Mr. Joseph Daudu (SAN), Mr. Augustine Alegeh (SAN) and Dr. Garba Tetengi (SAN).
The committee is to regulate and monitor proceedings at designated courts for financial and economic crimes nationwide; advise the CJN on how to eliminate delay in the trial of alleged corruption cases; give feedback to the NJC on progress of cases in the designated courts and conduct background checks on judges selected for the designated courts. The committee is also expected to evaluate the performance of the designated courts.