Justice Isa Ayo Salami, Oct. 12 2017, was named the chairman of a committee to monitor the trial of corruption cases across the country. Raised by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, it is called Corruption and Financial Crime Cases Trial Monitoring Committee. Justice Salami, a retired president of the Court of Appeal, first, accepted the appointment, but then resigned two days before the committee’s inauguration Nov. 1.
Salami gave a number of reasons why he changed his mind. One, he was uncomfortable with a number of lawyers put on the committee, one in particular that he knew quite well. He said, in a meeting with the CJN, he had raised a “serious objection to the inclusion of certain legal practitioners in the committee based on their antecedents, divided interest and personal relationship with one of them whom I strongly believe I cannot work with”. Salami said he was not persuaded on the CJN’s promise to remove those persons after the committee’s inauguration. He said, “I do not agree with Your Lordship’s approach to the problem and I am respectfully not prepared to accept it as it would amount to buying a pig in a poke. It is easier to remove them before inauguration than after inauguration.”
Two, he was just as concerned over the role of some state chief judges named to the committee. They are: 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. Salami wondered how they could possibly juggle this new job with running the courts in their states. He asked, “Would they abdicate their responsibility to their courts or be taking time off to see to their running in order to ensure their stability? What would the committee do during their absence; wait for them or proceed without them?
“Either view is not salutary to the function of the committee. If we wait for them, the work of the committee would be delayed and if we proceed without them, they would not be seized of all the facts to enable them participate fully in the deliberations of the committee and to defend its report in council.”
Three, Salami scoffed at the very nature of the committee’s work. It is to “monitor” trials and nothing more. He said he could not imagine himself sitting in court to watch a judge conduct a corruption trial. “I do not know what we stand to gain by merely watching the proceedings of these courts,” he said. To him, “The whole exercise would be tantamount to time wasting and a huge theatrical show as we would not be there when he is writing his judgment.”
What Salami did was to, “with the greatest respect”, tell the CJN that he was not to be fooled by the high position he had been offered. He was being asked to dignify the dirty work of some crooked judge. “The devil itself does not know the darkest part of a man’s mind. Our sitting in court watching the proceedings would not disclose the intention of the presiding judge,” he explained.
We applaud Salami’s principled rejection of chairmanship of the COTRIMCO and the way and manner he did so. He painstakingly explained his position and he did so in a respectful manner. He gave no room for a second chance to be persuaded to remain on board. We are not, in any way surprised. Salami is the archetypal principled Nigerian public servant. He is known to have the courage of his own convictions. Many a person would see in the appointment a chance to make ‘cool cash’, whether or not they are comfortable with the task. But not so Salami. We salute his courage and that of those before him who had similarly turned down government jobs based on princples.