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NJC PROBE: Like UK, unlike Nigeria

More than any other issue, the ongoing probe of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu, President Court of Appeal (PCA), Justice Isa Ayo-Salami and six other justices of the Appeal Court is one issue that I have followed passionately.

Reason is because as a lover of democracy, I understand that the survival of democracy in any society depends on the credibility and viability of the judiciary. In other words, a country's polity is as stable as its justice system.

Therefore, that the CJN and PCA, who are the first two judicial officers in Nigeria are under trial for alleged unethical behaviours in the discharge of their duties is a matter that should interest all lovers of rule of law, which is the foundation on which democratic governance is built and sustained.

Penultimate Friday, my interest in the Justice Umaru Abdulai (rtd) led National Judicial Council (NJC) Probe Panel was further strengthened by the news of the conviction of a United Kingdom (UK) Juror, Joanne Fraill. The juror was jailed for eight months for using Facebook to exchange messages with Jamie Sewart, 34, a defendant already acquitted in an ongoing multimillion-pound drug trial in Manchester last year.

Most interesting about the UK juror's case was that when she was confronted, the juror simply admitted making contact with the defendant and went further to reveal details about the case. She also admitted conducting internet research about Sewart's boyfriend Gary Knox, a co-defendant!

My first reaction when I read the news was that; can this ever happen in Nigeria, my fatherland? Can a public officer in Nigeria admit to committing a crime even when faced with highly incriminating and undeniable evidence? In Nigeria where judicial officers that are being probed are still sitting in judgment over cases, can that day ever come when we will have men and women of honour like Joanne Fraill, who would say; “I am guilty, please temper justice with mercy?”

Then, my mind went to the ongoing NJC probe Panel. I imagined Justice Salami, who is being probed on matters involving the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) still presiding over a Presidential Election Petition, involving the PDP! Can a judge that is being probed sit in judgment over cases in the UK or any European country? Isn't this one of the reasons we are called third world country and nothing seems to work in our land?

Today, the judiciary in Nigeria is on trial. This is because apart from the CJN and PCA, other justices being probed by the Justice Umaru Abdulai (rtd) National Judicial Council (NJC) Probe Panel include Clara. B. Ogunbiyi; O. Ariwoola; C.C. Nweze, Adamu Jauro, M.L Garuba and Paul Galinje. They are being probed on their roles in the Ekiti, Osun and Sokoto States governorship elections appeal cases.

In a Nigeria Court of Appeal that has over 60 justices, Clara Ogunbiyi, C.C Nweze and Adamu Jauro sat on both in Ekiti and Osun cases while Paul Galinge was in Osun and Sokoto panels and was in fact, queried over that Sokoto case.

The petition on the Sokoto case was still pending before the NJC when Justice Galinje was empanelled as member of the Osun Appeal panel!

Both Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola and Chief Olusegun Oni, former governors of Osun and Ekiti States respectively had petitioned the NJC that Justice Salami and other members of the Appeal Court that sat on the matter instituted by the then governorship candidates of the Action Congress (AC) in Osun and Ekiti States, Alhaji Rauf Aregbesola and Dr. Kayode Fayemi respectively compromised their verdict and brought to the fore likelihood of bias.

Justice Salami also petitioned the NJC, claiming that the CJN asked him to pervert the course of justice in the Sokoto appeal case.

To proof his petition, Oni personally testified before the panel and also tendered the call logs of Tel No: 08034004887 and 08034010700 belonging to Hon Justice Salami and Mr. Tunji Ijaya respectively; Newspaper Publications as follows: This Day of January 25, 2011, Nigerian Tribune of February 17, 2011 and The Nation of October 4, 5 and 6, 2010 and the affidavits of Senator Umaru Dahiru and Yahaya Mahmood, which had also been tendered at the hearing of the Sokoto petition.

Also, the panel, at the request of the petitioners invited the office of the National Security Adviser (NSA), to tender copies of the report of their investigation at the panel. On behalf of the NSA, the Director, Lawful Intercept, Ndubuisi Onyia, came before the panel and testified that, he received call logs from the four mobile service providers in the country on a USB drive which he forwarded to the Secretary of the Panel, and was tendered as EXHIBIT 14(b). He subsequently identified the flash drive and its contents as being the logs from the mobile service providers to wit: MTN, ETISALAT, GLO and AIRTEL.

In the call logs, Justice Salami and Mr. Tunji Ijaiya, who is regarded as his link-person with the ACN chieftains allegedly, exchanged 11 text messages and voice calls between themselves between October 11 and 15, 2010.

“At 9:22am, on October 14, 2010, a day to the Ekiti judgment, Governor Kayode Fayemi called Tunji Ijaiya with telephone number 08055556655.

“On the October 15, 2010; the day of the judgement, Mr Titus Ashaolu who was one of the counsel to Fayemi, was the first to send an SMS to Tunji Ijaya at 9:37am. At 11:08am, Lai Mohammed ACN publicity with phone number 08034301111 also called Tunji Ijaiya. At 12:46pm on the same day of the judgement, Yusuf Ali (SAN), lead counsel to Fayemi also called Tunji Ijaya and they spoke for 78 seconds. At 1:08pm, Lai Mohammed, also called Tunji Ijaya while Yusuf Alli again called Ijaiya at 1:20pm. Titus Ashaolu again sent a text message to Ijaya at 1:35pm and subsequently called at 1:40pm. Philip Oyinloye, the Chairman of the ACN in kwara state, called Ijaya also on the date of the Judgment at 2:08pm.

“Curiously at 16:45pm, Justice Isa Ayo Salami now called Ijaya and day after the Judgment, Fayemi sent a text to Ijaya,” Oni revealed.

Entries in the call logs provided by the petitioners were also reportedly compared with the ones tendered by the NSA and they tallied.

For instance, Oni said in his final address that: “In relation to Tel No 08095402000, Exhibit 12(13) which is an Etisalat line at page 2 of the logs received from the NSA in relation to this number on the 8th Row, there is entry of a call made by Tel No: 08034004887 belonging to Justice Salami at 9:32:52 on the 11th of October, 2010 for 191 seconds.

“In Exhibit 4 which is Justice Salami's call log, at page 37 thereof, this same entry is recorded in the 5th to the last row as a call made by 08034004887 (Justice Salami's number) to 0809540200 with a call duration of 192 seconds.

“On the 10th of November 2010, Tel No:-08056000287 Exhibit 12(7) sent a text message to Justice Salami's telephone number at 09:25. This call log forms part of the exhibit 12 series however, from the service provider GLO also sent to the panel by the office of the NSA. This entry in exhibit 12(7) tally's with the entry of page 42 row19 of Justice Salami's call logs exhibit 4

“Again in exhibit 5 which is the log of the number belonging to Mr Tunji Ijaya at page 81, row 14th, on 20th October, 2010 at about

15:13:52 hrs, a call was made to 08023071844 Exhibit 12(6). Cross referencing the above with Exhibit 12(6) series received from the office of the NSA with Airtel number 08023071844, at page 47, row 64 on the same date and time above mentioned is an entry of a call from 08034010700 (Tunji Ijaiya).”

However, unlike Joanne Fraill, instead of either admitting or denying having unethical telephone interactions with the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) chieftains and lawyers mentioned in the petitions, Justice Salami opted for the use of legal technicalities and curiously went on to claim that it was the responsibility of Oni and Oyinlola to show the contents and details of the telephone conversations.

He further went on to say that;
“We are at a loss as to what the so
called logs are intended to achieve, we have perused them over and over again. We cannot locate anything incriminating in the logs worse still, there is nothing in them indicating any incriminating conversations between us and any of the named parties in the Appeal.”

Even when the ACN governorship candidate for Kebbi State, who was one of the witnesses Justice Salami called, admitted sending text messages to him (Salami) as reflected in the call logs tendered by the petitioners, Justice Salami still refused to act like the UK juror.

Instead, he chose to introduce the spoofing or hacking theory, claiming that his telephone number could have been hacked to call or send text messages to those mentioned in the petitions!

Pray, how could the telephone number of the number two judicial officer in a country be hacked to make unethical calls and up till now, no report has been made to either security agencies or the service provider? Worse still, he still uses the number up till now!

Rule 1 (2) (a) of the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria states that: “A judicial officer must avoid social relationships that are improper or give rise to an appearance of impropriety, that cast doubt on the judicial officer's ability to decide cases impartially, or that bring disrepute to the judiciary” while Rule 2 (C) (1) provides that: “A Judicial Officer should disqualify himself in a proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned, including but not limited to instances where...”

Yet, in my country Nigeria, Justice Salami, who is on trial for his roles in judgments involving PDP cannot see anything wrong in presiding over a presidential election petition, involving the party.

If he (Salami) can sit comfortably as the chairman of the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal, how then can anyone expects him to see anything wrong in having telephone interaction with parties to matters before him?

Interestingly, unlike Salami's alleged telephone interactions, which took place while the cases were still on, the facebook conversations between the UK juror and the accused, took place when the accused had already been acquitted of conspiracy to supply drugs.

Tale of two countries!
In UK, Joanne Fraill, a juror is now serving a eight months jail term for chatting on facebook with an already acquitted accused person, while Justice Salami, the number two judicial officer in Nigeria, who allegedly exchanged telephone calls and text messages with people whose cases were still pending before him is asking those who accused him to produce contents and details of the telephone conversations.

That is UK and Nigeria for you, and the reason UK is how it is and Nigeria is regarded as a third world!

Dr. Popoola is the Coordinator, Justice For All Nations (JFAN) based in d United States, (US.)


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