By NBF News
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Controversy over the perjury charge against the suspended President of the Court of Appeal (PCA) Justice Ayo Salami, deepened yesterday as the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), seeks his prosecution over the alleged offence.

The party's demand is the fall-out of the face-off between the immediate past Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu and the former PCA over the Sokoto State governorship election petition.

But yesterday, the Ekiti and Osun State chapters of the PDP said they had written to the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF)/Justice Minister Mohammed Adoke (SAN), for his permission to sue Justice Salami for alleged perjury and abuse of office.

The two states lost the governorship seats to the opposition Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) at the tribunals last year. Former Governors Olusegun Oni (Ekiti) and Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola (Osun) were removed by the judges.

The PDP's demand was made as former former Lagos State governor and national leader of the ACN, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, accused the ruling PDP of an attempt to gag the judiciary. This, he said, is a ' lethal threat to the survival of democracy in the country'.

He cited the retirement of Justice Salami and the re-composition of the Presidential Election Tribunal to buttress his claim. But the PDP National Publicity Secretary, Prof. Rufai Ahmed Alkali, allayed such fears.

In a letter written on its behalf by its counsel, Mr Idowu Jegede of Jegede and Co. Chambers , Lagos, the PDP said the AGF should either prosecute Justice Salami or grant it the fiat to initiate criminal proceding against the judicial officer.

The ruling party contended that the panel set up to investigate allegations of corruption levelled against the suspended Appeal Court boss in relation to the gubernatorial disputes in Ekiti and Osun states discovered that Justice Salami interacted with ACN chieftains during the cases in question. A development which the party said was against the Code of Conduct for judicial officers.

'Salami was PCA during the hearing of gubernatorial appeal panels in Ekiti and Osun states, which nullified the elections of Messrs Segun Oni and Oyinlola as governors of the two states respectively. Since then, the PDP has been crying wolf over the judgment.' According to the letter, the Code of Conduct amongst others, stipulates 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'.

It added that ' needless to say that Justice Ayo Salami and other Justices of the Appeal Panel breached all the rules…and should have been made to face the music; the whitwash of the National judicial Council (NJC) investigative panel, notwithstanding. Justice Ayo Salami was also said to have committed perjury- a high crime that attracts 14 years imprisonment upon conviction'.

The party expressed shock that many weeks after the NJC submitted its report, the office of the AGF has not commenced criminal proceedings against Salami. The PDP stated that 'we hope that in the next few days, you will set machinery in motion to institute criminal proceedings against Justice Ayo Salami. Or in the alternative, grant us a fiat to initiate criminal action against him.'

Similarly, the party in a separate letter also signed by Jegede, requested the AGF to institute a case against a telecoms company for obstructing the course of justice or, in the alternative, grant it the fiat to do so.

It said the telecommunication company played an 'ignoble role' during sitting of the Special Investigative Panel that sat over the allegations of corruption it made against the suspended President, Court of Appeal and other members of the Ekiti and Osun State Gubernatorial Election Appeal Panels.

Speaking yesterday in Abuja at the annual Leadership Newspapers Lecture, where he was conferred with the Person of the Year award, Tinubu noted that rather than being remorseful over the upturn of its questionable victories by the law courts,'' the governing party now seems intent to overturn the impartiality of the judiciary.'' The former governor cited the unceremonious retirement of Justice Salami and the re-composition of the panel handling the Presidential Election Tribunal.

''The most glaring example of this has been the government attempt to cut short the career of one of our illustrious jurists, Court of Appeal President, Justice Salami. What was his crime? Refusing to put his sense of justice on sale. For this, they are about to tarnish his name and plot to end his career.'They rumoured that he was in the pockets of the ACN. This is a terrible lie against a good man. His verdicts were not for the Action Congress of Nigeria. They were for justice.

'However, those in power could not tolerate his impartiality. They sacrificed one of Nigeria's finest jurist to send a blunt message to other jurists: go against our wishes and you shall lose those robes you hold so dear . If such a thing can befall so senior a jurist, what hope do others have? Unless the public cries out the ruling party, may succeed in turning the rule of law from an inalienable right into tradable item that only it owns and controls.'

'Given this example, no other jurist now dare cross their assumed master. Our courts have become islands of confusion as judges balance their conscience against their careers. Thus, in some states, we are seeing judicial verdicts that are odd after overturning several 2007 elections, appeal courts and tribunals could well have been duly admonished to forget the rule of law in judging current elections appeals.''

The former governor further warned that the fear of PDP pervading the judicial was inimical to the survival of democracy and rule of law.

'I cannot overemphasise the importance of this attack against the judiciary. Should it be allowed to stand, all aspects of our democratic life are in danger. Sensing that courts will no longer overturn their excesses, PDP operatives will return to the most blatant forms of electoral misconduct. They will snatch like a criminal kidnapping a child but the courts will be too afraid to rectify the wrongful taking. We are in danger of justice becoming so blind that it pretends not to see anything, even the wrong done right in front of it . Even worse, this disregard for the rule of law will spill into every aspect of our lives. Neither our lives nor property will be safe and secure from unjust interference by those who hold the staff of government power.''

Aligning with Tinubu's submission, Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) presidential candidate, General Muhammadu Buhari, advised Nigerians to be vigilant to the antics of the ruling party. 'For democracy to stabilise, we must align with Tinubu's observations on the judiciary. You see what they are doing to our case. As soon as they removed President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Isa Salami, the new man reconstituted the panel handling our case.

We just must ensure that the judiciary isn't entirely compromised. If it is done, we are finished. Let me also warn the political elite in this country. What Tinubu said is very important. If the judiciary is destroyed, we are finished as a nation,'' Buhari noted.

But in what seems like a defence, PDP spokesperson, Professor Alkali restated the party's position that it nurses no fear over the pending litigation arising over its victory at the last April presidential election. But it admonished the CPC to be patient and allow the court to determine the case rather than pushing the nation towards a dangerous path through its utterances.

Speaking at a press briefing yesterday in Abuja, he alerted the nation over what he called the inherent consequences of CPC's relentless campaign against the judiciary. 'PDP found it worrisome that the CPC, whose pronouncements have led to pandemonium and chaos in the past, is once again uttering statements capable of leading to a breakdown of law and order. Nigerians need to know what the real intentions of the CPC are. We all will recall that the CPC before the last general elections already prepared the stage in advance for the mindless violence that erupted after the elections.

'Nigerians will also recall that the CPC's presidential candidate announced to the entire world that the party would not seek redress in the courts when they lose. They openly stated that they had no faith in the nation's judiciary. 'We were therefore surprised that they suddenly realised the need to go to court. We have, however, realised that their voyage to the courts isn't to seek any form of redress but to cause mischief and ridicule the system,' the ruling party alleged.

Professor Alkali said the CPC's insistence on the participation of Justice Salami in the subsisting litigation showed their more than passing interest in the case. 'Since when has litigants arrogated to themselves the power to choose specific judges to preside over cases in which they are interested parties?'

The PDP also wondered what the CPC's objective was in its threat to take their case to foreign embassies in Nigeria especially when the case was still pending in the election tribunal. 'The antics of the CPC at the tribunal, including their frivolous pursuit of their case shows how unserious their petition is.'