Ayo Salami, former President of the Court of Appeal, turned down the offer to be Chairman of the Corruption and Financial Crime Cases Trial Monitoring Committee on Thursday, barely a month after he was appointed to the position by Walter Onnoghen, Chief Justice of Nigeria.
Onnoghen had announced that special courts would be designated across the country to specifically try corruption and financial crime cases, as part of efforts at expediting such cases and giving more impetus to the anti-corruption campaign of the federal government.
He subsequently appointed Salami, who was controversially removed as President of the Court Appeal in August 2011, to head the committee.
However, Vanguard reports that Salami may have rejected the appointment because he was uncomfortable with some members of the committee.
The report quoted sources at the National Judicial Council as saying that out of the 15 members of the committee, Salami pointed out of three who had vested interests in some of the corruption cases that the committee was expected to monitor.
“Salami had, in his meeting with the CJN, pinpointed three members of the committee he said he would not be comfortable to work with,” Vanguard quoted the source as saying.
“He was said to have drawn attention of the CJN to the fact that the trio, who are senior lawyers, have vested interest in some of the corruption cases the committee would monitor in the exercise of its mandate.
“He further drew attention of the CJN to the fact that composition of the committee was already being queried by the public.”
Awassam Bassey, media aide to Onnoghen, confirmed to newsmen that Salami had resigned but he refrained from discussing the triggers of the resignation.
“I can confirm that it is true; I mean the resignation of Hon. Mr. Justice Ayo Salami (Retired) as the chairman of the Corruption and Financial Crime Cases Trial Monitoring Committee (COTRIMCO),” he said.
“However, besides what we see in the media, we cannot exactly say what the reasons are for Justice Salami’s decision not to undertake this all-important national assignment that he was called upon to perform.
“Hon. Salami (retired) says he has sent in a resignation letter to His Lordship the Hon Chief Justice of Nigeria but that letter has yet to get to the CJN.
“That’s all I can say at this moment. A more detailed explanation, if it becomes necessary, will be communicated to you when His Lordship receives Hon. Mr. Justice Salami’s letter.”
Indeed, the formation of the corruption trial monitoring committee was questioned by some civil society groups, most notably the Socio-Economic Right and Accountability Project (SERAP).
The group claimed that the composition of the committee was not in consonance with the advisory of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers.
“SERAP urges your Lordship to urgently revisit, review, and reconsider the membership of the Salami committee to ensure that members currently handling high-profile corruption cases involving PEPs (Politically Exposed Persons) are removed,” the group had written in a letter to Onnoghen.
“This proposal aims solely to remove the risk of apparent and potential 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 PEPs and to ensure the independence, impartiality, integrity and accountability of the judiciary.”