The Body of Benchers (BoB) has set up a three-member committee to investigate the payment of about N800 million to a contractor by the Secretary of the National Judicial Council (NJC), Mr. Ahmed Gambo Saleh, CITY LAWYER can authoritatively report.

Impeccable sources told CITY LAWYER that the probe was as a result of an “alarm” raised by former Court of Appeal President and Member of the BoB Building Committee, Hon. Justice Umaru Abdullahi concerning payment of the money to the contractor “without following due process.”

One of the sources told CITY LAWYER that the former Court of Appeal helmsman has a “prominent role in monitoring and payments.” The Building Committee is chaired by Mrs. Hairat Balogun, unanimously elected the first female Chairman of the Body of Benchers in 1998.

Appointed on February 24, 2022, the investigative panel is headed by Senator Mike Ajegbo SAN. Other members are former Chief Judge of FCT High Court and current Chairman of the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee (LPDC), Justice Ishaq Bello and Mr. Adeniji Kazeem SAN.

The payment was made in respect of the Body of Benchers building which was funded by the NJC, with Saleh as the “Accounting Officer,” said the source.

CITY LAWYER gathered that a crisis of confidence may also be rocking the committee as a member of the investigative panel is alleged to be a Director in the beneficiary company.

There are strong indications that the committee’s report will be presented by the committee at the next meeting of the Body of Benchers scheduled for September 29, 2022.

CITY LAWYER was unable to reach the former Supreme Court Chief Registrar for comments, as repeated calls to his verified telephone number returned the message that the telephone was “switched off.” A text message to the telephone number did not receive any response at press time.

Saleh joined the Supreme Court in 2008 as a Special Assistant to the Chief Justice of Nigeria. Between 2010 and 2014, he was the Deputy Chief Registrar (Litigation Department). He was elevated to the position of Chief Registrar in 2014, until July 1, 2017 when he was appointed Secretary of the National Judicial Council.

He was recently accused of involvement in a N10 billion “bribe and federal racketeering” allegedly being investigated by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The report was however promptly dismissed by NJC spokesman, Mr. Soji Oye who stated that the allegation was aimed to “smear the good image of Ahmed Gambo Saleh at all cost.”

According to Oye, “It is imperative for the members of the public to be aware that before his emergence as the secretary of the NJC, some forces who tried to scuttle his appointment as the secretary of the council have re-emerged with antics aimed at tarnishing his image and bringing his good name to disrepute.”

He said that “It is on record that these forces, in a bid to stop his emergence as the NJC Secretary after the interview to consider his appointment, came up with false allegations in the media alleging that he had diverted N2.2 billion from the Supreme Court from 2009 to 2016 on the day the council meeting was to hold.”

The NJC also dismissed the charges filed against Saleh by the Federal Government in November 2016, saying the case was withdrawn by the Attorney-General of the Federation because “the charges could not be substantiated”. It added that “It should be noted that there has never been a time when Mr. Saleh admitted committing any crime before anybody or law court.”

The NJC stated that “The sponsors of these malicious allegations believe they own the Judiciary and nobody can become anything within the Judiciary without their approval.

“It is important to reiterate that there is no iota of credibility in the petition as they are not after the truth but are out to smear the good image of Ahmed Gambo Saleh at all cost.”

CITY LAWYER recalls that the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN) had, while speaking at a recent Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Justice Sector Summit in Abuja, taken a swipe at the Judiciary for lack of transparency and accountability, asking why the N104 billion provided for the Judiciary in the 2021 Budget was insufficient. He stated that the Executive was not in a position to answer “because their (judiciary’s) books are not open.”

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