KADUNA State Governor Nasir El-Rufai yesterday joined the push for Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Walter Onnoghen to step down.

He knocked his South-south counterparts for backing the CJN after admitting the errors in the assets declaration forms he submitted to the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB).

El-Rufai said it was complimentary for President Buhari to have had no knowledge of the CJN was being investigated by the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB).

He said that the President’s decision not to interfere with the activities of institutions was a plus for him.

El-Rufai, who made his views known on a Channels Television Programme, “Sunrise”, said: 

”All the arguments being made that the allegations against the CJN should first go to the National Judicial Council (NJC) are wrong.

“I presented a paper at the Bisi Akande Colloquium on restructuring. I believe that we should look at our federation. Constitutional restructuring is one thing, restructuring our minds to be objective about what is right is another.

“I am extremely sad about this Chief Justice matter; if I am the Chief Justice, and write and say, ‘yes I have these bank accounts but I did not declare them’, I will not even allow the CCB to file charges, I will resign there and then to protect the institution.

“The admission that I did not declare my assets, that infraction alone, is enough for him to step down and protect the institution. All these court orders and lawyers are not helping the judiciary or the legal practice and are not helping Nigeria.”

The governor said it was not obligatory for the President to know about the prosecution of any Nigerian, including the CJN.

He said: “Why should the President know about the prosecution of anyone? Let us please stop personalising institutions. Won’t you be worried if the President is worried about prosecution? Institutions should be allowed to function.

“I am the governor of Kaduna State. The constitution requires that I declare my assets before being sworn in. Also, the constitution states this specifically, in plain language. This is not law; we don’t need law to tell us this.

“I don’t have to know if the Attorney-General of Kaduna State goes and murder or rape someone, and the police arrest him; I don’t need to know. They should charge him to court. Institutions should be allowed to work, and we should stand up to protect the integrity of institutions.

“Saying that the President doesn’t know, I think it is a compliment to the president; it shows that he does not interfere with institutions and doesn’t get involved in it.

“What is right is right, and what is wrong is wrong; I think we should stand up for that, we should seize being ethnic and religious, otherwise this country will not go anywhere.

“The man has admitted that ‘I did not declare my asset, I forgot’. If the matter was simply that the Code of Conduct Bureau has made an allegation and filed charges in the tribunal, I will presume innocence, but I have seen a written statement by the Chief Justice saying that ‘…yes I have these accounts, yes I did not declare them, but I forgot’. Forgetting is not a defense in law.

“The constitution is very clear; if the matter has to do with Code of Conduct of public officers, the only court, the only tribunal vested with the power to consider the violations of that code is the Code of Conduct Tribunal. It can try anyone, including the President.

“The NJC is supposed to take petitions on the professional misconduct of Judges; if a Judge kills or steals, it is not NJC, it is the regular court. You cannot say the NJC is a self-appointed court, a special court that will first have to clear judges before they go to regular court.

“It is saying that Judges have immunity that the constitution has not contemplated. It is only the President and the governors that have immunity in the constitution.

“For me, that is not even the issue, the issue is this, and the Code of Conduct for public office requires you to declare your assets – all of us, have you declared your assets? Yes! Have you declared all your assets? No, I have not! The Chief Justice has admitted it; his defense is ‘I have forgotten’, that is not a defense in law.”

Faulting the South-south governors for backing the CJN on ethnic basis without addressing the issue at hand, the Kaduna governor said: “What is worrying for me is that – one, all of a sudden we have no regard for institution; political parties are getting involved in issuing statements.

“My colleagues – governors that ought to know better are issuing statements based on where the Chief Justice came from. That is wrong. That is sad.

“Leaders should advance the course of institutions and unite us. You cannot say that he is my kin, so he should be let go. This is the attitude in Nigeria that has the capacity to destroy the country. If Babachir Lawal, as SGF, was being investigated, and all the facts about his conducts, and Northeast governors met and issued a statement that yes he has done that but he is from Northeast and should be left to go, where will Nigeria be?

“If we continue to apply these standards, what if South-west governors met, and said, well ex-minister Kemi Adeosun made a mistake and presented a fake certificate, but she is from Southwest, so, she is immune from being asked to resign, what will Nigeria be like?

“My concern is that Nigeria elites should have a consensus about the sanctity of institutions. We should all protect our institutions, even when they seem to be against us.”

The governor said it was wrong to claim that the NJC ought to have looked into the allegations against the CJN before arraign him at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT).

He added: “They are wrong. I think again, depending on which side you want to be, Nigerians can be morally flexible.  The constitution is clear – as far as the violation of the code of conduct of a public office is concerned, the only institution allowed to investigate violations in the Code of Conduct Bureau, the only institution allowed exclusively is the Code of Conduct Tribunal.

“The case they are referring to is the case of judicial misconduct; it is the case of a judge that violated the code of conduct of judges and was taken to court because the disciplinary committee of judges is vested by the same constitution of the NJC.

“So, if a judge engages in judicial misconduct, in the course of his duty as a judge, you should first send him to NJC because it is easier for Judges to determine if his conduct is above or below the standard before referring him to a regular court.”

Also yesterday, a Federal High Court in Abuja restated its order restraining the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), the CCT and some others from proceeding with the planned arraignment of Justice Onnoghen.

Justice Evelyn Maha restated the order at the resumed hearing of the suits brought by two groups, who are challenging the propriety of the charge brought against the CJN before the CCT by the CCB.

The first suit, marked FHC/ABJ/CS/27/2019 was filed by the Incorporated ‎Trustees of the Centre for Justice and Peace Initiative (CJPI), while the second, marked FHC/ABJ/CS/28/2019 was by the Incorporated ‎Trustees of the International Association of Students Economists and Management (IASEM).

Listed as defendants, in the first suit, are: the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), CCT Chairman, the NJC, and the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) and President of the Senate.

The second suit has, as defendants, the AGF, the CCT Chair, the CCT, the CCB, the Chairman of CCB and the IGP.

When the first case was called yesterday, plaintiff’s lawyer, Rafiu Lawal-Rabana (SAN) said the court had, at the last proceedings on January 14, 2019, adjourned to January 17 for hearing of the plaintiff’s motion on notice.

Lawal-Rabana said all the defendants have been served with the processes filed by the plaintiff and the enrolled order of the court’s ex-parte ruling of January 14, 2019. He said it was only the Senate President that has not been served.

Lawal-Rabana sought a short adjournment to enable the plaintiff serve the Senate President as required.

Lawyer to the 4th defendant, NJC, Garba Tetengi (SAN) said his client was served.

Tetengi, who represented the only defendant that turned up in court on Thursday, said he would not object to the request for a short adjournment.

Ruling, Justice Maha ordered proper service of the court processes on the defendants.

Justice Maha adjourned the second case to January 28.

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