Kaduna State governor, Nasir el-Rufai, has advised the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen, to voluntarily resign his position as a mark of honour and to save the judiciary from further embarrassment.
The governor, who appeared on ‘Sunrise Daily’, a breakfast show on Channels Television, said that since the CJN had admitted culpability of the allegations levelled against him, he should resign and protect the judiciary from disrepute. The CJN, the nation’s head of the third arm of government, the Judiciary is facing trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal for failing to declare some of his assets as required by law for public servants.
LEADERSHIP Friday reports that the move to arraign him has elicited sharp responses from some quarters, with governors of the South South, the Nigeria Bar Association, and the opposition parties jumping into the fray and attributing his trial to political causes.
However, Governor el-Rufai has insisted that the CJN should respect his office and throw in the towel.
He said, “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 Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) to file charges; I will resign there and then to protect the institution; because the admission that I did not declare my assets – that infraction alone is enough for me to step down and protect the institution.”
According to el-Rufai, the numerous court orders to stop the CJN’s prosecution at the Code Conduct Tribunal (CCT) would not help the judiciary in particular and the country in general.
“All these court orders and lawyers are not helping the judiciary or the legal practice and is not helping Nigeria. 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, I forgot’. Forgetting is not a defence 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 file the violations of that code is the Code of Conduct Tribunal. It can try anyone, including the president,” he added.
Apparently responding to claims by the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that President Muhammadu Buhari was not aware of the trial because a cabal is in charge of the government, el-Rufai 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.”
The Kaduna governor explained that it was a compliment that the president did not interfere with the process.
“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.
“If the Attorney General of Kaduna State goes and murders and rapes 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, and I think we should stand up for that; we should cease being ethnic and religious; otherwise this country will not go anywhere,” el-Rufai added.
The governor further explained that the NJC was supposed to take petitions on the professional misconduct of judges, not for other breaches of the law.
“If a judge kills or steals, it is not the 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.”
He, however, cautioned political parties and state governors who have criticised the CJN’s prosecution to rise above ethic and political sentiments in the interest of the nation.
“What is worrying for me is that – one, all of a sudden we have no regard for institutions; 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, ‘he is my kin, so he should be let go’. This is the attitude in Nigeria that has the capacity to destroy the country,” he said.
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