*As el-Rufai demands CJN steps aside
By Vivian Okejeme and Umar Puma, Abuja
Justice N.E Maha, yesterday, extended the restraining order against the planned arraignment of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Justice Walter Nkanu Onnoghen, to January 28.
It is expected that on that day, the court will decide whether or not the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) has the jurisdiction to hear the case of false asset declaration and operating foreign currency accounts brought against the CJN by the federal government.
In a related development, the Kaduna State governor, Nasiru el Rufai, has called on the CJN to step aside and face his trial to allow for thorough dispensation of justice and protect the image of the judiciary.
El-Rufai made the call while featuring on Sunrise Programme of Channels TV yesterday.
The extension of the hearing by the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, followed the non service of court summon claim made by the counsel to the respondents.
Two civil society organizations, the Centre for Justice and Peace Initiative, and the International Association of Students Economists and Management, have earlier approached the court challenging the jurisdiction of the CCT to try the CJN.
The court had, in two separate ex parte applications, ordered parties in the matter to maintain status quo till January 17 when the applications will be heard.
In the ex-parte order, the judge instructed the plaintiffs to serve the defendants with all the papers filed.
When the matter came up yesterday for hearing, a counsel representing the respondents, informed the court that they were yet to be served.
Consequently, the court ordered a fresh service of the court summons to the respondents and asked that the date of service be included in the proof of service before the next hearing.
In view of the foregoing, Justice Maha, held that her previous order for parties to maintain status quo, subsists, and adjourned hearing till 28 January, when all parties would have been served.
The Federal Government, last week, through Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) in a suit number CCT/ABJ/91/19, filed a six-count charge of false assets declaration against the CJN.
The prosecution agency, alleged that Onnoghen maintained a domiciliary foreign currencies account of Dollars Account, Pound Sterling Account and Euro Account, which, according to the agency, is an offence contrary to relevant laws regulating conduct of public office holder.
Defendants in the matter are the CCT chairman, Danladi Umar; the Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami SAN and the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu.
Others mentioned as defendants are the National Judicial Council, headed by Mr. Onnoghen and the Senate President, Bukola Saraki.
Meanwhile, the Governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai yesterday asked the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen to step down in order to protect the institution he represents.
El-rufa’i, who is also a lawyer, said forgetting to fill the Assets Declaration Form cannot be an excuse in law. He also said the right place to try the CJN is the Code of Conduct Tribunal.
He condemned the South-South governors for invoking tribal sentiments to support the CJN instead of considering the allegations against Onnoghen objectively.
He said, “All the arguments being made that the allegations against the CJN should first go to the National Judicial Council (NJC) were wrong.”
He said: “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 personalizing 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, and I think we should stand up for that, we should seize being ethnic and religious, otherwise this country will not go anywhere.”
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.
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.
“All the arguments being made that it should first go to the NJC are wrong. For violation of the code of conduct, it has to go to no other authority but the Code of Conduct Tribunal, that is, violation of the code of conduct for public officers, not the code of ethics for judges.”
El-Rufai, however, faulted South-South governors for backing the CJN on ethnic basis without addressing the issue at hand.
He 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 North-East governors met and issue a statement that yes he has done that but he is from North-East 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 South-West, 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.”