INTERVIEW: Why CJN Onnoghen should resign — El-Rufai

Nasir El-Eufai [Photo Credit: The Whistler]
Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El-Eufai [Photo Credit: The Whistler]

Gov. Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna spoke to Channels TV this week and commented on several key national issues, including the ongoing case against the Chief Justice of the Federation, Walter Onnoghen.

PREMIUM TIMES is publishing a transcript of the interview with the permission of the broadcast station.

Channels TV: How is your campaign turning out at the moment?

El-Rufai: It is turning out well. I have been away a couple of days, the campaign team has been going around the state; they have visited about five local government areas in the last one week and we are on course to visit all the 23 local government areas and the 34 state constituencies. I think before the first of February, because of assignments in Abuja and elsewhere, I have missed some of the constituencies and I plan to visit each one when I go back.

Channels TV: How intense do you think this is going to be? 

El-Rufai: An election is not over until it is over but we are in a good position. The polls are showing that we are stronger this time than in 2015 but we are not going to be resting until the final vote is cast and counted. That is how an election is; you never know what will happen until it is announced.

Channels TV: There are those who were kind of surprised when they saw the kind of rally the PDP had only recently. They thought you have a battle on your hands.

El-Rufai: I do not have a battle on my hands. The PDP usually rents crowds and being in the Government House, I now know checking back on the records the PDP has never won the governorship election in Kaduna State; they stole it. So I am not worried at all about crowds. We are connected to ordinary people, we are in touch with them and we regularly test the pulse of the state through polling. So we know where we are, where we are weak and what the messages should be. We are very scientific about this and we are quite confident. As I have said, we are in a stronger position to win this election in 2019 than we were in 2015.

Channels TV: So that crowd that PDP had was rented?

El-Rufai: Probably. I am not worried.

Channels TV: Let’s go back to 2015. Kaduna State had pre-election violence. It was recorded in some other states, including Rivers and Lagos. How do you see this happening now? Do we have that kind of scenario playing out again, because we know that Kaduna State is a volatile state and interests contend all the time?

El-Rufai: Well, I do not recall any pre-election violence in Kaduna in 2015. I know that one of our supporters was shot by the convoy of the governor because they were throwing stones at the incumbent governor then. But I do not think there was any significant pre-election violence then. In 2011 there was a very bad post-election and in 2015 many people died celebrating Buhari’s victory. I would not call that violence because they were recklessly using their motorcycles and some people died. I know that there are nightmare scenarios about the 2019 elections but frankly, in spite of the historical volatility of Kaduna State for which as governor I have to be vigilant, I am not worried. I think the preparations and processes of INEC have improved so dramatically in the two, three years that most people have confidence that INEC would conduct credible elections. I was in Osun, if INEC is to conduct elections in the same level of credibility or even the same level as they did in Ekiti, I think there would be no violence at all. It would be clear that things were free, fair and credible; the people’s choice just won. What leads to violence is that there was a perception that there was some manipulation and some rigging. I do not think what I have seen in Osun and Ekiti is such that that feeling is very evident in most people’s mind. I am confident.

And speaking about Kaduna specifically, I know the areas and the potential flashpoints and we are going to deploy security agencies to secure lives and property there.

Channels TV: You know that at the moment that election is being contested, INEC tweeted at a time that security agents were preventing people from going out to vote. There are those who were not really happy with the way the elections turned out (in Osun and Ekiti).

El-Rufai: The first round of the Osun election; that was where I was physically and saw what happened. And quite frankly, it was a nearly perfect election. The Osun (supplementary polls) I was not there, I heard reports. I cannot comment because I was not physically there. The logistical preparations of INEC for the Osun and Ekiti elections were impressive and if they are able to do that for national elections or near that, I think we are getting to where we are supposed to be.

Channels TV: You have always spoken about unity and peace in the state and how you want that to be the case and how you can. But there are those who raised concerns wondering why you chose a Muslim as your deputy. I came across Sheik Ahmed Gumi, everybody knows it is politically motivated. He said he does not think it is a good idea for you to have chosen a Muslim as your deputy. 

El-Rufai: I am surprised a cleric is talking about political motivation. I am a politician, so anything I do is politically motivated, so what is so special about that? You know you go into elections, you do your calculations on how to win and I don’t understand why it is Ahmed Gumi’s business to comment on my election. We were classmates, we were in the School of Basic Studies and he knows I am not stupid on any standard. And I have been in politics, he has never been in politics, he does not understand politics. Throughout his public commentary career; I know where he stands, I know what motivates him, I know his political sympathies, so he is in no position to comment on my decisions. He lives in Kaduna, he has one vote; if he does not agree with my choice of candidate he is free to withhold his vote. I do not want to go further and characterise him in a way that is disrespectful. But, with the greatest respect, Ahmed Gumi neither has the moral standing nor the experience to even comment on what I am doing.

Channels TV: Perhaps he said it in a positive light that you should also factor the sensitivity of the people. He may be suggesting that you, being a Muslim and the deputy being a Muslim, would naturally get the majority of the Southern Kaduna voting population not to vote for you.

El-Rufai: What if I tell you no matter who I chose as my running mate, even if I chose the Pope, like 67 percent of the Christians in Southern Kaduna would never vote for me. For me, that is not the issue. Kaduna State is divided. It used to be united. The way to unite it is to take religion and ethnicity off the table.

Okay, in the past, since 1992, every deputy governor of Kaduna State has been a Christian? What has it done for the state? Has it united the state? Has it changed the feeling of the Christian minority that they are part of the government? My current deputy governor is a Christian. I did not pick him because he is a Christian; I picked him because we were colleagues from the university and I know him to be brilliant, focused and a fair and a just man. Has it changed anything? In fact, what it did was to bring disrespect to him! No one respects him in Southern Kaduna just because he is in what is called the Islamic party.

So there are complicated issues in Kaduna that people speaking from a distance would not understand. But I want to assure you: One is that I want to win this election so I am not going to take a foolish decision to make any point. But those that are making the argument that I must have a Christian running mate have not been able to justify it based on history.

From 1992, we have had more violence in Kaduna than before. The presence of a Christian deputy governor did not change anything. Even when a Christian, Patrick Yakowa of blessed memory, was the governor of the state, it did not stop the violence, the intolerance and insensitivity in Kaduna. In my view, the way to begin to heal and unite the people of the state is to completely take religion and ethnicity off the state. We have tried to do that in the last three years but we cannot take away intolerance in the state for decades overnight. But what we are trying to do is that what matters for public office is experience, tolerance and capacity and this lady, Dr Hadiza; she is competent, she has had a solid track record of public service, she is brilliant, she is a medical doctor, a consultant physician.

And I am surprised that there is even a discussion on this. What we have become is everything in this country is about religion, ethnicity.

Channels Tv: But you know you cannot separate religion from politics in Nigeria?

E-Rufai: There is no problem in having religion in politics. But religion should not determine politics. I think politics is a way to elect leaders that would deliver public good and what is important is not the religion of the person or his ethnicity but whether he can deliver and I am confident that Dr Hadiza can deliver. The reason why the governors and president have deputies is in the event of mortalities. I am 58 to 59 years old; I could drop dead. I have to pick someone in the event I drop dead, which can happen anytime. Can that person run the state competently? That was what determined my choice in 2015 and that determined my choice in 2019. Religion or ethnicity are at the back of my mind.

Channels TV: People think the antidote would be restructuring. Have your views on restructuring changed?

El-Rufai: They have not changed. I presented the papers at the Bisi Akande colloquium on restructuring. I believe we should look at the federation and rebalance it. Constitutional restructuring is one thing, restructuring our minds to just be objective on what is right and wrong is another thing. I am extremely sad about this Chief Justice matter. Because if I am the Chief Justice and I write to say that I have an asset and this bank account but I did not declare them, I would not even let the CCB to file charges, I would resign there and then to protect the institution that I head. Because the admission that I did not declare my asset, that infraction alone is enough for him to step down and protect the institution. All this court orders and lawyers and all this is not helping the judiciary and the media and Nigeria.

Channels: There are some of us who feel there has to be a place where you can go and the charges and allegation proved against him. They think it is an issue that has to be determined and once it is determined, no matter who he is, the law is the law. And that has got to be the case. And some say there is a Court of Appeal decision which has not been set aside. They have a question; are they wrong?

El-Rufai: They are wrong. Again, I think it depends on which side you want to be. Nigerians can be morally flexible. Like I said, the Constitution is clear. As far as the violation of the Code of Conduct on holding public office is concerned, the only institution allowed to investigate violations is the Code of Conduct Bureau. The only institution allowed exclusively to deal with violations to Code of Conduct is Code of Conduct Tribunal. It is clear.

The case that they are referring to, Nganjiwa case, is judicial misconduct. It was a case of a judge that violated the Code of Ethics of judges and he was taken to court because the disciplinary control of judges is vested by the same Constitution in the NJC. So if a judge engages in judicial professional misconduct in the course of his duty as a judge, he should be first taken to the NJC, because it is easier for judges to determine if his conduct is above or below the standard, before referring him to the regular court. That is the same decision in Nganjiwa decision. I got the copy just yesterday. On page 19 of the judgment, the judge said if a judge commits frauds or murder he would be referred to the regular court, not the NJC. So I do not know those who are quoting the Nganjiwa thing. I do not know maybe they have read the entire thing. They should read page 19. I read it yesterday night. All the arguments being made that he should first go to the NJC …

Channels TV: The CCT declared itself incompetent because the matter has not been referred to the NJC.

El-Rufai: For violation of the Code of Conduct, it has to go to not any person or authority but the Code of Conduct Tribunal. Violations of the Code of Conduct for public officers, not the Code of Conduct for judges. Now in the same Nganjiwa case, I am saying the lead judgment said yes, this judge ought to have been taken to NJC but, however, if a judge engages in murder, fraud on regular crime, he would be taken to regular court, not NJC.  NJC exercises disciplinary control over judges in the course of their duties. But people are reading that judgment to mean that if a judge walks to your house, kills your wife, rapes your daughter, he cannot be arrested or be taken to a regular court until the NJC, his own peers, determine he should be tried. That means you are creating special court for judges and judges are above the law. That cannot be the intention of the law and the Constitution.

Channels TV: The thing about it is that there is a different school of thought; that is why it is before the CCT. The lawyers are doing their work.

El-Rufai: Why I am concerned is that Nigerian elites should have a consensus about the protection of our institutions even if it seems to be against us.

Channels TV: Do you think it is time for public officials, including the president, to all make their Code of Conduct forms public?

El-Rufai: As far as I am concerned, the asset of public official should be public, everyone should publish their asset declaration. And I think the president has published his and the Vice president when they took office. My own Code of Conduct declaration is already in the public domain. I think it should be a requirement of the law, not optional, and a legal requirement.

Channels TV: Some people fear that politicians will be victimised or exposed to the public if they have to go through the process of filling forms and making it public.

El-Rufai: That is the problem behind the current position of the law that you file it with CCB. It is optional for you to publish it. Those who wrote that part of the Constitution felt that it would duly expose them. But my argument is that if you put yourself out to lead people, you should be ready for maximum scrutiny. I do not think it is an issue. I think we have reached in the 21st century a point when everything should be laid there; let everyone know everything and challenge. If you want to lead people, they should know what you have when you came into office and what you have when you leave office. I have no issue with that at all. But right now, that is not the position of the law; the position of the law is that you file with CCB. Of course, you can use the Freedom of Information and demand for it and give credible reasons. But it is not a requirement that you publish it. But many public officers have freely on their own published their assets.

Channels TV: In the 2015 elections, for a lot of people it was a free and fair election. The process has come to questions again now that the president did not assent to the electoral act amendment bill. Do you think that would have perhaps advanced the cause of our democratic process if Mr President had assented to that bill?

El-Rufai: I am indifferent to it.  I have looked at the provisions of the amendment bill, there is nothing there that substantially changes what is in the electoral act, frankly. Should the president have assented to it? Personally, I think he should have. That is my personal opinion. But that was before he took the decision to withhold assent to the latest version, not the earlier version that tried to change the order of elections. I was one of those that advocated that it should not be assented to because there was an agenda from the National Assembly that was not in the national interest. But the last version, I did not see any issues there. I am sure the president got properly advised before withholding assent but I do not think what I read, the few clauses that were amended, substantially changes the electoral framework.

Channels TV: We are not going to have electronic transfers of result. Does that bother you?

El-Rufai: It was not in the amendment. The amendment bill the president withheld assent has no provision for electronic transfer of result. Those that thought it was there should go and read the bill. It does not stop INEC from doing it because the electoral act is flexible. It allows INEC to use technology to advance the cause of fair and credible elections. INEC can still do electronic transfer even without it in the bill.

ChannelsTV: Would that be tenable if they do an electronic transfer of result and we do not have it legally documented?

El-Rufai: It is not everything that is in the Act. The Act gives INEC the power to determine methods and procedures of election. INEC can do it should they want to do it. That is up to them. How safe is their existence this day of cybercrime, hacking, Analytica, Russians and Trump? Maybe we should take a second look at that. Maybe, if it is in the bill. But it was not in the bill. Those that were shouting it is because of this electronic have not read the bill; they are just shouting.

Channels TV: Now, a lot of people still think, couldn’t the president have to look to another region to appoint another IGP? A lot of AIG’s have to retire… 

El-Rufai: Again, the region, ethnicity problem. The president has announced an acting IG. That IG cannot become an IG until the Police Council says. What is the Police Council? It consists of the president and the state governors. So if the 36 state governors and even a few of them object, the man would not be the IG because the IG is for the whole country. For me, we should not be asking whether the IG is from this part of the country or not. We should be looking at his resume, whether he is competent or not; credible Inspector-General of Police. When we receive his resume we would have to make comments on him in the Police Council. And thankfully, if I am of the view he is not good enough to be our IG, I would stand on it.

Channels TV: Maybe we should come to Kaduna politics. In your question on the merit of who you chose, are you succeeding to the extent that maybe the next time out, if there is a Christian-Christian ticket, there won’t be a complaint; that people would look at it as merit?

El-Rufai: Yes. I hope we would get there. We are not there yet. I am sure that my choice of a Muslim running mate, so to say, would be problematic for some people. But after four years when they see that it really did not matter, and it did not change the way we implement policies, I think it will begin to advance towards that utopia of (downplaying) religion and ethnicity. That is where I want to take my people.

ChannlesTV: What is the agenda towards that goal? 

El-Rufai: The agenda is to ensure that the discussion on where you come from, the way you worship God, does not go into government offices and public policies.

ChannelsTV: Do you see that happening?

El-Rufai: It is already happening in Kaduna and we are going to continue to advance it. And I think if Kaduna is able to do it, the rest of Nigeria can do it. It would not happen in one election cycle and it would not happen overnight, but we have to start, we cannot continue like this. This country is falling apart because everybody takes sides with an ethnic group or religious affiliation and it is destroying the country. It is making us underperform in every way and it just has to end. And if Kaduna is the one that would be the guinea pig and if I am the one that would advance that agenda I would start it.

ChannelsTV: What exactly do you mean when you said your current deputy governor as a Christian has not changed anything? Does that mean he is a failure?

El-Rufai: No. I am saying that the policy of allocating the deputy governor slot to a Christian in Kaduna State, which has been more or less the unstated policy since 1992, has not succeeded in advancing unity, integration of  Christian and Muslim communities in Kaduna State. In fact, one of the worst rounds of violence we have had in the state was in 1992 exactly when Maggie was the first Christian deputy governor of Kaduna State.

ChannelsTV: Would a Muslim-Muslim ticket make a difference?

El-Rufai: I do not know. I am ready to try. What I am saying is the Muslim-Christian ticket has not delivered on the promise, so what is wrong in trying something else?

ChannelsTV: As we all know it’s been problematic over the years in Nigeria, this religious sentiment. What exactly fuels it?

El-Rufai: I think what fuels it is this: history has shown and I think this started in the mid ’90s under the military, history has shown that you can get what you do not deserve by advancing your ethnic or religious affiliations. You can avoid sanctions by hiding behind your tribe, your region or religion when you are wrong and clearly wrong.

Channels Tv: Isn’t that also a function of leadership? Just as you have said now, some people in leadership give vent to it. 

El-Rufai: I agree. This is why I mentioned the time it started, because I am old as a Nigerian I lived this. I do not read History of Nigeria only before I was born. I have lived and I have seen how this country has metamorphosed. I have lived under a parliamentary system of government and the military and I have been part of some other governments. I think some governments that lack legitimacy deliberately introduced this in the polity. In 1992, we elected Chief Moshood Abiola and Babagana Kingibe as president and vice president but it was not even an issue of discussion for this country. And then in 1995 1996 it had become an issue because the government of the day pushed the agenda of division. Now it has become part of our lives. If you want to get ahead you do not push your ethic or religion agenda and hope that the person at the other end will be sympathetic to it. And my point is that we need to draw a line to it and stop this. It has not taken us anywhere, and those of us that are leaders ought to be reflective and stop encouraging and advancing this agenda.

One of the most painful things that I experienced in the last two weeks was the statement by the governors of the South-South justifying that none declaration of asset is a non-issue because the Chief Justice of Nigeria is from the South. This is the sort of things we have seen. Wrong is wrong and right should be right and leaders should advance that. We cannot do it all the time. Sometimes, it is not black and white, it is a bit of grey. We must stand for something that it is right because it cannot take us anywhere.

Channels TV: That particular issue is growing. Since you have dwelt on that, one would wonder because until Saturday, Mr President said he did not know about the prosecution of the CJN. Who is there pushing it?


El-Rufai: Why should he know about it? Let us please stop this personalising institution. Why should the president know about the prosecution of anyone? Won’t you be worried that the president knows about every prosecution? Institution should be allowed to work. I am the governor of Kaduna State; the Constitution requests I declare my assets before being sworn in and the Constitution states it specifically in very plain language.

ChannelsTv: What of if the Attorney-General of Kaduna State is charged to court, are you saying you shouldn’t know about it?

El-Rufai: I do not have to know. If the Attorney-General of Kaduna State goes and murders and rapes someone and the police arrest him, I do not need to know. They should charge him/her to court – my attorney-general is a woman. Institutions should be allowed to work and we should stand to protect the integrity of the institutions. Saying that the president doesn’t know, I think it is a complement to the president, it shows he does not interfere with the institutions and he does not get involved. We should cease being ethnic and religious, otherwise this country would not go anywhere.

ChannelsTV: When you say wrong is wrong, does that suggest in some quarters that they have already adjudged him wrong? Because we still have the presumptions of innocence in the country.

El-Rufai: The man has already admitted that he did not declare the asset; he forgot. If the matter was that the Code of Conduct Bureau made an allegation and they have filed charges in the tribunal, I would presume innocence. But I have seen a written statement by the Chief Justice saying that “yes, I have this accounts, yes I did not declare them, I forgot”. Forgetting is not a defence in law.

Channels TV: But we should not forget that if that were the case, if they could stop at that, they would not go to court or the CCT. So to the extent that they have also taken it to the appropriate institution, is in the contention.

El-Rufai: It is not in contention.

Channels TV: But it says in the Constitution that you summon the CJN to NJC. 

Nasiru: No way, it is not in the Constitution. Look, the Constitution is very clear. If the matter has to do with Code of Conduct for public officers, the only court and tribunal vested with the power to try violations of that code is the Code of Conduct Tribunal; that the Code of Conduct Tribunal can try anyone, including the president, if he violates the Code of Conduct. It is very clear. In simple language, in the Constitution, 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 would first have to clear judges before they go through regular court. It is saying that judges have immunity that the constitution has not yet contemplated. Only the president and governors have immunity in the Constitution. All this playing with words, for me, that is not even the issue.

The issue is this. The code of conduct for public officers requires you to declare your asset. All of us. Have you declare your asset? Yes! I have. You declare all your asset? No, I have not! The Chief Justice has admitted it, so there is no issue whether I have done it or I have not done it. His defence is “I have forgotten”. That is not a defence in law and he knows it. He is a lawyer. All these things, what is worrying for me is the fact that all of a sudden, we have no regard for institutions. Political parties are getting involved in issues. My colleague governors that ought to know better are issuing statements based on where the Chief Justice came from. That is wrong and sad.

ChannelsTV: But it is not going to be tenable in the CCT what anyone else has done. 

El-Rufai: I know. But public commentary by leaders should advance the cause of institution and unite us. You cannot say he is a crook but he is my crook, so he should be let go. This an attitude in Nigeria that has the capacity to destroy the country. If one Babachir Lawal, the former SGF, was being investigated and all of a sudden northeast governors met and issued a statement that “Yes, he has done that but he is from Northeast”, where would Nigeria be? And this Kemi Adeosun; and all these Southwest governors met and said “Well, she made a mistake, she got this fake certificate but she is from the south-west so she is immune from being asked to resign”.

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