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FG Is Wrong On the CJN

 Abdul Mahmud, a human rights lawyer and President, Public Interest Lawyers’ League

Many lawyers have argued that the prosecutors of the Chief Justice of Nigeria should have first reported the matter to the NJC since the CJN is a judicial officer. But Prof. Itse Sagay, has countered the argument by saying that not every offence committed by a judicial officer must first be brought before the NJC. What are your toughts?

My position is that the assets declaration is in line with his position as a judicial officer. I don’t agree with what Prof. Sagay said. Two, the non-declaration of assets as provided in the Constitution is not a criminal offence. It’s not a crime; it’s a misconduct. It falls within the purview of the power that the NJC exercises.

He also said that if the CJN is taken first to the NJC, it would be like someone sitting as a judge in his own case because he is the one that appointed 20 out of the 23-member NJC. So, he raised a moral question there.

 But we also have a way to go around some of those things. That’s why in more sophisticated jurisdictions, where a matter relating to an individual comes to a body which he heads, it is morally and legally right for him to recuse himself.

Don’t you think there’s a problem with the fact that he appointed 20 out of 23 members of the NJC?

I don’t consider it as a problem. We have incidence in the executive branch where the president makes such appointments. Take for example the Chairman of the EFCC who is an appointee of the President. Do we now say that in the exercise of his powers as the Chairman of EFCC, whatever he does he does it in line with the directive of Mr. President? It’s a ridiculous argument for anyone to make. Can anyone say that the Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, who is an appointee of the president, exercises his powers in line with the directive of the presidency? It’s also important for us to give some credence to the institutions in our country.

Abdul Mahmud Photo
Abdul Mahmud

So, what do you think should happen now?

The proper steps have not been taken. They botched the process. Well, it has been challenged in court, and if the challenge holds, that will be the end of it. If it doesn’t, proper trial will be brought before the Code of Conduct Tribunal. For me it is law in action; it is law in motion. Let’s see where it will take us.

Is there any moral or legal lesson to be learnt in all of these?

It is difficult for me at this time to draw any moral lesson. You know the CJN has not entered his defence yet. But at a general level it is important that public servants continue to take their responsibilities seriously. It is important that public servants declare the full assets. Another lesson we must draw is that we must take away politics from the executory proceedings of the law. We must allow the law to take its course without bringing politics into it. The way the tribunal has conducted itself, it lays itself as an instrument of state. Ideally it shouldn’t be so. The way the matter was rushed through the CCB; We know in our country that public institutions cannot receive petitions and investigate in three days and proceed to the tribunal. It shows that politics is involved, and it does not augur well for the institutions and for the future of law in our country. The law must take its natural cause.

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