International pressure is beginning to mount following the unilateral suspension of Walter Onnoghen as Nigeria’s Chief Justice by President Muhammadu Buhari in an act not backed by any known law. The United States, United Kingdom and European Union have condemned Buhari’s action, expressing concerns it may affect credibility of elections scheduled to commence next month.
“The Embassy of the United States is deeply concerned by the impact of the executive branch’s decision to suspend and replace the Chief Justice and head of the judicial branch without the support of the legislative branch on the eve of national and state elections,” said the U.S. Embassy and Consulate in Nigeria in a statement.
The American government, according to the statement, has noted widespread Nigerian criticism that the decision by President Buhari “is unconstitutional and that it undermines the independence of the judicial branch.” This, it says undercuts the stated determination of government, candidates, and political party leaders to ensure that the elections proceed in a way that is free, fair, transparent, and peaceful – leading to a credible result.
The British High commission in Nigeria also issued a statement where it noted that “the timing of this action, so close to national elections, gives cause for concern.”
According to the UK, the action by President Buhari risks affecting both domestic and international perceptions on the credibility of the forthcoming elections.
“We, along with other members of the international community, are following developments closely,” read another portion of the statement.
On its part, the European Union Election Observation Mission in Nigeria, also in a statement regarding the constitutional anomaly currently generating heated discourse, expressed concern about the process and timing of the suspension of Onnoghen as the Chief Justice of Nigeria.
“The decision to suspend the Chief Justice has led many Nigerians, including lawyers and civil society observer groups to question whether due process was followed.
“The timing just before the swearing in of Justices for Electoral Tribunals and hearing of election-related cases has also raised concerns about the opportunity for electoral justice,” said the EU EOM.
With 20 days until presidential and National Assembly elections, political parties, candidates and voters must be able to have confidence in the impartiality and independence of the judicial system, the EU EOM said.
The EU, UK and US, are all calling for duly established legal processes provided in the constitution to be followed. They urged all actors, particularly the Federal Government to avoid actions that may derail the electoral and democratic process.
The U.S. in stressing the importance of amending the faulty decisions taken so far, and following the constitution, stated “Such action is needed urgently now to ensure that this decision does not cast a pall over the electoral process.”