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EU, US express worries over timing, process to Onnoghen’s suspension


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THE European Union and the United States government on Saturday have expressed worry at the timing and process that led to the recent suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen.

The EU and US, in separate statements, said the action had caused tension among Nigerians, lawyers and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs).

These, they said could jeopardize the trust Nigerians have in the autonomy of the judiciary.

In a statement,  the EU Election Observation Mission says “it is very concerned about the process and timing of the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Honourable Justice Walter Onnoghen, on 25 January.

“With 20 days until the 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 decision to suspend the Chief Justice has led to 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 the hearing of election-related cases, has also raised concerns about the opportunity for electoral justice,” it stated further.

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The EU election group called on all parties involved to obey, “the legal processes provided for the constitution and respond calmly to any concerns they may have”.

Similarly, the US government says it’s ‘deeply concerned‘ by the decision of the Executive arm of government, expressing worry that the move was made without input from the legislature.

In a statement posted on its verified account, it identified the inappropriate timing of the CJN’S removal, stressing its proximity to the general election.

These, it emphasised contradicted the initial promise of the current administration to ensure the 2019 poll is credible, free and fair.

“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.

“We note widespread Nigerian criticism that this decision is unconstitutional and that it undermines the independence of the judicial branch. That 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.

“We urge that the issues raised by this decision be resolved swiftly and peacefully in accordance with due process, full respect for the rule of law, and the spirit of the Constitution of Nigeria. Such action is needed urgently now to ensure that this decision does not cast a pall over the electoral process.”

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Aside the international observers, prominent Nigerians and the Nigerian Bar Association also have expressed their displeasure over the development.

The Senate President Dr. Bukola Saraki and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara have both condemned the action describing it as an affront to the nation’s democracy.

Saraki expressed disappointment over the action of the President saying it already laid a bad precedent. He queried section of the Constitution that empowered Buhari to suspend the CJN.

His words: “The Constitution provides a clear process for the removal of the CJN and specifies the roles of the three arms of government, beginning from the National Judicial Council (NJC), the National Assembly and lastly, the Presidency — all have different roles to play in that process.

“Our Constitution makes no provision for the suspension of the nation’s highest judicial officer.

“I do not know where the president and his advisers got this idea of suspending the CJN on the so-called order of the Code of Conduct Tribunal but this is novel, disingenuous and alien to our laws.”

“The suspension is nothing but wrong and unconstitutional; any silence or neutrality on this is consenting to illegality. Shikenan,” Senator Shehu Sani, a serving lawmaker said.

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Meanwhile, Minister of Information and Culture Lai Mohammed has described Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)  to pull the breaks on its electioneering campaign as a face-saving measure.

Mohammed wondered if there was a pact between the opposition party and the suspended CJN.

In a statement issued by his media aide, Segun Adeyemi, in Ilorin, Kwara State capital, the Minister asked, ”Which Campaign?’ While responding to questions on the PDP’s action, he said the PDP campaign was over a long time ago. “There is nothing to suspend. We said it that their campaign had floundered.
You can now see. What they are doing now is looking for a face-saving way out of a dead and buried campaign.”

Olugbenga is an Investigative Reporter with The ICIR. Email address: [email protected] Twitter handle: @OluAdanikin

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