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UN condemns suspension of Nigeria’s Chief Justice, says it breaches human rights

THE United Nations on Monday said that the suspension of Nigeria’s most senior judge by President Muhammadu Buhari broke international human rights standards on the independence of the judiciary and the separation of powers.

In a statement by Diego Garcia- Sayan, the UN special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers said that the dismissal of the Chief Justice breached the required criteria for such actions to be effective.

“International human rights standards provide that judges may be dismissed only on serious grounds of misconduct or incompetence. Any decision to suspend or remove a judge from office should be fair and should be taken by an independent authority such as a judicial council or a court.

“The dismissal of judges without following procedures laid down by the law and without effective judicial protection being available to contest the dismissal is incompatible with the independence of the judiciary,” the statement read.

Buhari suspended Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen on January 25 following an order by the Code of Conduct Tribunal. He was replaced by Ibrahim Tanko Mohammad on an acting role.

Meanwhile, Garcia- Sayan also pointed out that some of the judges and the defence lawyers involved in Onnoghen’s case had been subjected to serious threats, pressures, and interference.

The UN expressed concern about this development as the Chief Justice might be required to preside over any dispute over the election result.

As Nigeria‘s judiciary has helped resolve electoral disputes in past votes, some of which have been marred by violence and ballot rigging.

“One of the senior advocates defending the Chief Justice was arrested on Wednesday by security agencies. Lawyers play an essential role in securing access to justice, and should never suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or other sanctions for action taken in accordance with recognised professional duties, standards, and ethics,”  García-Sayán said.



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