(News Investigators) /The International Communities have expressed concern over the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen, urging for swift and peaceful resolution of the issues in the interest of free, fair and credible elections.
Mr. Onnoghen was suspended and replaced by Tanko Mohammed as acting CJN in a controversial circumstance by President Muhammadu Buhari who said he was acting on the order of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) last Friday.
The suspended CJN is standing trail at the Tribunal over allegations of non-declaration of assets.
The United States (US) and European Union (EU) Election Observers Mission (EOM), Saturday, in a separate statement expressed worry that it could jeopardize the rule of law considering the timing of the incident, citing widespread criticism by opposition parties, civil society organisations and lawyers.
“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,” the US said in a statement.
“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,” it added.
Similarly, the EU EOM stated that: “The European Union was invited by the Independent National Electoral Commission to observe the 2019 general elections.
“The EU Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) 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.
“The EU EOM calls on all parties to follow the legal processes provided for in the Constitution and to respond calmly to any concerns they may have.
“The EU EOM will continue observing all aspects of the election, including the independence of the election administration, the neutrality of security agencies, and the extent to which the judiciary can and does fulfil its election-related responsibilities.”
The Presidency has reacted to both US and EU position, warning against foreign interference in the nation’s affairs, capable of creating apprehension, distrust among citizens or undermining the transparency and acceptability of outcomes of the nation’s electoral process.
President Muhammadu Buhari’s Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, gave the warning in a statement he issued Saturday in Abuja.
Mr. Shehu stated that the FG condemned “any interference or perception management that promotes apprehension, citizens’ distrust or undermines the transparency and acceptability of the outcomes of our electoral process.
“Nigeria reserves the right to be insulated from suggestions and or interference with respect to wholly internal affairs and commends international laws, customs and norms that mandate and require nations and the comity to respect this prerogative to all.
“Nigeria is confident of its electoral processes and her preparation for the imminent elections and the federal government has supported the independent electoral umpire in both its independence and resources needed to accomplish our desire and insistence on free and fair elections’’.
Despite its warning, the statement noted that stakehoders hails the prevailing keen interest and partnerships for successful elections and a peaceful Nigeria.
Mr. Shehu added that the government had ensured the independence of all organs, institutions and arms of government to “perform their functions in a manner that is transparent, and not lacking in integrity whether institutionally or by persons within such institutions or organs.’’
He pledged that the government would continue to do this.
He said, “Although the question of foreign interference, whether state sponsored, promoted or otherwise has dominated recent elections and outcomes globally, the federal government assures citizens and the global community that it will fiercely and assiduously promote the will and the right of Nigerians to choose and elect their leaders without pressure or assistance from persons or entities that are not constitutionally empowered to participate in the process.’’
The presidential media aide enjoined the citizens to confidently exercise their franchise in an orderly manner with the assurance of the federal government to their security during and after the electoral process.
He reiterated the readiness of the nation’s security forces to confront any plan or attempt to interfere with or disrupt the process whether by elements within or from outside the country.