US expresses concern over Onnoghen’s suspension

Justice Walter Onnoghen

The United States has expressed concern over the suspension of Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, three weeks before the presidential election.

President Muhammadu Buhari suspended Onnoghen on Friday, citing an order of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT).

Buhari immediately swore in Justice Tanko Mohammed as acting CJN.

In a statement on Saturday, the US embassy in Nigeria said Buhari acted “without the support of the legislative branch” and noted widespread criticism in Nigeria that the move was unconstitutional. It urged Nigerian authorities to quickly resolve the crisis that could undermine the credibility of the February 16 vote.

“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 statement read.

“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.”