The United States government, United Kingdom and European Union observers yesterday expressed concern over the suspension and replacement of the Chief Justice of Nigeria.
A statement from the US Embassy in Abuja yesterday said the decision to replace Walter Onnoghen undercuts the stated determination of the federal government, candidates, and political party leaders to ensure free and fair elections.
The statement reads: “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 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.”
Also speaking, the United Kingdom expressed worry over the matter, saying the decision may affect both domestic and international perceptions on the credibility of the forthcoming elections.
The UK government however urged all actors to maintain calm and address the concerns raised by this development through due process.
The statement said, “The British High Commission expresses serious concern over the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria.
“We have heard a wide range of credible and independent voices, including in the Nigerian legal profession and civil society, who have expressed concern over the constitutionality of the executive branch’s suspension of the chief officer of the judiciary.
“We respect Nigeria’s sovereign authority and its right to adjudicate on constitutional provisions but as friends of the Nigerian people, we are compelled to observe that the timing of this action, so close to national elections, gives cause for concern.
“It 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.
“We encourage all actors to maintain calm and address the concerns raised by this development through due process, demonstrating their commitment to respecting the constitution and the impartial administration of the rule of law.
“We further urge them to take steps to ensure that elections take place in an environment conducive to a free, fair and peaceful process.”
Furthermore, the EU Election Observation Mission (EU EOM), in a statement by its Press and Public Outreach Officer, Sarah Fradgley, said the timing of the suspension just before the swearing in of justices for Electoral Tribunals raised concerns about the opportunity for electoral justice.
“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 statement said.
The EU EOM said 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.