The United States of America and the European Union Election Observation Mission to Nigeria have expressed concern over the suspension and replacement of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Mr Walter Onnoghen.
While the U.S. described it as unconstitutional and undermining the independence of the judicial arm of government, the EU Observer Mission stated that it is bothered about the process and timing of the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria.
Both bodies in their separate statement at the weekend called for the resolution of the crisis through the adherence of due process and the rule of law.
The U.S. statement said: “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.”
The EU statement read: “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.”