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Onnoghen: US, UK, EU react to suspension, presidency replies

SALIHU Ayatullahi, ATUNDE Ahmed Olarewaju, OMO-BAGBANSORO Uthman.

There have been endless controversies over the recent suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen by president Muhammadu Buhari.

Buhari however maintained that he acted based on a court order requesting him to relieve the ex-CJN of his position pending the conclusion of his case at the CCT.

Meanwhile, international communities have join Nigerians in reacting to the suspension of the former head of the judiciary.

The United state who spoke through a press statement from their embassy in the country express concern over the process of the suspension.

“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 British High Commission also raised concern over the timing of the suspension, saying it may affect the credibility of the election.

“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.”

Joining the league of international communities, European Union as well outspeak worries over the process and timing of the suspension.

In a statement on Saturday, the mission questioned the process and timing of the suspension of Justice Onnoghen by President Muhammadu Buhari.

It noted that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had invited the European Union to observe the forthcoming general elections.

The EOM stressed that with less than three weeks to the polls, there was a need for political parties and their candidates, as well as the electorate to be confident of the independence of the judiciary.

It wondered why Justice Onnoghen was suspended at a time so close to the swearing-in of justices for Electoral Tribunals and the hearing of election-related cases.

The mission, therefore, called on all parties to follow the processes provided for in the Constitution and to respond calmly to any issue raised.

Meanwhilst the Federal Government has warned against foreign interference into 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.

Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, gave the government position in a statement on Saturday.

The statement apparently a reaction to comments made by some foreign countries including the United Kingdom (UK), United States of America (U.S.A.) and the European Union, over the suspension of Justice Walter Onnoghen by President Muhammadu Buhari on Friday.

According to Shehu, the federal government 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’’.

He said the government welcomes the prevailing keen interest and partnerships for successful elections and a peaceful Nigeria.

Government, he said, has 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.’’

“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,” it said.

The government 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.

Shehu further 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.

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