By Uche Mbah
The United States of America, USA, and the European Union, EU, have both expressed strong reservations over the suspension of the Chief Justice of the Federation, Hon. Justice Walter Onnoghen by President Muhammadu Buhari.
The suspension of Onnoghen, and the swearing-in of Hon. Justice Tanko Mohammed on Friday, January 25, as the Ag. CJN by the President have elicited so much angst and condemnation both locally and internationally. Twitter was on fire, with Hashtag #TyrantBuhari trending all over the world, In condemnation of President Buhari, with some wondering whether Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, was consulted. The Judiciary is his primary constituency. Senior Lawyers have described the situation as a constitutional crisis.
It will be recalled that it was Osinbajo who sent his name to the Senate for approval when President Buhari was on Medical tourism in London after Buhari had foot dragged on Onnoghen’s confirmation by the Senate.Comfort
Besides the outcry by opposition parties led by the Peoples Democratic Party and its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, Civil society groups are also irked by the development. It is an assault on the Judiciary they chorus. The President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Paul Usoro, SAN is also under prosecution.
With the swearing- in of Tanko, most Southerners insist that the Northernisation of Nigeria is complete.
In the heat of the Onnoghen crisis, the Federal government also swapped the National population Commission headship from the South east to the North, replacing Eze Duru Iheoma, with Hassan Bashir, a northerner, as Chairman.
Justice Tanko has sworn in 250 electoral Judges for the 2019 elections, an assignment, it is alleged, for which Onnoghen was suspended in order to stop him from performing. What is not known yet is if there were changes in the previous list of members as was compiled by the suspended CJN.
To confirm the crisis in the Judiciary, all the Supreme Court Judges boycotted the swearing-in ceremony.
Suspended CJ Onnoghen was billed to swear-in election judges before his sudden and controversial suspension.
Meanwhile, an emergency meeting of the Nigerian Bar Association has been called. The sole agenda of the Onnoghen Saga. The NBA had earlier described Onnoghen’s as a Judicial coup.
Meanwhile, the European Union and the United States have reacted to Onnoghen’s suspension. In a release, the US Embassy said it was deeply concerned. In a release, it noted: “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 criticisms 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 credible results”
The US called for an immediate resolution of the issue to avoid Nigeria’s degenerating into crisis.
The European Union, on its part, through its EU Observer Mission, said Union is concerned about the timing.
“The EU Election Observer Mission is concerned about the process and timing of the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Honorable Justice Walter Onnoghen, on 25 January…
“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 hearing of Electoral related cases, has also raised concerns about the opportunity for Electoral justice.
“The EU EOM calls on all parties to follow the legal process 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 elections including the independence of the election Administrations, the neutrality of the security agencies, and the extent to which the Judiciary can and does fulfill its election related responsibilities.”