THE governments of the United States (US), the United Kingdom (UK) and the European Union (EU), on Saturday, slammed President Muhammadu Buhari for failing to follow constitutional requirements in removing the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, expressing “deep concerns” over the development.
This came as the leadership of the National Assembly have slated an emergency meeting for today to discuss modalities for the convening of a joint session on the matter tentatively planned for Tuesday.
The Western governments said Buhari’s action would affect the credibility of the presidential and state elections, adding that they were closely monitoring the developments.
The western governments, through their embassies in Nigeria, had threatened to sanction promoters and family members of electoral violence and rigging in the forthcoming elections by cancelling their visas and placing them on travel ban.
In a statement on Saturday, the US said: “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 statement said.
The UK government, in its own statement, said it 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,” the UK Embassy said.
In its own reaction, the European Mission Election Observation Mission in Nigeria, said all parties to the elections must be given the confidence about the impartiality and the independence of the judiciary going into the elections.
The EU EOM, in a statement in Abuja on Saturday, said that the due process of the law must be followed in the processes leading to the general election.
“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 fulfill its election-related responsibilities,” the statement said.
FG dares US, UK, others
Following widespread concern raised by Western powers over President Buhari’s suspension of Onnoghen and its possible consequences on the coming election, the Federal Government has warned that it will not allow any interference in Nigeria’s internal affairs.
A statement from the office of the Senior Special Assistant (Media & Publicity), Garba Shehu, in Abuja on Saturday night, also assured that the government is committed to conducting free and fair election.
While it welcomed what it said is the prevailing keen interest and partnerships for successful elections in, and a peaceful Nigeria, it added: “However, we reject 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.”
According to the statement, even though the question of foreign interference has featured prominently in recent elections worldwide, the Nigerian government will promote the right of Nigerians to elect who they want.
The Presidency added: “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 explained that 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.
“In addition, the Federal government has ensured the independence of all organs, institutions and arms of government to perform their functions in a manner that is transparent and is not lacking in integrity whether institutionally or by persons within such institutions or organs and will continue to do this,” the statement added.
The presidency said citizens are encouraged 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 as well as the readiness of the security forces to confront any plan or attempt to interfere with or disrupt the process whether by elements within or from outside the country.
Ex parte order sacking Onnoghen is dubious —Falana
Stopping short of calling it a forgery, leading legal luminary, Femi Falana, picked holes in the ex parte order of the CCT relied on by President Buhari and called on the Bar and the Bench “to challenge the illegal suspension and the fascism gradually creeping on the nation.”
He insisted that it was a settled law that the National Judicial Council (NJC) must first investigate misconduct allegations against serving judicial officers, tagging Buhari’s action, a desecration of the judiciary that must not be allowed to stand.
“As the battle shifted to the courts, both the Judiciary and the Executive were shopping for court orders from the Federal High Court, the National Industrial Court, the Code of Conduct Tribunal and the Court of Appeal.
“In the process, settled principles of law were sacrificed for the exigency of the moment. Thus, at the 15th annual Gani Fawehinmi lecture which held in Lagos on January 15, 2019, I was compelled to warn against the dangerous trend.
“Regrettably, the warning fell on deaf ears. Curiously, in an act of brazen impunity, the Executive procured an ex parte order from the Code of Conduct Tribunal for the immediate suspension of the Chief Justice from office.
“It is unfortunate that the Bar and the Bench have played into the hands of the sponsors of incipient fascism in the country.
“For reasons best known to them, the stakeholders in the legal profession stood by and allowed the Office of the Chief Justice to be completely desecrated. It is intriguing that the 12 lawyers including three Senior Advocates of Nigeria in the federal cabinet did not deem it fit to dissuade President Buhari from carrying out the illegal suspension.
“However, notwithstanding the inauguration of Justice Tanko Mohammad as the Acting Chief Justice the legal profession should not hesitate to review the entire Onnoghen saga in the interest of the nation’s judiciary.
“Despite the gravity of the allegations levelled against the Chief Justice, the illegality of the suspension should not be allowed to stand.
“The ex parte order is a suspect document as the motion ex parte on which it was predicated was allegedly filed on January 9, 2019 while the substantive charge against the Chief Justice was filed at the registry of the Code of Conduct Tribunal on January 11, 2019. Furthermore, the counsel who argued the motion is not indicated in the ex parte order.
“However, in view of President Buhari’s belated fidelity in the rule of law the Federal Government should comply with all valid and subsisting orders of competent municipal and regional courts made against the federal government,” Falana said.
No one can predict where this will end —Oyebode
A retired Professor of International Law, Professor Akin Oyebode, said events surrounding the removal of the embattled CJN, Onnoghen, were still unfolding and would not like to be consequently pontifical.
Speaking with Sunday Tribune on telephone, Oyebode likened the development to the observation made by the late nationalist, Chief Anthony Enahoro, saying “like Enahoro said in 1962, this is the beginning of a chain of events the end of which no one can foretell. Let us leave it at that for now.”
He said the constitution bequeathed to civilians by the military through Decree 24 of 1999 “calls into question so many things.”
NASS leaders meet today
Insiders in the Senate and the House of Representatives confirmed that the joint meeting of the NASS leadership would hold today, despite intense pressure being mounted on some key lawmakers by the Presidency.
Sources in the parliament said the leadership of the federal legislature have resolved to be “counted on the side of democrats.”
A source said the matter had taken international dimension, following interests from the European Union, the United Kingdom, the United States and the Inter-parliamentray Union(IPU).
It was learnt that international bodies had been bombarding the leadership of the Nigerian parliament to inquire what the parliament was doing to respond to what was referred to as apparent suspension of the Nigerian Constitution.
Sources in the National Assembly said that the lawmakers were worried that the international community was already taking keen interest in the Nigerian situation and that they could no longer stand aloof with that scenario.
“Yes, it is true that the joint leadership of the Senate and the House of Representatives will meet on Sunday. They are to take clear decisions on the emergency sitting planned for Tuesday. After the Sunday’s leadership meeting, the decision will be taken as to the nature of the resolution and the emergency sitting meant to take place on Tuesday,” a lawmaker said.
the lawmakers and ensure that partisan considerations take the central stage.
The Senate had on Thursday adjourned sitting till February 19 after it passed the Minimum Wage bill through the First and Second Reading.
The House was scheduled to adjourn on Tuesday after holding a public hearing on the Minimum Wage Bill on Monday.