The United States government has reacted to the suspension of Justice Walter Onnoghen as the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN). In a statement from its embassy in Nigeria on Saturday, the US raised concern about Justice Onnoghen’s suspension by President Muhammadu Buhari without the support of the National Assembly.
It said it was aware of the criticism triggered by the suspension which it noted was described as ‘unconstitutional’ by many and coming at a time when elections were imminent.
Following Justice Onnoghen’s suspension, President Buhari had appointed and swore in Justice Tanko Mohammed as acting CJN.
The US said the decision has weakened the determination of the government and political parties among others to ensure a process that would lead to credible elections in the country.
It, therefore, called on the parties involved to resolve the issues raised and ensure that due process was followed in accordance with the rule of law.
It urged that this should be done urgently to ensure that Justice Onnoghen’s suspension does not cast a cloud on the electoral process.
The full statement from the US embassy is pasted below;
Statement on the Suspension and Replacement of the Chief Justice
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.
Image: President Muhammadu Buhari shakes hands with acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Ibrahim Tanko Mohammed, at the State House in Abuja on January 25, 2019. Inset: Justice Walter Onnoghen.