Nigerian Senate goes to Supreme Court against Buhari’s ‘undemocratic moves’ on Judiciary
Following the suspension on Friday of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Walter Onnoghen on purported order from the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), the Nigerian Senate has filed a case at the Supreme Court to seek clarification on President Muhammadu Buhari’s moves which world bodies have tagged undemocratic.
Buhari last Friday suspended the chief justice replacing him with another Supreme Court justice, Tanko Mohammed.
“On Monday, the Senate approached the apex court seeking its interpretation on whether President Buhari acted within the provision of the constitution in his suspension of Mr Onnoghen.
The Senate also wants the court to determine whether the action of the president does amount to usurpation of the powers of the Senate as provided for in Section 292 of the constitution.
The section states conditions for removal of a chief justice but fails to clarify the difference between temporary removal and permanent removal”, the Premium Times reported.
“Following the filing of the case, the matter of the suspension of the CJN which is the main issue for which the Senate had planned to reconvene tomorrow, has become subjudiced,” a statement signed by Yusuph Olaniyonu, media aide to Senate President Bukola Saraki says.
“Therefore, in line with the standing rules of the Senate not to debate issues that are already pending before the court, the reconvening of the Senate tomorrow has been put off. The previous adjournment of the Senate till February 19, 2019, stays.”
The United States reacted to the suspension of Onnoghen. In a statement on Saturday, January 26, 2019 the US embassy in Nigeria said it had taken note of widespread criticisms that the suspension is illegal.
“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, “ the statement read.
“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 â€“ 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 ended.
In a seperate statement, the UK Government also reacted to the suspension of Walter Onnoghen as Chief Justice of Nigeria by President Muhammdu Buhari noting the reactions of prominent Nigerians especially the Nigerian legal profession.
In a statement published on the British High Commission to Nigeria’s website on Saturday, January 26, 2019 the UK Government said it calls for peaceful solutions to the apparent constitutional crisis.
“The British High Commission expresses serious concern over the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria. 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,” the statement ended.
Also, in its reaction, the European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) expressed concern over the process and timing of the suspension.
Its statement reads:
“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.”
Also, a presidential candidate, Olawepo Hashim, criticised the president’s action, calling for urgent international sanctions against Mr Buhari and his administration officials.
Mr Olawepo in his statement said Mr Buhari has plunged Nigeria into dictatorship.
“This is a clear indication that we have returned to full blown dictatorship. Following the suspension of the Chief Justice of the Federation, we are seeing full-blown dictatorship in Nigeria. It is an abyss, an aberration and a clear violation of our laws.
“We will not allow Nigeria fall into dictatorship anymore.
“I call on all lovers of Nigeria and lovers of democracy and the international community to immediately impose sanctions on officials of the executive arm of government, their families, including their friends and associates,” Mr Olawepo said.