Nigeria's opposition party halts its election campaign over judge's suspension

Hugh Fox
January 27, 2019

The suspended chief justice, Walter Onnoghen, is the head of Nigeria's judiciary that has helped resolve electoral disputes in past votes, some of which have been marred by violence and vote-rigging.

Similarly, Atiku Abubakar rejected the appointment of an acting CJN and call on Justice Onnoghen and the judiciary to resist with every legal and constitutional means that they could muster.

He was therefore forced to suspend Onnoghen because the judge didn't voluntarily step down and swear in Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammed as Nigeria's most senior judge, Buhari said. Our constitution is clear on how a Chief Justice is appointed and removed, as such does not lie on the prerogative of the President.

Buhari's main challenger in February 16 vote, Atiku Abubakar, a 72-year-old businessman and former vice president who's running for the People's Democratic Party, condemned the decision.

The group asked its members to mobilise their households, neighbours, and friends to support and vote for President Muhammadu Buhari in the forthcoming presidential elections in order to exceed the 10 million vote target.

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According to the president, the suspension was as result of the ongoing trial of Onnoghen by the CCT and subsequent order of the tribunal directing him to suspend him, pending the completion of his trial.

The British High Commission in the capital voiced its "serious concern" and said the decision "risks affecting both domestic and worldwide perceptions on the credibility of the forthcoming elections".

Both the PDP and Buhari's ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) were accused of vote-buying in recent governorship elections.

Abubakar's People's Democratic Party said Saturday morning on Twitter that it would stop campaigning for three days and that Buhari, a former military ruler, had "effectively suspended the constitution".

Using similar language, the Nigerian Bar Association - the umbrella body for lawyers - said Buhari had mounted an "attempted coup against the Nigerian judiciary".

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The chief justice, Walter Nkanu Samuel Onnoghen, faces trial on charges of allegedly failing to declare his assets.

He called on the National Assembly to immediately reconvene and proceed with legislative actions against President Buhari over the suspension.

Buhari on Friday pointedly accused the apex court of frustrating government efforts to tackle corruption by overturning graft convictions.

"Nigerians know that the fight against corruption is something that the president is passionate about and thus, such directives could not have come from him".

The suspension would "send a correct signal to other judges to sit up", he said.

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