…Say Election Riggers will Suffer Visa Ban The United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) have expressed deep concern over the suspension of Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen by President Muhammadu Buhari A statement issued by the US embassy in Nigeria at the weekend,
…Say Election Riggers will Suffer Visa Ban
The United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) have expressed deep concern over the suspension of Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen by President Muhammadu Buhari
A statement issued by the US embassy in Nigeria at the weekend, said it had taken note of “widespread criticisms that the suspension is illegal.”
According to the statement “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,” the US said.
In a similar vein, the UK Government in a statement by the British High Commission, said that it was compelled, as a friend of Nigeria, to observe that “the timing of the suspension risked affecting the credibility of the forthcoming elections.”
“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.”
The UK also encouraged all actors to maintain calm and address the concerns raised through due process and demonstrate 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,” it stated.
The EU Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) has also expressed concern over the process and timing of the suspension of CJN Onnoghen by President Buhari.
The mission, in a statement on Saturday by its Press and Public Outreach Officer, Sarah Fradgley, said the timing of the suspension just before the swearing in of justices for Electoral Tribunals raised concerns about the opportunity for electoral justice.
“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 statement said.
The EU EOM said with 20 days to 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.”
It, however, called on all parties to follow the legal processes provided for in the Constitution and to respond calmly to any concerns they may have.
The mission said it would 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.”
President Buhari suspended the CJN Onnoghen on Friday, citing an order from the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) as the CJN is undergoing a trial over false assets declaration.
Many however say that the President’s move is a violation of the constitution and the invitation to anarchy. The Constitution states in
Section 292. (1) A judicial officer shall not be removed from his office or appointment before his age of retirement except in the following circumstances –
(a) in the case of –
(i) Chief Justice of Nigeria, President of the Court of Appeal, Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Chief Judge of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, Grand Kadi of the Sharia Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja and President, Customary Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, by the President acting on an address supported by two-thirds majority of the Senate.
(ii) Chief Judge of a State, Grand Kadi of a Sharia Court of Appeal or President of a Customary Court of Appeal of a State, by the Governor acting on an address supported by two-thirds majority of the House of Assembly of the State, Praying that he be so removed for his inability to discharge the functions of his office or appointment (whether arising from infirmity of mind or of body) or for misconduct or contravention of the Code of Conduct;
(b) in any case, other than those to which paragraph (a) of this subsection applies, by the President or, as the case may be, the Governor acting on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council that the judicial officer be so removed for his inability to discharge the functions of his office or appointment (whether arising from infirmity of mind or of body) or for misconduct or contravention of the Code of Conduct.
In other words, a sitting CJN can only be removed from office by the president after at least two-thirds majority members of the Senate support such a move. No such matter has been debated in the Senate.
Also election riggers may be in for a tough time as both the United States and the United Kingdom have announced repercussions, including visa restrictions, for election interference and election-related violence. In a strongly worded joint statements, both countries stressed the need for a “free, fair, transparent and peaceful elections.” They also said the elections in Nigeria is not only important to Nigeria but for the African Continent.
The statement says, “The United States government does not support any specific candidate or party in Nigeria’s upcoming elections. The United States supports the Nigerian democratic process itself. We support a genuinely free, fair, transparent, and peaceful electoral process.”
“We, and other democratic nations, will be paying close attention to actions of individuals who interfere in the democratic process or instigate violence against the civilian population before, during, or after the elections. We will not hesitate to consider consequences – including visa restrictions – for those found to be responsible for election-related violence or undermining the democratic process. Under U.S. immigration law, certain violations may also lead to restrictions on family members.”
The US also says “We welcome the signing of peace pledges by Nigerian candidates and their commitment to a peaceful electoral process.”
The UK statement says, “23 days to the Presidential and National Assembly elections and 37 days to the Gubernatorial and State Assembly elections, the British High Commission in Abuja would like to reaffirm our strong support for free, fair and peaceful elections in Nigeria.”
“We and our international partners remain committed supporters of Nigeria’s democracy. We do not support any party or individual and believe that the Nigerian people should be able to choose their leaders in an environment free from hate speech and insecurity.”
“We continue to provide significant support to Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission and to Nigerian civil society to help them deliver credible elections. We also regularly engage with actors across the political spectrum to encourage them to respect electoral rules and maintain an atmosphere of peace and calm.”
“We will be deploying an extensive observation mission for the forthcoming elections, including coordinating with the EU’s Election Observation Mission. Our monitors will in particular be looking out for any attempts to encourage or use violence to influence the elections, including on social media.”
“We would like to remind all Nigerians that where the UK is aware of such attempts, this may have consequences for individuals. These could include their eligibility to travel to the UK, their ability to access UK based funds or lead to prosecution under international law.”
“The UK is a friend and partner of Nigeria. We hope our continued support will play a role in helping Nigeria take a further step towards consolidating the progress made since democracy returned in 1999,” the statement said.