The suspension Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen, by President Muhammadu Buhari broke international human rights standards on independence of the judiciary and the separation of powers, UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Diego Garcia-Sayan, said.
Buhari, who was a military ruler in the 1980s and was voted into office in 2015, is hoping to win a new term in a presidential election scheduled to take place on Saturday.
The chief justice could preside over any dispute over the election result. Nigeria’s judiciary has helped resolve electoral disputes in past votes, some of which have been marred by violence and vote rigging.
Garcia-Sayan said in a statement: “International human rights standards provide that judges may be dismissed only on serious grounds of misconduct or incompetence.
“Any decision to suspend or remove a judge from office should be fair and should be taken by an independent authority such as a judicial council or a court.”
Garcia-Sayan, who is mandated by the UN Human Rights Council to investigate legal and judicial independence, said dismissing judges without following legal procedures or offering a chance to contest the decision was incompatible with the independence of the judiciary.
President Buhari suspended Onnoghen on January 25, following an order by Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, and replaced him with Ibrahim Tanko Mohammad.
“But four courts superior to the tribunal had already ordered a stay of proceedings and the tribunal had previously said it lacked jurisdiction over cases involving judicial officers,” Garcia-Sayan said.
The UN statement said some of the judges and the defence lawyers involved in Onnoghen’s case had been subject to serious threats, pressures and interference.