Nigeria’s government has denied suggestions that the suspension of the country’s top judge on corruption charges was linked to next month’s election. President Muhammadu Buhari replaced Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen on Friday, sparking claims he had breached the constitution and was trying to manipulate the judiciary.
The European Union, Britain and the United States each issued statements at the weekend expressing concern at the development, as elections are due on February 16. But Buhari’s spokesman said Sunday that there was no connection.
“In Nigerian law there is no such linkage,” Garba Shehu said in a statement.
“The CJN (Chief Justice of Nigeria) does not run the election. Nor is he the first arbiter of any electoral complaints. “He and the Supreme Court will only get involved as the final arbiter at the end of the appellate process… “To link the CJN to the elections in this way is illogical unless they assume that election complaints will be filed and go all the way to the Supreme Court.”
Shehu’s statement was his second against the EU, Britain and the United States, which are all scheduled to have election monitors on the ground. His later comments were more conciliatory in tone than the first, in which the government rejected outside “interference” and said the issue was an internal matter. Onnoghen is accused of failing to declare foreign currency bank accounts, in breach of rules governing the declaration of assets by public officials.
Members of the Nigerian Bar Association were meeting on Monday to discuss the suspension, amid mounting protests that could lead to a court shutdown. The NBA has called Onnoghen’s removal “an attempted coup against the judiciary”.
In another potential clash between the arms of government, parliament has been recalled on Tuesday for an emergency session.
Buhari’s critics, including the Senate leader Bukola Saraki, have previously alleged he has used state security agencies to target perceived political opponents.