President Muhammadu Buhari has defended the suspension of Nigeria’s chief justice on the grounds of corruption, but the decision ahead of February 16 elections has raised alarm over the motive.
Justice Walter Onnoghen would rule on any election-related legal challenge confronting Buhari and his All Progressives Congress (APC) ruling party, or main opposition candidate Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party. Other parties have never won a Nigerian presidential election, and Oby Ezekwelisi withdrew earlier this week in hopes of forging a third-party coalition.
Yet Onnoghen was removed Friday, after what Buhari said were the “tragic realities” of a leader of his stature linked to corruption. “Although the allegations in the petition are grievous enough in themselves, the security agencies have since then traced other suspicious transactions,” Buhari said.
“Nigeria is a constitutional democracy and no one must be, or be seen to be, above the law,” the president added. “Unfortunately, the drama around the trial of the Chief Justice of Nigeria has challenged that pillar of justice in the perception of the ordinary man on the street.”
Buhari has made the fight against corruption a cornerstone of his platform, but the optics of targeting the judge this close to the election make his anti-corruption campaign appear weaponized. The replacement with Tanko Mohammed, above, was soundly rejected by the opposition, which suspended its campaign in protest.
“From Justice Tanko’s first illegal assignment, which is the swearing-in of election tribunal justices for the forthcoming elections, Nigerians can now see the raison d’etre for his illegal appointment,” the PDP said. “We want President Buhari to know that Nigerians, irrespective of tribe, creed or political leaning, will never allow anybody, no matter how highly placed, to push our nation to the abyss of anarchy.”
Both the United States and European Union have issued statements expressing concern over Buhari’s decision.
Image: Presidency Nigeria