The suspension of Nigeria’s most senior judge by President Muhammadu Buhari broke international human rights standards on independence of the judiciary and the separation of powers, a UN expert said on Monday (Feb 11).
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.
A UN judicial expert says the Nigerian president broke international rules when he recently suspended the country’s Chief Justice.
President Muhammadu Buhari suspended Walter Onnoghen last month over allegations that the judge had failed to declare his assets.
The UN special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Diego Garcia-Sayan, said such a decision should be taken by an independent judicial council or a court.
He said dismissing judges without following legal procedures was incompatible with the independence of the judiciary.
The suspension of the chief justice has drawn international criticism.
As Nigeria’s top judge he could play a key role in any disputes that arise from this weekend’s elections.
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.