Nigeria – Chief Justice’s Suspect Removal Ahead of Elections


With general elections scheduled for next month the suspension of Nigeria’s chief justice Judge Walter Onnoghen by incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari has sparked concern. 

Onnoghen stands accused of failing to declare his personal assets before taking office, however opposition candidate Atiku Abubakar has described the move as “an act of dictatorship”, with some civil society groups claiming an attempted judicial coup. Both the timing and the manner of Onnoghen’s removal has been challenged, as the President did not consult Parliament on the move.

International observers have also taken issue with the move, with the British High Commission expressing “serious concern over the suspension,” commenting that “It risks affecting both domestic and international perceptions on the credibility of the forthcoming elections”. The US embassy said it was deeply concerned by the move, taken “Without the support of the legislative branch on the eve of national and state elections”.

The role of chief justice is central to the resolution of election disputes. As such, recent action against Onnoghen is seen by many as being politically motivated in nature. Responding to international criticism the Nigerian presidential spokesman Garba Shehu has been quoted as saying, “We reject any interference or perception management that promotes apprehension, citizens distrust or undermines the transparency and acceptability of the outcomes of our electoral process.”