Onnoghen: Presidency replies US, EU; says Nigeria rejects undue interference

Suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen
Former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen

The presidency has reacted to the position of both the United States of America and the European Union on the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen.

A statement by the Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to President Muhammadu Buhari, Garba Shehu, noted that as much as Nigeria welcomes prevailing interests and partnerships for successful 2019 general elections, the government would not condone unfair interference in matters that are wholly internal.

Following the controversies generated by the suspension of Mr Onnoghen by President Muhammadu Buhari on Friday and the appointment of a successor in an acting capacity, the United States and the EU issued statements advising the government to retrace her steps.

Before the latest statements on the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, the U.S. and the UK had earlier on Thursday threatened to ban from entering their countries any Nigerian found guilty of instigating violence during the election or anyone engaging in rigging the process.

Many stakeholders including the federal government, opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) had hailed what they described as the foreign nations’ timely intervention.

But the presidency has strongly condemned the latest intervention of the foreign countries on the suspension of the CJN, insisting that as a sovereign country, Nigeria deserves respect and honour. The federal government, however, pledged her commitment to ensuring a free, fair, credible and peaceful election. It said the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has been made truly independent and offered the required support.

“Nigeria reserves the right to be insulated from suggestions and or interference with respect to wholly internal affairs and commends international laws, customs and norms that mandate and require nations and the comity to respect this prerogative to all,” Mr Shehu wrote.

“Nigeria is confident of its electoral processes and her preparation for the imminent elections and the federal government has supported the independent electoral umpire in both its independence and resources needed to accomplish our desire and insistence on free and fair elections.

“In addition, the Federal government has ensured the independence of all organs, institutions and arms of government to perform their functions in a manner that is transparent and is not lacking in integrity whether institutionally or by persons within such institutions or organs and will continue to do this.

“Although the question of foreign interference, whether state sponsored, promoted or otherwise has dominated recent elections and outcomes globally, the federal government assures citizens and the global community that it will fiercely and assiduously promote the will and the right of Nigerians to choose and elect their leaders without pressure or assistance from persons or entities that are not constitutionally empowered to participate in the process.”

The statement encouraged citizens to confidently exercise their franchise in an orderly manner, assuring them of adequate security during and after the electoral process, “as well as the readiness of the security forces to confront any plan or attempt to interfere with or disrupt the process whether by elements within or from outside the country.”

In its reaction to the statements by the foreign power, an Islamic organisation, MURIC, in its own statement, which was signed by its Director, Ishaq Akintola, advised both the U.S. and the UK or any other foreign interest not to look at the suspension in isolation but consider the gravity of the offence allegedly committed by the CJN.

“Western countries should not just jump to conclusions. They should not just make it look as if the CJN is being suspended to clear the way for some undemocratic practices. Neither the US nor Britain will allow a judge to accumulate wealth illegally because it is dangerous for the judicial system. Heavy cash lodgements in both foreign and local currencies were allegedly found in the former CJN’s accounts. No responsible government will ignore that.

“While we appreciate the interest of US and UK in evolving healthy democracies around the world, particularly in Nigeria, we will appreciate it more if these countries show equal concern for Nigeria’s war against corruption, particularly in the judiciary and in the repatriation of Nigeria’s looted funds in those two countries. Advanced democracies are not under any special obligation to listen only to the opposition and echo its propaganda. They also owe it a moral duty to hear the government’s side before making policy statements.

“To this end, we expect that both the US and UK will equally show interest in the allegation bordering on corruption made against the former CJN as they have expressed concern over his suspension. This ought to be done against the backdrop of the reputation of Nigeria which a former British prime minister described as ‘fantastically corrupt’ but which the present regime of President Muhammadu Buhari is trying hard to turn around.

“It is a known fact that no war against corruption can succeed if the judiciary is corrupt. It is the robust judicial system which both the US and UK enjoy today that allows a conducive atmosphere for democratic principles of rule of law, liberty and justice.

“We seek no less in our country, Nigeria. We find the alleged involvement of the CJN in financial misdemeanour sickening, repulsive and outrageous. A civil society group who could summon the courage demanded his sack. We no longer have any confidence in his leadership of this country’s judiciary.”

MURIC cited the cases of the former governors of both Delta and Bayelsa States, James Ononefe Ibori and Diepreye Alamieyeseigha respectively, which it alleged of mesmerising the Nigerian judiciary but successfully prosecuted abroad.

The statement added: “We must ask Britain if it can tolerate what is happening in Nigeria today on her own soil. For instance, the current British Lord Chief Justice, Sir John Thomas, earns £240,000 per annum. Will Theresa May, the Prime Minister, keep mum if he receives a report that his Lord Chief Justice has five bank accounts with more than $500,000 in each? Can his American counterpart, the US Chief Judge, John Glover Roberts Jnr, do the same and get away with it under Donald Trump’s watch? You show concern for Onnoghen’s suspension but not for the big sums of money he was practically caught with and which he admitted to. It hurts our sensibilities and you need to make amends.”

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