The Peoples Democratic Party presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, has said President Muhammadu Buhari was a key player in the brutal regime of Sani Abacha through whom he allegedly learnt crude approach to due process.
Mr Abubakar in a statement Sunday night said his opposition to the controversial removal of Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen is not for personal interest but the larger wellbeing of the nation.
“I still completely and unequivocally reject and condemn that action and any other breach of our Constitution,” Mr Abubakar said. “I am not fighting for Justice Onnoghen. I am fighting for the constitution. Once we open the Pandora’s Box of unconstitutionality, we cannot tell where it will end.”
Mr Buhari suspended Mr Onnoghen on Friday from office, accusing him of corruption and failing to declare his assets at a time.
Mr Onnoghen admitted forgetting to declare some bank accounts but said he later corrected the error in his last assets disclosure in 2016.
Mr Buhari’s move, which was unprecedented under a civil rule in Nigeria, sparked nationwide outrage because it was largely deemed as inconsistent with the Nigerian Constitution.
Mr Buhari denied all allegations of constitutional infractions, saying he relied on the order of an auxiliary judicial panel to remove the top judge.
Mr Abubakar, Nigeria’s vice president between 1999 and 2007, said Mr Buhari’s action relived the memories of Mr Abacha, whose brutal reign from 1993 to 1998 was widely seen as one of the darkest periods of Nigeria’s history.
“This scenario appears to me like déjà vu. Under a particularly brutal military dictatorship, Nigerians witnessed the illegal and arbitrary removal of many innocent people from their positions of authority and many said nothing because they were not from the ethnic group of those affected.
“I remember speaking up then that what we know is when the rain begins, but we do not know when it will end. My warnings were ignored by some until they woke up one day and that dictator removed no less a personality than the Sultan of Sokoto.
“It is worth pointing out that Muhammadu Buhari was by his side when he did that. He obviously learned very well from his teacher.
“If they come for the heads of the legislature and we keep quiet because we are not legislators, if they came for the heads of the media and we keep quiet because we are not journalists, if they came for the head of the judiciary and we keep quiet because he/she is not from our area, there may be no one left to speak up when they come for us,” he said.
Mr Abubakar commanded the international community for weighing in on Saturday with a strongly worded statement that seemed to show their disapproval of Mr Buhari’s action.
The president immediately fired back at the United States, United Kingdom and the European Union for their condemnation of the president’s dismissal of Mr Onnoghen without compliance with the Constitution.
Presidential spokesperson Garba Shehu who issued the president’s rejoinder said Nigeria would be ready to raise its armed forces to defend its sovereignty and undue interference from foreign nations.
“At this point, let me commend all the Lord Justices of the Supreme Court who have heeded my call and the call of other patriots to remain united. The fact that they did not participate in the swearing-in of election petition tribunals is not lost on true democrats all over the world.
“My thanks especially go to the governments of the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union for standing shoulder to shoulder with the Nigerian people. This is most appreciated and on behalf of the voiceless, I say thank you.
“And to those who accuse these governments of interfering, I remind them that they made no such accusations when they celebrated a statement from the US/UK/EU calling for free and fair elections in 2015, just after the postponement of the 2015 elections to make room for a final assault against Boko Haram. What has changed between then and now, except that they are now in power,” Mr Abubakar said.