The suspension of Nigeria’s most senior judge by President Muhammadu Buhari bankrupt global human rights standards regarding the independence of the judiciary and the separation of forces, a United Nations specialist has said.
“International human rights standards provide that judges may be disregarded only on serious grounds of misconduct or incompetence,” explained Diego Garcia-Sayan, the UN special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, on Monday.
“Any decision to suspend or remove a judge in the office should be reasonable and must be taken by an independent authority like a judicial council or a court,” he explained in an statement.
Buhari, who was a military ruler in the 1980s was voted into office in 2015, is hoping to acquire a new term in a presidential election scheduled to take place on Saturday.
The chief justice could preside over any dispute over the election outcome.
Nigeria‘s judiciary has assisted resolve electoral disputes in past votes, a few of which have been marred by violence and ballot rigging.
Garcia-Sayan, who’s mandated by the UN Human Rights Council to investigate judicial and legal independence, stated discounting judges without following legal procedures or supplying an opportunity to contest the decision was incompatible with the independence of the judiciary.
Buhari suspended Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen on January 25 following an order by a tribunal on public officials’ behavior and replaced him with Ibrahim Tanko Mohammad.
However four courts superior to the tribunal had already ordered a stay of proceedings as well as the tribunal had said that it lacked jurisdiction over cases involving juvenile officers, Garcia-Sayan said.
The UN announcement said a few of the judges along with the defence attorneys involved in Onnoghen’s case was subject to serious threats, pressures and interference.
The transfer prompted anger one of the country’s civil society groups and resistance.
Last month, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) decided to embark on a post-apocalyptic warning boycott of courts in Nigeria over Onnoghen’s suspension.
The NBA and local civil society institutions held protests in Abuja and southeast Enugu state to reject Onnoghen’s suspension, calling it an”attempted coup from the Nigerian judiciary”.
Critics say the suspension has been now an effort by Buhari to weaken Nigeria’s judiciary and pave the way for his election to a second term from the February 16 vote.
Amid heightened tensions ahead of the election, observers cautioned against election-related violence.
Oil-rich Nigeria fights with numerous safety challenges, for instance, decade-old Boko Haram rebellion and Buhari’s 2015 election was a rare peaceful transfer of energy. Diplomats have urged the top candidates to sign a peace assurance.