President Buhari has ruled out his reversal of the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen. Reacting to growing international condemnation of his action, the President says he “will not allow meddling in the nation’s affairs” by other countries.
In the statement by his media aide, Garba Shehu which indirectly refers to the concerns raised by the United States of America, the United Kingdom and the European Union over the suspension of Justice Onnoghen, President Buhari “rejects any interference or perception management that promotes apprehension, citizens distrust or undermines the transparency and acceptability of the outcomes of Nigeria’s electoral process”
The President who says he is determined to ensure free, fair and credible elections, insists that “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”.
Making veiled reference to recent calls for vote recount in DR Congo and the recognition of an interim president in Venezuela after disputed elections among others, President Buhari says “the question of foreign interference, whether state sponsored, promoted or otherwise has dominated recent elections and outcomes globally”.
He assured that he 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”.
While encouraging voters to confidently exercise their franchise in an orderly manner in next month’s polls, President Buhari said the country’s security forces are ready “to confront any plan or attempt to interfere with or disrupt the process whether by elements within or from outside the country”. He emphasised that his administration “will not bend the rules and will not allow meddling in the nation’s affairs”.
On possible stoppage of financial support to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) by donor partners like the European Union, the President says “the Federal Government has supported the electoral umpire with resources needed to accomplish its desire and insistence on free and fair elections”.
It will be recalled that in its condemnation of the suspension of Justice Onnoghen, the United States said the decision “undercuts the stated determination of government, candidates, and political party leaders to ensure that the elections proceed in a way that is free, fair, transparent, and peaceful – leading to a credible result”.
In its reaction, the United Kingdom said as “friends of the Nigerian people, we are compelled to observe that the timing of this action, so close to national elections, gives cause for concern. It risks affecting both domestic and international perceptions on the credibility of the forthcoming elections. We, along with other members of the international community, are following developments closely”.
And for the European Union Election Observer Mission, “with 20 days until the Presidential and National Assembly elections, political parties, candidates and voters must be able to have confidence in the impartiality and independence of the judicial system… The timing, just before the swearing in of justices for Electoral Tribunals and the hearing of election-related cases, has also raised concerns about the opportunity for electoral justice”.
Only on Friday, the Federal Government welcomed the statements by the United States and the United Kingdom demanding credible and peaceful election in Nigeria with both countries threatening severe punitive measures including visa restrictions against election riggers and perpetrators of electoral violence during and after the polls.
Analysts say the administration may have taken a new position on election-related matters in relation to foreign countries and partners with the attacks on the United States, United Kingdom and the European Union by the Presidency over the suspension of Justice Onnoghen.
There are reports that the Nigerian Senate will reconvene from its three weeks election recess on Tuesday, January 29 for an emergency session to discuss the suspension of the CJN, Walter Onnoghen by President Buhari.