UN Rapporteur Condemns Removal of the Chief Justice of Nigeria by Buhari

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The UN Special Rapporteur on independence of Judges has condemned the recent purported removal of the Chief Justice of Nigeria by Buhari. In a statement issued in Geneva the UN official calls Buhari’s action –an aberration and against the rule of law.

Please read full statement below:

GENEVA (11 February 2019) – The UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of

judges and lawyers, Diego Garcia-Sayán, is warning that the suspension and

replacement of the Chief Justice of Nigeria by the country’s President is in

contravention of international human rights standards on independence of the

judiciary and the separation of powers.

“International human rights standards provide that judges may be dismissed only on

serious grounds of misconduct or incompetence. Any decision to suspend or remove

a judge from office should be fair and should be taken by an independent authority

such as a judicial council or a court,” said the UN human rights expert.

“The dismissal of judges without following procedures laid down by the law and

without effective judicial protection being available to contest the dismissal is

incompatible with the independence of the judiciary,” the UN expert warned.

Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen was suspended on 25 January 2019 and replaced by

Ibrahim Tanko Mohammad.

The President of Nigeria said he had acted in compliance with an order issued two

days earlier by a tribunal established under the Constitution to decide on alleged

breaches of the Code of Conduct for Public Officials. However, four separate

Nigerian courts – the Court of Appeal, the National Industrial Court and the two

Federal High Courts – had already ordered a stay of proceedings in the Tribunal.

Moreover, the said order upon which the suspension was based, was issued exparte while the motion on notice on the same subject was adjourned the day before

by the issuing court.

“All State institutions must abide by the decisions of national courts and tribunals. In

the case of Chief Justice Onnoghen, four national courts hierarchically superior to

the Code of Conduct Tribunal had already ordered a stay of proceedings, and the

Tribunal had in a previous case, 8 months earlier, held that it lacked jurisdiction over

cases involving judicial officers, which should be processed by the National Judicial

Council,” the UN expert stressed.

Some of the judges handling the case of the Chief Justice and the defence lawyers

have been subject to serious threats, pressures and interferences. “I am seriously

concerned at such allegations, which may constitute, if proven, grave attacks to the

independence of the judiciary and the free exercise of the legal profession,” said the

expert.

“One of the senior advocates defending the Chief Justice was arrested on

Wednesday by security agencies. Lawyers play an essential role in securing access

to justice, and should never suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or other

sanctions for action taken in accordance with recognized professional duties,

standards and ethics,” added Mr. García-Sayán.

The UN expert has expressed his concerns to the Nigerian Government and will

continue to follow events.

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