Judicial Independence Under Threat In Nigeria – UN Human Rights Expert Declare

Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen

BEVERLY HILLS, February 11, (THEWILL) – The United Nations (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 (CJN), Walter Onnoghen, by President Muhammadu Buhari 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.”

THEWILL recalls that Onnoghen was suspended on 25 January 2019 and replaced by Ibrahim Tanko Mohammad by the President who 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.

“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.

“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.”

García-Sayán, appointed UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers in December 2016, has expressed his concerns to the Nigerian Government and will continue to follow events.

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