The Nigerian government has said it will not accept “foreign interference” in February’s presidential elections after the EU, UK and US spoke out against the sudden suspension of the chief justice. The three western powers issued statements at the weekend voicing concern over how President Muhammadu Buhari’s decision to suspend the judge might affect the conduct of elections in Africa’s most populous country. As Nigeria’s senior judge, Walter Onnoghen would have played a key role in deciding any legal challenges to the results of the presidential race between Mr Buhari and former vice-president Atiku Abubakar. In a statement on Saturday night, Mr Buhari’s spokesman, Garba Shehu, warned that the government “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”.
He added the security forces were ready to confront any attempt to interfere with the process “whether by elements within or from outside the country” and reiterated the government’s “insistence on free and fair elections”.
Mr Buhari suspended Mr Onnoghen on Friday night, two weeks after corruption allegations first surfaced against the judge. In a statement, Mr Buhari said investigators had since discovered “millions of dollars” in “other suspicious transactions” to Mr Onnoghen’s personal accounts.
Lawyers for Mr Onnoghen have challenged the jurisdiction of the court hearing. He has not responded to the charges.
The president’s move prompted a swift response from the EU, US and UK, which said in statements that they were deeply concerned by how the judge’s suspension would affect perceptions of the credibility of the elections.