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US, EU Concerned About Suspension of Nigerian Judge Ahead of Elections


Supporters of the People's Democratic Party (PDP) attend a campaign rally in Lafia, Nigeria January 10, 2019. Picture taken January 10, 2019.

The United States and European Union expressed concern Saturday about Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari's suspension of the country's top judge ahead of national elections.

The European Union's Election Observation Mission in Nigeria said the decision to suspend the chief justice has lead Nigerians to question "whether due process was followed".

"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," the mission said in a statement.

Nigeria's chief justice, Walter Onnoghen, could have ruled on any dispute of election results, which are widely expected in Nigeria's 2019 elections, currently scheduled on February 16. The country's judiciary has ruled on election disputes in the past - some of which were marred by violence and vote rigging.

President Buhari announced Friday that he would suspend Onnoghen, pending the resolution of a corruption trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal. Buhari said he was acting in accordance with a ruling by the tribunal - a ruling which Onnoghen is challenging.

The U.S. and British embassies in Nigeria also released statements expressing concern over Buhari's decision to suspend Justice Onnoghen, saying the decision was made "without the support of the legislative branch".

"We urge that the issues raised by this decision be resolved swiftly and peacefully in accordance with due process, full respect for the rule of law, and the spirit of the Constitution of Nigeria. Such action is needed urgently now to ensure that this decision does not cast a pall over the electoral process," the U.S. embassy said in a statement.

Earlier this week, the U.S. and British governments warned that they would deny visas to anyone who attempts to encourage or use violence to influence Nigeria's elections.

President Muhammadu Buhari, elected in 2015 on an anti-corruption platform, is seeking a second term as the country's leader. The opposition party said it would halt its election campaign for 72 hours to protest the decision to suspend the chief justice, Reuters reported.