Attorneys defending Nigeria's Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen are seen at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, in Abuja, Nigeria, Jan. 22, 2019.
Attorneys defending Nigeria's Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen are seen at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, in Abuja, Nigeria, Jan. 22, 2019.

Nigeria's government warned off international "meddling," insisting the West African country will conduct "free, fair elections" for the presidency on February 16.

Reacting to concerns voiced by the United States, Britain and the European Union of President Muhammadu Buhari's suspension Friday of Nigeria's chief justice, the president's spokesman defended the decision.

The Nigerian federal government is "determined to ensure free, fair elections. This government will not bend the rules and will not allow meddling in our affairs," spokesman Garba Shehu said in a statement issued late Saturday, Reuters news service reported.

Supporters of the People's Democratic Party (PDP) attend a campaign rally in Lafia, Nigeria January 10, 2019. Picture taken January 10, 2019.
US, EU Concerned About Suspension of Nigerian Judge Ahead of Elections
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…

In a follow-up statement issued late Sunday, the spokesman described the three foreign governments as "friends" but said their criticisms "seem more driven by unfounded assumptions and, to be honest, a certain condescension to this African democracy. … Not one of your nations would allow a person enmeshed in legal uncertainty to preside over your legal systems until the cloud has been cleared from him."

The lengthy statement aimed to clarify Buhari's decision to suspend Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen for allegedly making false claims about his assets. Buhari said the move came at the behest of a Code of Conduct Tribunal that began hearing Onnoghen's case last week. An appeals court ordered the trial's suspension Thursday. Ibrahim Tanko Mohammed, the second-ranking judge, was sworn in as acting chief justice on Friday.

Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari presents the
FILE - Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari speaks at the National Assembly, in Abuja, Nigeria, Dec. 19, 2018.

Buhari, a 76-year-old former military leader elected in 2015, is seeking a second four-year term as leader of Africa's most populous country. Challenges to presidential and parliamentary election results would be decided by Nigeria's judiciary, up to the high court.

Nigeria's Senate has scheduled an emergency session Tuesday, with the chief justice's suspension among its agenda items, the Lagos-based newspaper Punch reported Sunday. The news organization said lawmakers had been adjourned until Feb. 19, after the presidential and National Assembly elections.

Buhari leads the All Progressives Congress.

FILE - A soldier stands guard during a launch campaign by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) party for President Muhammadu Buhari's re-election bid, in Uyo, Nigeria, Dec. 28, 2018.
US, Britain Warn Against Election Trouble in Nigeria
The United States and British governments say they will deny visas and impose other penalties on anyone who attempts to encourage or use violence to influence Nigeria's elections.In simultaneous statements from their embassies in Abuja, both nations expressed strong support for free, fair and peaceful elections in Nigeria. The presidential election is set for Feb.

The main opposition People's Democratic Party (PNP) said it would resume campaign activities Monday, after halting them for 72 hours to protest Onnoghen's suspension. Its candidate is Atiku Abubakar, a 72-year-old former vice president. The PDP governed Nigeria from 1999, the year civilian rule was restored, until 2015.

In a statement issued this weekend, the PDP called Buhari's suspension of the chief justice "a constitutional breach and a direct attack on our democracy."

The Nigerian Civil Society Situation Room, an umbrella for more than 70 groups working to support credible, transparent elections, released a statement urging Buhari "to reverse this unconstitutional and illegal action and refrain from interfering with the independence of the judiciary. …"