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By MOHAMMED MOMOH
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Nigeria has condemned the US and the European Union (EU) over their criticisms of the suspension of Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen.

Mr Onnoghen was suspended over fraud and criminal charges and the next most senior Supreme Court judge, Justice Tanko Mohammed, appointed in an acting capacity.

President Muhammadu Buhari suspended Justice Onnoghen following the order of an auxiliary judicial panel that addresses assets filings of public officials.

Mr Onnohgen had been summoned by the tribunal to face trial over non-declaration of millions of dollars traced to his numerous bank accounts.

The US Embassy said in a statement on Saturday that it was “deeply concerned by the impact of the executive branch’s decision to suspend and replace the Chief Justice and head of the judicial branch without the support of the legislative branch on the eve of national and state elections”.

The US authorities said the suspension cast doubt over President Buhari’s commitment to a free election next month.

“We note widespread criticism that this decision is unconstitutional and that it undermines the independence of the judicial branch,” a statement said.

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“That undercuts the stated determination of government, candidates, and political party leaders to ensure that the elections proceed in a way that is free, fair, transparent, and peaceful – leading to a credible result,” it said.

The EU and the UK issued similar statements, prompting a stern reaction from the Nigerian presidency.

The Presidency on Sunday night described as unfortunate, the statements credited to the US, the UK and the EU over the suspension of Mr Onnoghen.

Presidential spokesman Garba Shehu, in Abuja, noted that it was wrong to assume that the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) had been removed from office, or permanently replaced.

He said Mr Onnoghen was only suspended, pending the determination of the cases against him.

Mr Shehu said further that it was wrong for the US and the UK to link the suspension of Mr Onnoghen to the forthcoming General Election.

“Those who claim that he has been permanently removed, do so out of imprecision of thought or mischief.

“CJN Onnoghen has been suspended pending the final determination of the substantive issues in his matter,” Mr Shehu said.

He urged the US, the EU and UK to refrain from being too hastily attracted by the arguments of those who have partisan agenda.

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