UN Special Rapporteur Reacts To Onnoghen’s Suspension

By Ikenga Chronicles February 12, 2019

UN Special Rapporteur Reacts To Onnoghen’s Suspension

The UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Diego Garcia-Sayán, has warned of an imminent threat to the nation’s Judiciary, describing the removal of Justice Walter Onnoghen from office as illegal.

Garcia-Sayan in a statement on Monday said the suspension of Onnoghen by Buhari was 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,” he said.

He added that the dismissal of judges without following laid down procedures as stated by law and without effective judicial protection being available to contest the dismissal, is incompatible with the independence of the judiciary.

The UN Special Rapporteur noted that Buhari had based the suspension of Onnoghen on the exparte order of the CCT, observing that the order was made in spite of four separate court orders asking the CCT to stay further proceedings on the trial.

Garcia-Sayan, a former judge of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, said the order upon which the suspension was based, was issued ex-parte while the motion on notice on the same subject was adjourned the day before by the issuing court.

He said, “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, eight months earlier, held that it lacked jurisdiction over cases involving judicial officers, which should be processed by the National Judicial Council”.

He expressed worry over alleged reports of threats and intimidation of some of the lawyers representing Onnoghen.

“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 recognised professional duties, standards and ethics,” he added.

The statement noted that the UN expert has expressed his concerns to the Nigerian government and will continue to follow events.