In a major speech on Monday, Nigeria’s main opposition presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, warned that Africa’s most populous nation was again passing through one its most difficult moments, and asked his countrymen to elect him President to clean the hell raised by President Muhammadu Buhari.
The major speech, tagged as “the state of the nation” address delivered at the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Center in Abuja, came a day after Nigeria’s government denied suggestions that suspending the country’s top judge on corruption charges was connected to the presidential election in three weeks.
President Muhammadu Buhari replaced Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen on Friday for allegedly failing to declare his personal assets before taking office in 2017.
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The suspension came less than 24 hours before Mr Onnoghen was scheduled to swear in members of election tribunals. He has denied all the charges against him.
The US, EU and UK reacted furiously at his removal, suggesting it could “cast a pall over the electoral process”.
“The decision to suspend the chief justice has led to many Nigerians, including lawyers and civil society observer groups, to question whether due process was followed,” said the EU Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) in a statement.
But Buhari’s spokesman said late on Sunday that there was no connection, insisting that “the CJN [chief justice] does not run the election. Nor is he the first arbiter of any electoral complaints”
“He and the Supreme Court will only get involved as the final arbiter at the end of the appellate process…
“To link the CJN to the elections in this way is illogical unless they assume that election complaints will be filed and go all the way to the Supreme Court,” spokesman Garba Shehu said.
Parliament has been recalled on Tuesday to discuss the suspension.
In his speech on Monday, Mr Abubakar asked Nigerians to be vigilant and defend democracy.
“To create a condition that allows the constitution and the rule of law to become secondary to any other agenda is to pave the way for tyranny. History is replete with odious dictators whose path to dictatorship started with statements of good intentions. We must therefore remain vigilant in defense of our democracy,” Mr Abubakar warned.
Read his full remarks as sent to TODAY NEWS AFRICA in Washington D.C.
Yet again, our dear country is passing through a difficult moment. How we react to this challenge in the following days will determine the fate of our democracy, which has been brought to great peril by this needless crisis engineered by a government that is unwilling to subject its conducts to the requirements of our constitution.
Meanwhile, I commend all Nigerians and friends of Nigeria who have expressed outrage over the unlawful removal of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, an action, which constitutes a flagrant breach of our constitution and a frontal assault on our democracy. I want to note the universal condemnation of this unlawful act by all Nigerians, as well as the international community.
I need to state that this latest action by General Muhammadu Buhari falls squarely within the pattern of executive lawlessness that has now been firmly turned into statecraft by the APC government.
The serial disregard of court orders, and consequent violation of constitutionally guaranteed human rights of our citizens confirms beyond all doubt that General Buhari and his government would rather obey their own whims and operate by separate rules outside the well-established constitutional order and the rule of law. It scarcely requires emphasis that this behaviour is alien to democratic rule and more in line with that of a military dictator.
Without doubt, the fight against corruption is crucial to good governance and the progress of our country. In this context, the issue of corruption as it relates to the institution of the judiciary is even more crucial. As the last refuge of the common man, our judiciary must not only be above suspicion but must also be seen to be manifestly above board. The issue at stake is not whether the Chief Justice is guilty or not, but whether his removal from office has been done in accordance with the process specified in our constitution.
As a democrat, I must say, without equivocation, that no mission or goal, no matter how noble or well intended, should be used as a pretext for the subversion of our democracy and our democratic institutions. To create a condition that allows the constitution and the rule of law to become secondary to any other agenda is to pave the way for tyranny. History is replete with odious dictators whose path to dictatorship started with statements of good intentions. We must therefore remain vigilant in defense of our democracy.
We are all witnesses to how this government has serially assaulted the National Assembly, a separate arm of government that represents the bastion of our democracy. However, with this attack on the judiciary, General Buhari has set a new precedent in our democracy that has no equivalence in our history, not even in the darkest days of military dictatorship. This cannot be allowed to stand.
At this juncture, I must warn the APC government to desist from taking actions that may push us further down the slippery slope towards a major constitutional crisis that could derail the electoral process. General Muhammadu Buhari must remember that he is a beneficiary of a free and fair election. It is therefore a matter of honour for him to allow a political environment and process that gives confidence to everyone.
All my life, I have been a democrat and a defender of democracy. Like all men of good conscience and patriots, I believe this present challenge has imposed on us yet again, the duty to rise in peaceful defense of democracy, for which so many have laid down their lives. I also know that the surest weapon against tyranny is the democratic will of the people. Nigerians have consistently demonstrated their preference for democracy, and I am, and will always remain, on the side of the people of Nigeria.
I conclude by expressing, once again, my gratitude to the international community for standing by our country in this challenging time. However, the primary responsibility to resist tyranny and protect democracy in Nigeria ultimately lies with Nigerians. It is on this note that I call on all Nigerians to seize the opportunity of the coming general elections to vote in defense of democracy and the rule of law.
We must vote out this anti-democratic government and restore our country to the path of true democracy, which is the surest way to ensure progress and prosperity for our people.
God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria. God bless you all.