Foreign Affairs’ experts have warned that key Federal Government officials risked been blacklisted from travelling to the United States and the European Union if the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen over alleged graft and non-declaration of his assets is not properly managed.
The United States, United Kingdom and the European Union last weekend slammed President Muhammadu over Onnoghen’s suspension without recourse to the constitution and threatened to sanction promoters and family members of electoral violence and rigging in the forthcoming elections by cancelling their visas and placing them on travel ban.
The US in particular said: “We note widespread Nigerian criticism that this decision is unconstitutional and that it undermines the independence of the judicial branch. 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.”
Reacting to the development, a Professor of History and International Relations at the University of Lagos, Prof. David Aworawo, said that should the Buhari administration fail to remove its self from the matter and allow the National Judicial Council (NJC), which has already issued queries to Onnoghen and Justice Ibrahim Tanko Mohammed to handle it, the international community will be left with no option but to implement the proposed sanctions.
“The situation is a very hasty affair. So the Federal Government should allow whatever NJC decides – whether Onnoghen should be reinstated and Tanko be sanctioned – to go through, otherwise, sanctions are inevitable.
“As has been canvassed by many scholars, diplomats and the international community, the timing and swiftness with which Onnoghen was suspended and replaced very close to the elections without recourse to constitutional process indicate that the matter is more that prosecution of anti-graft war, but taken to gain political advantage.
“As it is now, everyone is watching. Elections are not held in mass, and it is on record that since the 90s, when over 50 elections were held in Africa, scores of them ended in violence. The attitude of the incumbent government in those countries engendered violence and you can predict with near mathematic precision that this will not be different should this government win in court under the current milieu
“In Nigeria, we all saw what happened in Ekiti and Osun in the name of election and the outcome. If the elections are held in the next few weeks and they are rigged, or you just run roughshod of the will of the people, the international community will carry out their threats and the sanctions will be inevitable,” Aworawo said.
But a lecturer in the Department of Politics and International Relations at the Lead City University, Ibadan, Dr. Badru Olufemi, held a contrary view insisting that the warning of the international community on the matter amounted to undue interference in Nigeria’s internal affairs.
According to him, last year when President Donald Trump removed three judges, no world leader rose against him, arguing they leaders owns it a duty to recognise Nigeria’s sovereignty and obey policy of non-interference in nation’s domestic affairs.
However, Nigeria’s former Consul-General in the United States, Ambassador Joe Keshi, said the claims of non-interference as contained in a statement issued by the Federal Government does not hold water because Nigeria asked for it.
“If you don’t open your doors, the Devil will not come into your house. Besides, President Buhari has no moral right to complain because in 2015, he and his party courted the international community and got their sympathy against then President Goodluck Jonathan,” he said.
He added that Nigeria is not living in an isolated world and if any nation took “a step that threatens internal security it is indirectly inviting negative global reaction. You don’t complain of interference when you took action hat warranted it.
“You don’t take such steps in such reckless manner as spurning the constitution and think the world will stay quiet. They should have followed due process and still removed Onnoghen. It is unfortunate that APC is making the same mistakes PDP made in 2015 and winning more enemies for itself.
“There are certain actions you don’t take in an election year and this is one, they were too hasty and spoilt everything for themselves,” he said.
Incidentally, the Presidency and the ruling party, APC both brushed aside the alarm raised by the international communities saying that what took place was a purely domestic matter.