(Bloomberg) — Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s suspension of the nation’s top judge just weeks before a tight election drew condemnation from the legal community and prompted the main opposition party to temporarily halt its campaign in protest at what it called an “act of dictatorship.”
Buhari’s announcement on Friday that he had appointed the Supreme Court’s second-ranking judge, Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, in an acting capacity to replace Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen was roundly criticized by the Senate president and the Nigerian Bar Association. Both the European Union and the U.S. expressed concern about the suspension.
The decision came after Onnoghen was put on trial last week by the Abuja-based Code of Conduct Tribunal for an allegedly false declaration of his assets. In addition to that charge, Buhari said the security agencies linked “suspicious transactions running into millions of dollars” to Onnoghen’s personal accounts. The president said the CCT ordered him to suspend him until the trial is over.
The move is particularly significant because the results of the Feb. 16 presidential and parliamentary elections may be contested in the Supreme Court, said Adedayo Ademuwagun, a Lagos-based analyst at the risk advisory group Songhai Advisory LLP. Nigeria, Africa’s top oil producer, has a history of election rigging and vote results being disputed in the courts.
“This is another one of a string of events that indicates that this election will not be credible and will be challenged no matter who emerges as the winner,” Ademuwagun said.
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