They have been joined by numerous politicians from opposition parties, who have launched a cascade of condemnation against Buhari and urged him to reverse the decision.
“President Buhari has sent a dangerous signal to the entire world that Nigeria is no longer a democratic nation and that we have returned to the old, jaded era of military dictatorship,” Senate President Bukola Saraki said in a statement, adding that he has “precipitated a constitutional crisis.”
‘Brazen dictatorial act’
Chief Justice Onnoghen was charged on 12 January with breaching a rule that public officials disclose foreign bank accounts.
He had secured a temporary injunction to his hearing on Thursday, which seemingly prompted Buhari’s move.
“One expected that with his moral authority so wounded, by these serious charges of corruption, more so by his own written admission, Mr. Justice Onnoghen would have acted swiftly to spare our Judicial Arm further disrepute by removing himself from superintending over it while his trial lasted,” the President wrote on Twitter.
“Unfortunately, he has not done so,” he wrote, adding: “If Justice cannot be done and clearly seen to be done, society itself is at risk of the most unimaginable chaos.”
But the President’s critics argued that due process had not been afforded to Onnoghen, and painted Buhari’s move as a flagrant attempt to influence the outcome of the upcoming vote.
“This brazen dictatorial act is the latest action in the ongoing rape of our nation’s hard earned democracy,” PDP challenger and former Nigerian Vice President Atiku Abubakar wrote on Twitter.
“The case involving the legality or otherwise of the charges against Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen is in court, as it should be,” he added. “Why not allow the court to adjudicate on the matter?”
“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,” a spokeswoman for the EU’s Election Observation Mission said in a statement.
“The timing, just before the swearing in of justices for Electoral Tribunals and the hearing of election-related cases, has also raised concerns about the opportunity for electoral justice,” she added.
Next month’s election is seen by many as a two-horse race between Buhari and Abubakar.
But Bring Back our Girls activist Oby Ezekwesili, who withdrew her candidacy on Thursday, promised to build a coalition capable of defeating both parties in order to “disrupt the politics of failure” in Africa’s most populous nation.