A former Nigerian vice president, Atiku Abubakar, on Wednesday attacked President Muhammadu Buhari saying by the president's action, Nigeria's democracy is 'in peril'.
Mr Abubakar who is the presidential candidate of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, said this against the backdrop of the controversies surrounding the removal of the Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen last Friday.
President Buhari said he removed the CJN on the orders of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, where Mr Onnoghen is facing charges of alleged false asset declaration. The "suspension" of Mr Onnoghen and the appointment of an acting CJN has been widely condemned by lawyers and civil society campaigners.
In a state of the nation address earlier in the week, Mr Abubakar had called on Nigerians to "peacefully" rise in defence of democracy.
Speaking as a guest speaker at an event organised by the Lagos Island Club Wednesday in Lagos, the former vice president again condemned the suspension.
"However," he said at the event, "before I delve into this subject I need to say a few words on a fact that many of you already know: our democracy is in peril.
"After unsuccessfully abusing the instruments of state to remove the leadership of the legislature, President Muhammadu Buhari has turned his sights on the judiciary.
"The action of unilaterally suspending the Chief Justice of Nigeria by President Buhari is unconstitutional. The Constitution provides laid down rules for the suspension or removal of the CJN and this has not been followed. This is a grave attack on our constitution and the people of our country."
He added, however, that as someone who has "vigorously defended our constitution over a number of decades", Nigerians can be rest assured that he would ensure the matter is resolved in accordance with the constitution. "For a key part of my vision for Nigeria is respect for the rule of law, because without it you can have no society," he explained.
Mr Abubakar argued that in the last four years, Nigerians have witnessed a deterioration of all aspects of basic human development as the country suffered avoidable social and economic decline. This, he said, could be attributed to the absence of coherent and comprehensive economic policy which has robbed the economy of its capacity to attract investment, to support the growth of small businesses and absorb a fast-growing labour force.
Within the period, according to the PDP candidate, unemployment has thrived with "over 13 million people joining the ranks of people without a job, which now totals 21 million." If people do not have a job, he said, they struggle to feed their families which is why over 100 million Nigerians cannot afford one decent meal a day.
Mr Abubakar also said the structure of the country is not working and to address this, the nation must be bold enough to stitch all the structural faults lines that have arrested development by adopting a new economic management model and a new political structure that will cure all the federating units of their addiction to oil revenues.
As a way out, Mr Abubakar said his government will restore investor confidence in the Nigerian economy, support the private sector by undertaking reforms to unleash its growth potential, liberalise the economic space and privatise all ailing enterprises.
He said, "In particular, the #TheAtikuPlan will undertake a de-regulation of the downstream sector of the economy, review the PIB and privatise all four state refineries that operate at 10 per cent of their installed capacities. We shall channel the proceeds from the privatisation into a special fund for the development of education and health.
"We will assist the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises to grow bigger and to be more productive. As we all know, small businesses offer the greatest opportunities for achieving inclusive pro-poor growth, through increased self-employment.
"Our focus shall be on improving their access to affordable, long term funds, provision of critical infrastructure as well as adequate training for their workforce to improve productive capacity."
Mr Abubakar also said that his administration, if elected, will create jobs by growing the economy and promoting innovative flagship job creation programmes, create an Economic Stimulus Fund with an initial investment capacity of approximately $25 billion to support private sector investments in infrastructure, and fix the power sector, among other plans.
"Since the return of the country to democratic governance in 1999," the former vice president said, "I cannot think of a more important election than the one we face in just over two weeks, given our daunting development challenges.
"The opportunity to change the course of history and rebuild the country begins on February 16th when Nigerians will exercise their sacred duty to elect their President and other political leaders.
"Nigerians must reject the status quo and bring in a leader who has a history of economic reform and political transformation."