October 21, 2020

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Reactions have trailed the appointment of Lauretta Onochie as a National Electoral Commissioner for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), with many describing the appointment as unconstitutional.

Ms Onochie, who hails from Delta State, is currently President Muhammadu Buhari’s Personal Assistant on Social Media. She was one of the four nominees appointed by the president on Tuesday.

Mr Buhari had sent a letter to the Senate seeking the lawmakers’ confirmation of the appointment.

The request which was contained in a letter dated October 12, was read during plenary by the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan.

Both individuals and civic groups have since called on the president to withdraw the nomination on grounds that Ms Onochie is partisan and so would be undemocratic for her to be appointed into such an office.

Many have also said her appointment could jeopardise the credibility of future elections.

What the law says

The Constitution specifically declares that appointees to the electoral body must be non-partisan and also not a card-carrying member of any political party.

Section 14(2a) of the Third Schedule of the 1999 Constitution as amended states that “a member of the commission shall be non-partisan and a person of unquestionable integrity.”

And Section 14(3b) of the same Schedule states that “there shall be for each state of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja, a Resident Electoral Commissioner who shall be a person of unquestionable integrity and shall not be a member of any political party.” This, however, directly applies to members appointed as Resident Electoral Commissioners.

While preceding paragraphs empowers the president to make appointments and the Senate to make confirmations, 3b, demands that the integrity of an appointee must not be in question.

The interpretation of this Section of the law raises questions as to whether it was considered before the appointments were made.

This is because Ms Onochie has openly displayed partisanship and total support for the president and the All Progressives Congress in general.

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She had campaigned for the president’s second term (#NextLevel Agenda) in 2018 and 2019, hence the hostile reactions to her nomination.

Not the first case…

Ms Onochie’s controversial appointment as an INEC commissioner is not the first so submitted to the ninth Senate.

A similar case played out in October 2019 when a “former” APC member was nominated as a resident electoral commissioner by the president.

Olalekan Raheem had confessed to being a member of the APC during his screening exercise in November of the same year. He also confessed to have contested for local government chairmanship in Osogbo, Osun State even though he said he stopped being a card-carrying member of the party in 2017.

“I am a member of APC and I contested for the chairmanship of Osogbo local government in 2013. In 2015, I moved on to go and study psychology in University of Ibadan. I had the card then when I had the intention of contesting.

“I was a DG of a contestant in 2017. I was part of the campaign. I am no longer a card-carrying member since I left to go back to school. I have not been attending political function again,” he told the panel.

His nomination was, however, rejected by the Senate.

The chairman of the panel, Kabiru Gaya, had asked his colleagues to stand down Mr Raheem’s screening because a petition had been written against him accusing him of being a card-carrying member of the APC.

Appointment unconstitutional

Some of the reactions to the controversial appointment of Ms Onochie have come from Situation Room, ex-senator Dino Melaye, the Senate minority leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe, and the Peoples Democratic Party, among others.

In a statement sent to PREMIUM TIMES, Situation Room, a coalition of civic groups, referred to the aforementioned section of the constitution which it said forbids a partisan politician as a member of INEC – a body charged under the constitution to conduct free and fair elections.

Convener of the group, Clement Nwankwo, who signed the statement, said her nomination is a major attempt at undermining efforts to build credibility for an improved electoral process in the country.

He, therefore, called on the president to immediately withdraw her nomination.

“Should the President fail to withdraw this nomination, the Nigerian Senate is hereby called upon to disregard her nomination without any consideration whatsoever.

“Situation Room is also calling on the Nigerian Senate to investigate all of the other nominations by the President especially as there are concerns that some of these nominations may have been by self-serving interests.

“It is important for Nigeria that the composition of INEC is transparently non-partisan and independent of partisan political manipulation,” part of the statement read.

In a similar statement, Mr Melaye asked the president to immediately withdraw the nomination of Ms Onochie, describing it as unconstitutional, an affront on the patience of Nigerians and an insult to the institution of INEC.

He also threatened to mobilise Nigerians to challenge the appointment should the president fail to act.

“She is biased as a member of the APC, hence this is an affront on the patience of Nigerians and an insult to the electoral umpire as an institution.

“I hereby call on President Muhammadu Buhari to immediately rescind her nomination forwarded to the Senate today otherwise I will mobilise Nigerians to challenge this decision, which is unconstitutional.”

Assault on the constitution
The PDP on its part, described the appointment as a highly provocative assault on the Nigerian Constitution and democratic process.

The party’s spokesperson, Kola Ologbondiyan, said at a press briefing in Abuja that the party would deploy every legitimate means to stop the appointment.

President Buhari, he said, has left no one in doubt that he does not care about leaving behind a legacy of credible elections.

“However, this nomination of his personal staff, Lauretta Onchie, as INEC national commissioner, supports the position of the PDP that his statements were mere glib talks on electoral sanctity and clearly demonstrates that he has no plans whatsoever to leave a legacy of credible polls.

“This ugly development is another shameful attempt to plant unscrupulous elements in INEC in order to corrupt and further desecrate the sanctity of the commission, undermine our electoral system and destabilise our democratic process ahead of the 2023 general elections.”

He added that the only way the president could prove that he did not harbour ulterior motives was to quickly withdraw Ms Onochie’s nomination before the Senate.

In the same vein, Mr Abaribe described the nomination as a violation of the constitution. The minority caucus of the Senate, he said, is against the nomination and called on Mr Buhari to withdraw it.

Other legal practitioners and social media users have also reacted to the appointment with many asking that she not be confirmed.

Below are some reactions from Twitter: 



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