NIGERIANS must have been stunned, when Lauretta Onochie, Special Assistant on Social Media, to President Buhari, publicly denied her membership of ruling All Progressive Congress, APC, during her screening for Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, job, by the Senate Committee on INEC. Likely, also, members of the ruling party may have been disturbed.
Lauretta Onochie is widely known as a card carrying member of the ruling All Progressive Congress, APC. She is also very well known as unapologetic adherent, and an intransigent devotee of Buhari’s presidency and the ruling party. She had publicly flaunted her membership and commitment to the ruling party, and as presidential aid to the president.
Copious references of Onochie’s public statements on social media platforms, and photographs of her adherent to the course of the ruling party and the presidency, are abound and undisputed, in public space. Including, also, an affidavit she swore to, at a Federal Capital Territory, FCT, High Court, Abuja; further affirming her membership and commitment to the ruling party; which was attached to one of the petitions against her.
Nigeria’s Constitution [as amended] unambiguously and explicitly provides that appointments into INEC, must be persons who are credited with known national integrity; not belonging to any political party in the country; and known to be non-partisan. These constitutional provisions, legal experts and analysts warned, needed to be respected by Buhari, in his quest to have Onochie appointed into INEC.
They are, however, worried that the country’s present beleaguered government; and Nigeria’s ninth oblique Senate, could compromise to disregard the Constitution, by adamantly going ahead with the processes of vetting the appointment of Onochie as INEC national commissioner.
LAURETTA ONOCHIE, while appearing before the Senate Screening Committee, repeatedly, denied membership of the ruling party. Curious about Onochie’s denial, Senator Opeyemi Bamidele, a member of the Screening Committee, suggested that she should be placed on oath to repeat her statements. He was backed by Senator Lawal Gumau.
Some members of the Senate Screening Committee, argue against putting Onochie on oath. They stated that it was against the “practice rule” of the Senate to subject a candidate being screened for appointment into public office to take oath while answering questions. Administering oath, they said, was only done during Senate investigative sitting. Onochie was, eventually, not put on oath.
Onochie’s opening remarks acknowledged that several petitions have been written against her as a member of the ruling APC. She admitted been in the league of Buhari’s Campaign Organisation in 2015, before her appointment as the Special Assistant on Social Media to the president. She, also, admitted swearing to an affidavit at an Abuja Federal High Court as a member of the APC.
Onochie’s words: “I have learned, over the years, to stand with the constitution and due process but not on partisanship or sentiments. Since 2019, I have not had anything to do with any political organisation, including Buhari support groups. When APC was doing re-validation of party members, I did not take part in that exercise.
“As I’m sitting down here, I’m not a member of any political party in this country. I have no partisanship in my blood. I have seen many petitions against my nomination not only from the PDP, but also from some APC members. I’m not partisan; they know.“It is about the law.
“No one has any reason to fear for my nomination as INEC commissioner representing Delta. As far as I’m concerned, I’m Madam Due Process. That’s why all the attacks. I follow due process; I follow the law.”
ONOCHIE’S response, analysts argued, made the Senate Screening Committee’s job, explicitly, easy and done. They clearly show that she is unqualified for INEC’s job. Going ahead to appoint Onochie as an INEC national commissioner, they said, would be making a hero of a villain. By the provisions of Nigerian Constitution [as amended] on appointments into INEC, Onochie should be disqualified.
Analysts noted that there are several other national appointments Onochie could fit into in Buhari’s government; and questioned why the president should, continuously, insist on Onochie’s appointment as INEC national commissioner. They believe that the unrelenting controversies trailing her nomination; and the presidency and the ruling party maintaining unperturbed attitude was unnecessary.
INEC’s former Chairman, Attahiru Jega, on Channels Television programme, Sunday Politics, at the weekend, warned the Senate against confirming the appointment of Lauretta Onochie as national commissioner in INEC, to avoid controversy. President Buhari, he said, should have withdrawn her nomination and replace her with another female from her state; as there were many eligible women for the job.
“This kind of controversy is really avoidable. Any person who generated such a controversy; the appointing authorities should be careful because you don’t want to appoint anybody that can raise suspicions or doubts or can lead to a loss of trust of the electoral management body”, Jega said.
OPPOSITION TO ONOCHIE’S nomination for INEC national commissioner job, has been vast, and condemned in various strong terms; including stating that Buhari’s government is being “insensitive” to public concerns, and averse to transparent electoral process in the country. Buhari benefited from “transparent, free, fair and credible electoral process”, by former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, that produced him as president in 2015.
No less than 70 civil society organizations, some opposition political parties, Senior Advocates of Nigeria and other interest groups, have been very vocal in condemning Onochie’s nomination for INEC job by the president. They questioned the legacy of “transparent, free, fair and credible” electoral process Buhari would be-quit to Nigerians after exiting office.
Nigeria’s present ninth Senate, led by Ahmad Lawan, they noted, would be the “worst” Senate in Nigeria’s history if Lauretta Onochie is confirmed as an INEC national commissioner. Lawan’s ninth Senate has earned for itself the tag of “rubber stamp Senate” in the country. The Senate is loathed by Nigerians; while the Senate President Ahmad Lawan, thrives in admitting that his led-Senate is a “rubber stamp Senate”.
Despite widespread condemnation, some are doubtful if Lawan’s Senate would have the political will to heed the voice of reason, respect the country’s Constitution [as amended] and disqualify Onochie from holding INEC’s job. She is the most unqualified person for INEC’s job, they argued.