By Ikechukwu Amaechi
Nigerians, particularly those who believe that their country could still be salvaged, are now very worried and scared. They are not scared of the dreaded Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS, which has been disbanded.
They are worried for the future of their hard-won democracy. They are scared of the impunity of President Muhammadu Buhari. It is an eerie feeling that induces a sense of melancholy.
They fret that the country’s democracy is being sacrificed on the altar of Buhari’s executive hubris.
Nothing captures the president’s in-your-face attitude in his relationship with Nigerians more than the nomination of his Special Assistant on Social Media, Lauretta Onochie, as a National Commissioner representing the South-South in the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.
Buhari wrote the Senate on Monday October 12 and Senate President Ahmad Lawan informed his colleagues when he read the letter to Senate plenary on Tuesday October 13. Every politician I have spoken to since Tuesday said the president’s action was ominous and scary.
Those who are not politicians are equally apprehensive. It is a signal of what to expect from the presidency and its parastatal, the INEC, come 2023.
To say that Buhari is contemptuous of Nigerians is to say the obvious. But the fact that he is ever determined to behave in ways that are shocking and does not care what people think of those actions still confounds some. Not me, thoughbecause he is simply behaving true to character.
But why won’t he? It has become almost an entitlement culture. He went after the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, against the dictates of the Constitution and rather than resisting him, we applauded. Now, the entire Nigerian judiciary has become an outpost of the presidency.
Why does Onochie’s nomination matter? Aside being a slap on Nigerians, it makes a mockery of the letters and spirit of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
You don’t need to be a lawyer to appreciate the grave implications of Buhari’s latest action. But even lawyers are the most horrified because, as Femi Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, noted, going by the letters and spirit of the Constitution, a card-carrying member of a registered political party or a die-hard supporter of a particular political party is constitutionally disqualified from the membership of INEC.
I will crave your indulgence to quote Falana’s take on the Onochie nomination saga elaborately.
Writing on behalf of the Alliance on Surviving COVID-19 and Beyond, ASCAB, the learned silk said: “In appointing the members of the INEC, the president is required to consult with the Council of State pursuant to Section 154(3) of the Constitution; Paragraph B of Part 1 of the 3rd Schedule to the Constitution provides that:
‘The Council of State shall have power to advise the president in the exercise of his powers with respect to (iv) the Independent National Electoral Commission, including the appointment of the members of the commission.’
“Pursuant to Section 154(1) of the Constitution, the appointment of the members of the Independent National Electoral Commission shall be subject to the confirmation by the Senate; Paragraph 14 of Part 1 of the Third Schedule to the Constitution as amended by Section 30, Act No 1 of 2010, states that a member of the Independent National Electoral Commission shall be non-partisan.”
Simply put, the Constitution, the country’s grundnorm, explicitly says INEC members must be apolitical. There is nothing ambiguous about this. It is even doubtful that the president consulted with the Council of State in making this nomination as required by law.
Now, will Buhari claim as he is wont to do, that he didn’t know Lauretta is a card-carrying member of the APC? If he didn’t know, what does that say about him? If he didn’t know, what would it have taken him to find out?
Now that he knows she is a registered member of the APC at Ward 5 Onicha Olona, Aniocha North Local Government Area of Delta State, will he withdraw the nomination? Not likely.
The president sees himself as being above the law. He believes the laws are made for the lesser mortals. In the last 21 years, no president has been as arrogant in power as Buhari.
He rules according to his whims and caprices not according to the law.
Enamoured, it seems, with Onochie’s perfect execution of her presidential brief – hurling insults on those who disagree with the president, the same way former President Olusegun Obasanjo enabled Femi Fani-Kayode, who played the same role for him while he was in office, Buhari is prepared to bend the rules to compensate her.
The question is: what is so special about this woman that he would want to subvert the same Constitution he swore to uphold if only to railroad her into the INEC? What special skill-sets is she bringing other than her unsurpassed ability to use uncouth language in insulting opposition party leaders?
Well, Buhari is doing this because he knows he will probably get away with it. He knows that with the most subservient National Assembly and most compromised judiciary in Nigeria’s history, he can get away with anything.
He knows that with Lawan, who unabashedly boasted that anything that comes from the presidency is a done deal, no matter how egregious, a man who would rather ask how high whenever he is ordered to jump instead of finding out why he is being asked to jump, Nigeria under his suzerainty no longer has three co-equal arms of government with checks and balances but an infallible presidency with the legislature and judiciary as footstools.
And don’t make any mistake about this: Buhari knows what he is doing by smuggling in this nomination at a time he thought Nigerians have been sufficiently distracted by the #EndSARS protests.
He thinks that Nigerians are so distracted that they won’t notice or even if they notice, they won’t bother. The presidency believes that Nigerians have been so impoverished that such mundane issues as who makes the INEC membership list is a non-issue when they face more existential threats.
Buhari has taken Nigerians for granted for too long and it is high time the people pushed back. The president does not mean well for this democracy and he is enabled on this subversion mission by both the judiciary and the legislature.
There is every reason to believe that as unconstitutional as it is, the Senate will confirm Onochie’s nomination. And the judiciary will rule in favour of the president if anyone dares litigate against the appointment.
A president who is promising the sanctity of elections cannot at the same be doing things that are sending strong signals that he is not willing to leave a legacy of credible polls.
And Nigerians should not allow a man who played no role whatsoever in the restoration of democracy but who has turned out to be one of the greatest beneficiaries, to stymie the process with avalanche of illegalities.
When Nigerians were being maimed and killed on the streets while fighting for democracy, the president was comfortably embedded in the Sani Abacha dictatorship.
He once sacked a democratically elected government and refused to announce a political timetable for return to democracy. He is not a democracy convert as he claims. He is contemptuous of democracy.
Sustained civic action, as the #EndSARS protests have proved, is the only way Nigerians can claw back some of their fundamental human rights that this government is gleefully trampling upon.