By Gabriel Ewepu – Abuja

Civil Society Organisations, CSOs, Wednesday, demanded National Assembly to drop screening of Special Assistant on Social Media to the President Muhammadu Buhari, Lauretta Onochie from becoming National Commissioner in the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, based on certain grounds they pointed.

This was contained in a petition signed by Yiaga Africa; Peering Advocacy and Advancement Centre in Africa, PAACA; International Press Centre, IPC; Institute for Media and Society, IMS; The Albino Foundation; Centre for Citizens with Disability, CCD; Nigerian Women Trust Fund, NWTF; Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, CISLAC; Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism, PTCIJ; Centre for Democracy and Development, CDD; and CLEEN Foundation.

While fielding questions during the briefing, Member of Yiaga Africa Board of Directors and Executive Director, Peering Advocacy and Advancement Centre in Africa, PAACA, Ezenwa Nwagwu, said, “INEC not directly connected with those in the commission that are partisan is currently suffering integrity issues and if somebody who is evidently clear is known to be partisan is brought in creates double jeopardy for that institution.

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“If there is can be any position called Vice President she can be appointed to fill that position because that has n direct consequence but appointments within INEC is so too sacred to be desecrated with such abstinence.”

While Founder and Chief Executive Officer, CEO, Albino Foundation, Jake Epelle, said, “We cannot allow one bad apple spoils the bunch, we cannot allow somebody that we know constitutionally it is illegal, morally it is not acceptable, and this individual. We are not attacking her person we are attacking her antecedents which we know she will bring on board in this process.

“She has made herself persona non-grata in the democratic process and we cannot allow one wrong person in the midst of right people; evil communications corrupts good manners.

“We are not indicting APC here but we are following the principle of Rule of Law and principle of democracy, and unfortunately she is a card carrying member of APC and had it been she was a card carrying member of PDP we will mention PDP.

“We are absolutely non-partisan and we remain so, and not finger-pointing at APC but we are looking at an individual who will corrupt the process, and we are not against the ruling party or opposing party but we are for democracy.”

At the joint press conference  making their position, the CSOs said, “To this end, we make the following demands to the Senate Committee on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC): Reject the nomination of Mrs. Lauretta Onochie as INEC National Commissioner; Ensure proper scrutiny and due diligence is exercised in the confirmation of nominations into the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC); Ensure that nominees to positions in the Independent National Electoral Commission are individuals with impeccable character, unquestionable neutral inclinations, dispositions, and competence.   

“We also make the following demands to the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Muhammed Buhari: As a matter of urgency, withdraw the nomination of Mrs. Lauretta Onochie in the public interest and in furtherance of stated and repeated  commitment to continue a legacy of a truly independent electoral commission that enjoys the trust and confidence of citizens and electoral stakeholders.

“Uphold the federal character principle in re-nominating a non-partisan, neutral, and competent Nigerian to represent the South-South region as INEC National Commissioner.

“Observe the principle of diversity and gender inclusivity in nominating candidates who are non-partisan and competent as INEC National Commissioners.

“We believe that as custodians of the Nigerian Constitution, the Senate will ensure that the Constitution is upheld in the appointment of National Commissioners.

“We firmly believe that the Senate will continue to nurture our democracy by protecting the sanctity of INEC and the credibility of our electoral process.”

Meanwhile, the grounds of their petition pointed that Onochie does not meet the constitutional requirements of being non-partisan (as defined by Section 156(1)(a) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria) to be nominated as an INEC National Commissioner, “She is not only a Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on social media, she is also a card-carrying member of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). In her position as Special Assistant to President on Social Media, she has built a partisan reputation by her biased and sometimes inflammatory comments on national issues and against perceived or imagined enemies of the Buhari administration.

“With this antecedent, she is unlikely to be non-partisan, neutral and objective in her duties as an INEC National Commissioner if she is confirmed. Her appointment as a national commissioner or in the leadership of INEC will gravely undermine the neutrality and impartiality of the Commission, and  taint its credibility. Such an appointment will undermine citizens’ confidence in INEC,  increase mistrust in the Commission and Nigeria’s electoral process. It will  also jeopardize the trust of other political parties in the Commission.

According to the petition, “The Constitution requires that a nominee for the position of INEC National Commissioner must be a “person of unquestionable integrity”. Unfortunately, Mrs. Onochie’s actions on social media show that she lacks the required integrity to be appointed into such a sensitive position.

“There are several documented evidence of written attacks, social media altercations and malicious, unfounded allegations against groups or individuals by Mrs. Onochie via her social media accounts. In fact, Premium Times in its February 2019 media analysis on individuals/accounts using fake news as campaign strategies online, identified Mrs. Lauretta Onochie as one of the leading purveyors of fake news.

“Mrs. Lauretta Onochie is not qualified to be appointed as INEC’s National Commissioner based on the fact that she is a British citizen, thus falling short of the constitutional requirements for being appointed to that position as stated in  Sections 156(1a) and 66(1a) of the 1999 Constitution.

The CSOs also alleged that Onochie is a British citizen and also “She was a full, card-carrying member of the British Conservative Party, even contesting elections for a councillorship position in Thames Ward in the London Borough of Barking and Degenham in 2010 as a member of the UK Conservative Party.

“The fact of her dual citizenship and political activities in the UK raises major questions on her loyalty and commitment to Nigeria. As a Nigerian and UK citizen, she is obligated to demonstrate loyalty to both countries. Therefore, her dual loyalty will undermine national interest and potentially threaten the independence of INEC.

In conclusion, the petition states, “Finally, the appointment of Lauretta Onochie who is from Delta State as a Commissioner for the Independent National Electoral Commission negates the Federal Character principle as provided in Sections 14(3) and 14(4) of the 1999 Constitution as Delta State is already represented by Mrs May Agbamuche-Mbu, who currently serves as National Commissioner with the Independent National Electoral Commission. Her appointment will be detrimental to other states without INEC commissioners in the South-South geo-political region.”

Vanguard News Nigeria

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