By Gabriel Ewepu – Abuja
Ahead of Senate’s screening of President Muhammadu Buhari’s Special Assistant on Social Media, Lauretta Onochie, as National Commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, from Delta State, Yiaga Africa, weekend, led other nine Civil Society Organisations, CSOs, to stop screening of Onochie with a six-page petition.
The petition was signed by Yiaga Africa along with nine other CSOs and addressed to President of the Senate, and also copied the Chairman, Senate Committee on the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, with subject, ‘Petition Opposing President Buhari’s Appointment Of Lauretta Onochie As A National Commissioner Of The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)’, which was made available to Vanguard.
The CSOs include 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.
It will be recalled that on Wednesday, 9th June 2021, eight months after her nomination, the Senate referred Lauretta Onochie’s name to its Committee on INEC to commence her screening as a National Commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
According to the CSOs, the petition is on these grounds, “The nomination of a Nigerian as a National Commissioner to the Independent National Electoral Commission is governed by Section 154(3), 156(1a), Third Schedule, Item F Paragraph 14(2a) and 14(3b) of the 1999 Constitution (As Amended).
“A combined reading of the stated constitutional provisions demands that, first, the President before appointing an individual as INEC national commissioner must first consult the Council of State before forwarding the nomination to the Senate for confirmation.
“The fundamental question is whether the President consulted with the Council of State before submitting to the Senate a letter nominating Mrs. Lauretta Onochie as INEC’s National Commissioner? A confirmation by the Senate without the input of the State Council is unconstitutional.
“Secondly, the constitution mandates that a person nominated as an INEC National Commissioner should be non-partisan. Section 156(1) (a) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria clearly prohibits the appointment of any person who is a member of a political party as a member of INEC. To further ensure the neutrality of the members of INEC, the Constitution clearly mandates in the Third Schedule, Part 1, Item F, paragraph 14 (1) that a National Commissioner shall be non-partisan and a person of unquestionable integrity.
“Mrs. Lauretta Onochie is not only a card-carrying member of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC), and a Special Assistant to President Buhari on social media, but she is also notorious for her partisan, biased and in some instances inflammatory comments on national issues targeted at perceived or imagined enemies of the Buhari government.
“Given her antecedents, it is highly unlikely that she will remain neutral and objective if successfully screened as one of INEC’s National Commissioners. We contend that her appointment will greatly undermine the neutrality and impartiality of the Independent National Electoral Commission and it will increase mistrust in the INEC and Nigeria’s electoral process. By the combined effect of Section 156 (1)(a) and Third Schedule, Part 1, Item F, paragraph 14 (1), Mrs. Lauretta Onochie is constitutionally prohibited from any appointment as a member of the electoral umpire. It is against the sacred spirit of our Constitution to accept her nomination.
“The third requirement is that a person nominated as INEC’s National Commissioner should be “a person of unquestionable integrity”. Unfortunately, Mrs. Onochie lacks the integrity to serve as INEC’s National Commissioner due to her previous antics on social media.
“In addition to using her social media platform to express her loyalty to the ruling All Progressive Party (APC), she peddles propaganda and misinformation regularly. There are several documented evidence of written attacks, social media altercations, and unfounded, malicious allegations against individuals or groups by the nominee in a manner that clearly shows partisanship and questionable character.”
The CSOs pointed that, “It will be innocuous to state that the nomination of an individual as INEC’s National Commissioner who as in the instant case has habitually demonstrated unabashed partisanship should be outrightly refused and rejected by the Senate. Doing otherwise is a violation of our constitution and the impartiality of our electoral umpire”, they added.
According to them, “Following the precedent established by the Upper Chamber, it will be in place if the nomination of Mrs. Onochie is rejected by the Senate. In December 2019, confronted with similar facts as in the instant case, the Senate stood down the nomination of Mr. Olalekan Raheem as a Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on the grounds that he was a card-carrying member of the APC. (See Appendix 7). Mrs. Onochie is not only a card-carrying member of the APC; she is partisan and very divisive.
“Mrs. Onochie should not be confirmed by the Senate because she is not qualified to contest election in Nigeria as a Member of the House of Representatives.
“Section 156(1a) of the 1999 Constitution provides as follows: “No person shall be qualified for appointment as a member of any of the bodies aforesaid if – (a) he is not qualified or if he is disqualified for election as a member of the House of Representatives provided that a member of any of these bodies shall not be required to belong to a political party, and in the case of the Independent National Electoral Commission, he shall not be a member of a political party; On when a person can be disqualified to contest election as a member of the House of Representatives; section 66(1a) of the 1999 Constitution provides thus: ‘No person shall be qualified for election to the Senate or the House of Representatives if: (a) subject to the provisions of section 28 of this Constitution, he has voluntarily acquired the citizenship of a country other than Nigeria or, except in such cases as may be prescribed by the National Assembly, has made a declaration of allegiance to such a country; A collective reading of Sections 156(1a) and 66(1a) of the 1999 Constitution disqualifies a person as in the instant case from being appointed as INEC’s National Commissioner on the grounds that a person is a member of a political party.”
Meanwhile, the petition also alleged that, “Mrs. Onochie is a British Citizen and has over the years been involved in active politics in the UK. Up till recently, she has been a full, card carrying member of the British Conservative Party.
“To be specific, Mrs. Onochie in 2010 contested elections for a councillorship position in Thames Ward in the London Borough of Barking and Degenham as a member of the UK Conservative Party.
A total of 12 candidates contested for the election, Mrs. Onochie lost by emerging tenth on the ballot after securing a total vote of 322 in her favor. (See Appendix 8). The mere fact that she holds dual citizenship makes her unfit to hold such a sensitive office. As a Nigerian and UK citizen, she is obligated to demonstrate loyalty to both countries. Therefore, her dual loyalty will undermine national interest and it could potentially threaten the independence of INEC.
“In a similar vein, Mrs. Onochie was a volunteer on the media campaign team for former Prime Minister David Cameron. While she was campaigning for the APC in Nigeria in 2014, she was at the same time involved in the Conservative Party #Roadtrip2015 to campaign for the re-election of conservative candidates across the UK.
“It will be improbable for this Upper Chamber to circumvent the provisions of Sections 156(1a) and 66(1a) of the 1999 Constitution.
“We urged this hallowed red chamber to reject her nomination and preserve the purity of the Nigerian constitution.
“We further state that the appointment of Lauretta Onochie who is from Delta State as a Commissioner for the Independent National Electoral Commission will also desecrate Federal Character principle as provided in Sections 14.3 and 14.4 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended in 2011) as Delta State is already represented by Mrs. May Agbamuche-Mbu, SAN 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.”
These were the Prayers contained in their petition against approval of Onochie’s nomination; “To this end, we the undersigned implore you to use your good office to: – Completely reject the nomination of Mrs. Lauretta Onochie as a National Commissioner into Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC); Urge President Buhari to withdraw her nomination in the public interest and in furtherance of his commitment to leave a legacy of a truly independent electoral institution that enjoys the trust and confidence of citizens and electoral stakeholders; Request President Buhari to uphold the federal character principle in renominating a non-partisan, neutral, and competent Nigerian to represent the south-south region as INEC National Commissioner; Also, request the President to uphold the principle of diversity by ensuring gender inclusion in the nomination of non-partisan and competent Nigerians as INEC National Commissioners; Ensure that members of the Independent National Election Commission must be of individuals with impeccable character, unquestionable neutral inclinations dispositions, and competence; Ensure proper scrutiny and due diligence is exercised in the confirmation of nominations into the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC); and as custodians of the Nigerian constitution, the Senate should ensure that the principle of Federal Character is protected in order to guarantee inclusiveness and promote national unity amongst Nigerians.”