The nomination of the Personal Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Social Media, Ms Lauretta Onochie for consideration as a National Commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is rejected by election stakeholders. ONYEKACHI EZE examines the processes of nominating of INEC commissioners
President Muhammadu Buhari’s nomination of Ms. Lauretta Onochie, his Personal Assistant on Social Media, as National Commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), has continued to generate reactions.
It is not because Onochie is not qualified to be appointed as INEC National Commissioner but because she is politically exposed person (PEP) who has not hidden her partisanship in the last few years. Paragraph 14 of the 3rd Schedule of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), precludes the appointment of partisan person like Onochie to serve in INEC, the electoral empire which oversees all state and national elections in the country.
Ms Onochie was appointed by President Buhari as one of his aides in 2016, and is still serving in his cabinet while waiting for Senate’s confirmation to serve in INEC. This is obviously a breach of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP), the Conference of Nigeria Political Parties (CNPP) and civil society organisations (CSOs), see the nomination as a violation of the constitution.
According to the PDP the nomination is provocative and assault on the nation’s constitution and democratic process. The party said in a statement by the National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan that the nomination was “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.
“We had hoped that, as Mr. President had professed in the past, he is truly running his second and final term in office. If that were so, then Lauretta Onochie’s nomination as INEC national commissioner clearly points to a totally different direction,” the party said. CUPP on its part, said that Onochie’s nomination did not follow due process.
It argued that President Buhari is required by Section 154 (3) Paragraph B, Part 1 of the 3rd Schedule of the Constitution, to consult with the Council of State before he makes any appointment into INEC. According to the coalition, the Constitution provides that “The Council of State shall have the power to advise the President in the exercise of his powers with respect to … the Independent National Electoral Commission including the appointment of the members of the Commission.”
This, the CUPP noted, the president failed to do in the nomination of Onochie. The Council of State met for the first since the spike in coronavirus pandemic in the country two weeks ago when President Buhari held virtual meeting with former presidents on the nationwide protest by Nigerian youths against police brutality. This was about two weeks after Onochie’s name and other nominees were sent to the senate for confirmation as INEC National Commissioners.
CUUP said it is: “Illegal to send nominees to the Senate for screening without first sending such nominations to the Council of State. “We therefore, urge the President to withdraw all the nominations he made in violation of this provision and first send them to the Council of State as recommended by the Constitution.
“This country is governed by the law and the president and his government cannot choose which laws to obey and which one to disobey.” The Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room said Ms. Onochie is a known partisan supporter of President Buhari and the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). The Convener of the Situation Room, Clement Nwankwo in a statement, noted that her “nomination amounts to a major attempt at undermining efforts to build credibility for an improved electoral process in the country,” and called for her withdrawal.
“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,” Nwankwo advised. The Campaign for Equal Voting Access for persons with disabilities (EVAPWD), said the honesty and integrity of INEC are questionable with Onochie’s nomination to serve in the commission “as she has been very partisan in the last five years.
” The group in a statement by its Chairman, David Anyaele called on “the Nigeria Senate to reject her nomination to avoid contamination of the successes recorded so far by INEC and protect the election management body from political party influences.”
Besides being a presidential aide, Onochie is said to be a card-carrying member of APC in Ward 5, Onicha Olona, Aniocha North Local Government Area of Delta State. APC is, however, defending the nomination.
Acting National Publicity Secretary of the party, Nebena Yekini said Onochie’s appointments would not be the first time a partisan person would be appointed into INEC, citing the case of Edo State Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), Dr. Johnson Alalibo as instance.
Nabena recalled that Alalibo served as Deputy Chief Whip in the Bayelsa State House of Assembly before he was appointed as REC in the INEC.
“President Muhammadu Buhari’s appointment of Lauretta Onochie as a National Electoral Commissioner for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has been subject to rash, subjective, misplaced and selective criticism by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and some interest groups.
“Perhaps the PDP needs to be reminded that one of its card-carrying members, Dr. Johnson Alalibo, is the current Edo State REC,” he stated. Apart from Alalibo, APC alleged that the INEC National Commissioner, Festus Okoye and REC Akwa Ibom State, Mike Igini, were members of PDP. But the party had denied this, describing the claim as diversionary.
“Our party (PDP) finds it ludicrous that the APC in its anti-people enterprise, sought to divert attention from its atrocities by laying a false claim that some INEC members, including Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, had links with the PDP.
“Such poorly scripted piece of fiction cannot sway Nigerians as they know that Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, was never a member of the PDP and that no member of the PDP has been appointed a Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC),” PDP defended.
Onochie’s nomination is the first to receive condemnation since return of democracy in the country. It is true that no INEC appointee could claim completely non-partisan but none has been appointed while serving in government, like Onochie presently is. Dr. Johnson Alalibo, the Edo REC, became Deputy Chief Whip of Bayelsa State House between June 2003 and 2007.
He was appointed by an APC government and sworn in as INEC REC in 2019. This was about 12 years after. Igini and Okoye, even if they were PDP sympathizers had not openly displayed their partisanship or held any public office in PDP government.
Unlike Alalibo and others, Onochie is still serving in Buhari’s government. Her nomination, if approved by the Senate, will be a blight on the independence of INEC, especially now the commission has recorded some successes in the conduct of elections.
The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) said Onochie’s nomination lacks “objectivity, justice and fairness that are mandatory for every member of INEC as a result of her partisan membership of a political party, and by being an appointee of the ruling party.
“We are equally opposed to her nomination because of her unguarded remarks, public insults on credible individuals and the use of vulgar language and unprintable words against people who express their displeasure to some actions and policies of the government of the day, especially, her principal.”
Former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, who has sued Onochie for malicious damage of character, described her as “a venomous attacker of the opposition political parties, unapologetic defender of the All Progressives Congress (APC), a card-carrying member and former senatorial candidate under the party.” Atiku said her nomination as INEC commissioner is a mockery of democracy.
Since the return of democracy in Nigeria in 1999, successive presidents had strived to appoint non-partisan persons into the election management body. Ephraim Akpata, the pioneer Chairman of INEC, was a retired justice of the Supreme Court.
He was succeeded by Dr. Abel Guobadia, a retired public administrator. Maurice Iwu, who took over from Guobadia in 2005, is a professor of Phamacognosy. And then Prof. Attahiru Jega, an activist and former President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), became INEC Chairman in 2010. The present INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, a university lecturer, served as Assistant Secretary, Finance and Administration at the 2014 National Conference convoked by a PDP government.
That was five years before his first appointment in 2019 by an APC administration. The appointment of other National Commissioners and Resident Electoral Commissioners followed the same pattern. None had been appointed while still serving in government.
The fear that with the mileage INEC has achieved of recent in the conduct of credible and acceptable elections, an appointment of partisan actor like Onochie might reverse the gains already recorded. The positive reactions that trailed the nomination of Prof. Yakubu for second term in office are indications that Nigerians recognised that there is an improvement in the electoral system and therefore want it to be further advanced.
Bringing in persons like Ms Onochie will become a pollutant to the system. Unlike its opposition to Onochie’s nomination, PDP, the CUPP and the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room welcomed the renomination of Yakubu for another term in office and called on the National Assembly to confirm him. While the PDP wants Prof. Yakubu to spend the next two years before the next general election to rejig the Commission, work out appropriate electoral policies and guidelines and push for amendment of the Electoral Act, in conjunction with the National Assembly, to give the nation a credible electoral process, the CUPP urged him to use his second term appointment “which is novel in the political history of Nigeria to cleanse our electoral process and consolidate on the gains of Edo and Ondo elections.”
The Civil Society Situation Room said the renomination “provides an opportunity for lessons learnt from the 2019 general elections and recent off-cycle elections to be taken and long-lasting improvements made to Nigeria’s electoral process.”
So far, there is no dissenting voice against the renomination. This is more reason why Onochie’s nomination should not be allowed because of the likely backlash on the integrity on INEC.
Meanwhile, the PDP has challenged Professor Yakubu to see his reappointment as the Chairman of INEC the fate, hope and future of over 200 million Nigerians as well as that of generations yet unborn now rest on him. The party said in the light of this five-year extension, it hoped that the “failures, disappointments and miscarriages that charac-terised the first five years tenure of Yakubu will have no place in the new order.”
“It is therefore instructive to state that with his re-appointment, Prof Yakubu has been given an ample time and opportunity to redeem himself, the image of the commission and preparation for credible, free and fair elections in our country.
“At least, with this reappointment whatever happens in our future elections cannot be ascribed to inexperience and lack of adequate preparedness on the side of INEC. “We consider this reappointment by President Buhari as an impetus to demonstrate a readiness for a free fair and credible election, which Mr. President had always promised to bequeath at the end of his second and final term in office in 2023,” the party said.
It charged the INEC Chairman to spend the nearly two years ahead of the next general election to rejig the commission, work out appropriate electoral policies and guidelines and push for amendment of the Electoral Act, in conjunction with the National Assembly, to give our nation a credible electoral process.
The PDP said Professor Yakubu must be mindful of the aphorism that “to whom much is given, much more is expected”. His reappointment therefore comes with a lot of expectations by Nigerians and he must quickly take painstaking look into issues that aid manipulations, rigging, violence and inconclusive elections which marred most of the exercises conducted in his previous tenure.
The opposition party urged Prof. Yakubu to note that the future, stability and corporate existence of our nation have been entrusted in his hands as credible election is the bedrock of any democratic society.
It called on the National Assembly, particularly, the Senate, to focus on these pertinent issues in the course of screening Prof. Yakubu to ensure that the failures of the past is not given accommodation in the new era.