A coalition of civil societies has written a petition to Senate President, Ahmad Lawan against the nomination of Mrs. Lauretta Onochie as a National Commissioner for the Independent National Electoral Commission to represent the South – South in the commission.
The nomination of Onochie, who the Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Social Media, has triggered outrage with many calling on the President to withdraw it on grounds that Ms Onochie is partisan and so it would be undemocratic for her to be appointed into such an office.
President Buhari forwarded the name of Ms Onochie and five others to the Senate in October 2020 for confirmation as INEC national commissioners.
The other nominees are: Prof. Muhammad Sani Kallah from Katsina; Prof. Kunle Cornelius Ajayi, Ekiti State; Saidu Babura Ahmad, Jigawa; Prof. Sani Muhammad Adam, North Central and Dr. Baba Bila, North East.
Buhari, in a letter to the Senate, announced the appointment and sought the lawmakers’ confirmation. The appointment had triggered outrage among Nigerians as many described it as unconstitutional.
The Senate President on June 9, directed the Senate committee on INEC to screen Ms Onochie and five other nominees.
In the petition, dated June 16 and addressed to the Chairman of the Senate Committee on INEC, Kabiru Gaya, the CSOs referred to Section 156(1)(a) of the 1999 Constitution which mandates that a person nominated as an INEC National Commissioner should be non-partisan.
The CSOs, in the petition, noted that Ms Onochie is a card-carrying member of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and a Special Assistant to President Buhari on social media.
The CSOs stated that the nominee 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.”
The petition was 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.
“We contend that her appointment will greatly undermine the neutrality and impartiality of INEC and it will increase mistrust in the INEC and Nigeria’s electoral process.
“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,” part of the petition read.
The CSOs also asked the Senate to disqualify Ms Onichie on grounds that she is a British Citizen and has, over the years been involved in active politics in the UK.
“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.
“Ms 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, Ms 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,” the petition said.
The petitioners, in its prayers, urged 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.
They also requested President Buhari to 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.
It added: “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.”