The nomination of Ms Lauretta Onochie as a commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has expectedly stirred up the hornet’s nest. The controversy that overtook her nomination stemmed mainly from her position as a personal aide of President Muhammadu Buhari.
Ms Onochie, who hails from Delta State and is the Personal Assistant to the President on Social Media, was one of the four INEC commissioner-nominees appointed by President Buhari. The President’s letter to the Senate, dated October 12, 2020, seeking the lawmakers’ confirmation for the nominees, was read during plenary on October 20, by the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan.
Ms Onochie’s nomination became the butt of immediate public criticisms. Her nomination riled a coalition of civil groups, some opposition parties, individuals, including a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and other interest groups.
The civil groups, in a statement, opposed the nomination on the ground that it contravenes constitutional provisions, which forbid partisan persons from being members of INEC, a body charged under the constitution to conduct free and fair elections.
The convener of the coalition, said to comprise over 70 civil society groups, Clement Nwankwo, contended that her nomination amounted to “a major attempt at undermining efforts to build credibility for an improved electoral process.” Onochie, according to the coalition, has openly displayed partisanship and total support for the President and the All Progressives Congress (APC).
“It is important,” the body added, “for Nigeria that the composition of INEC is transparently non-partisan and independent of partisan political manipulations.”
A Lagos lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria(SAN), Ebun Adegboruwa, similarly argued that Onochie’s nomination was unconstitutional and insensitive. He posted: “The position of INEC commissioner requires some elements of neutrality, maturity and a person who is able to be an unbiased arbiter in the handling of such a sensitive position. So, whosoever is known to be an ally of any political organisation or a political office holder should ordinarily not be allowed near that office.”
We agree with Adegboruwa that the timing of the nomination was wrong, especially coming at the period of #EndSARS protests and when the mood of the nation called for sober reflection on the part of our leaders. The nomination is indeed insensitive to the national mood.
Ms Onochie’s nomination is not only immoral, it is latent from constitutional provisions that any person with a partisan background and has an affinity with any political party is not suitable to occupy the sensitive position of an INEC commissioner.
Section 14(2a) of the Third Schedule of the 1999 Constitution, cited also by the civil groups, provides that “A member of the commission (INEC) shall be non-partisan and a person of unquestionable integrity.”
Similarly, Section14(3b) of the same schedule states that “There will be for each state of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, a resident electoral commissioner, who shall be a person of unquestionable integrity and not a member of any political party.”
It is clear from these constitutional provisions that Ms Onochie is not suitable to be appointed an INEC commissioner because of her partisan background as President Buhari’s personal aide. She had also been known to be involved in vigorous campaign for her boss during the 2019 presidential election on the platform of the ruling APC.
To this extent, nominating her as an INEC commissioner is in bad taste. It is morally indefensible to seek to be a judge in one’s own case or an umpire in a contest in which one is a participant. This, in essence, is what her nomination amounts to. This places a moral burden on Mr President, who is expected to rise above such prejudices. Besides, he should not be seen to be working against the constitution whose provisions he swore to uphold and defend.
President Buhari should do the needful by immediately withdrawing Ms Onochie’s nomination. In the alternative, the Senate should reject her nomination and request for her replacement accordingly.
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