The Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ), YIAGA Africa and nine other CSOs have written a petition to the Senate opposing the appointment of Lauretta Onochie as a commissioner for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
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.
Ms Onochie, who is currently a presidential aide, was appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari in October 2020 as an INEC commissioner to represent Delta State.
The president, 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.
Many have called on the president to withdraw the nomination on grounds that Ms Onochie is partisan and so it would be undemocratic for her to be appointed into such an office.
The Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, had on June 9, directed the Senate committee on INEC to screen Ms Onochie and five other nominees.
PREMIUM TIMES reported how her appointment violates Section 14(2a) of the Third Schedule of the 1999 Constitution as amended which states that “a member of the commission shall be non-partisan and a person of unquestionable integrity.”
While the Senate spokesperson, Aibola Basiru, has said Nigerians who feel Ms Onochie is not qualified to be INEC commissioner should write a petition to the Senate panel.
The CSOs, in the petition, noted that Ms 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 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, they said, it is highly unlikely that she will remain neutral and objective if successfully screened as one of INEC’s National Commissioners.
They also stated that Ms Onochie has been a peddler of fake news.
“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.
“By the combined effect of Section 156 (1)(a) and Third Schedule, Part 1, Item F, paragraph 14 (1), Ms 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.
…Unfortunately, Ms 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 APC, she peddles propaganda and misinformation regularly,” part of the petition read.
In addition to tweets of misinformation by Ms Onochie, the CSOs also referred to PREMIUM TIMES’ analysis of February 2019 where Ms Onochie was identified as one of the Nigerian politicians who used fake news as campaign strategies online.
“The social media space is still littered with many other inexcusable tweets and posts by Ms Onochie. 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.”
International political activities
The Senate was also asked to disqualify the nomination of 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. A total of 12 candidates contested for the election, Ms Onochie lost by emerging tenth on the ballot after securing a total vote of 322 in her favour.”
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, they said.
The CSOs further said Ms Onochie was a volunteer on the media campaign team for former Prime Minister David Cameron and while she was campaigning for the APC in Nigeria in 2014, she was also involved in the Conservative Party #Roadtrip2015 to campaign for the re-election of conservative candidates across the UK.
While they urged the Senate to completely reject Ms Onochie’s nomination, the CSOs called on Mr 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 asked the president 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 and also uphold the principle of diversity by ensuring gender inclusion in the nomination of non-partisan and competent Nigerians as INEC 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 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, the CSOs said.”
Other CSOs which signed the petition include Peering Advocacy and Advancement Centre in Africa (PAACA), International Press Centre (IPC), Institute for Media and Society (IMS), the Albino Foundation and Centre for Citizens with Disability (CCD).
Nigerian Women Trust Fund (NWTF), Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) and CLEEN Foundation also signed the petition.0