By Obas Esiedesa
Civil society organizations in Nigeria have urged the Senate to reject President Muhammadu Buhari’s nomination of his media aide, Lauretta Onochie as a National Commissioner in the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The CSOs say her nomination contravenes the constitution and is an affront on Nigerians.
They also say her nomination threatens to erode the gains made at reforming INEC and making it an impartial body in the Nigerian electoral process.
Speaking on Thursday in Abuja on behalf of the CSOs, the Executive Director, Peering Advocacy and Advancement Centre, and the Convener of Say No, Comrade Ezenwa Nwagwu urged the President to withdraw her nomination.
According to him, the CSOs “completely reject this nomination, which does not sit well in the recent gains of the electoral system in the country.
“The 1999 Nigeria constitution (As amended) in the 3rd schedule, part 2f, paragraph 14(b) expressly provides that National Electoral Commissioners of INEC shall be non-partisan and persons of unquestionable integrity, who shall be nominated by the president.
“It is important to note that the Independent National Electoral Commission INEC is an independent body overseeing the electoral processes in the country without any affiliation to any of the political parties should not have any of its governing bodies member identified as a person sympathetic to any political party. This status should remain so in order to maintain the sacredness of that institution”.
Nwagwu expressed concern that Ms Onochie, a serving aide of the President “who openly supports the President and his political party, has been nominated to the position of National Commissioner, INEC.
“Any INEC National Commissioner should enjoy the trust and confidence of all parties concerned (Ruling and Opposition), Ms Onochie failed this critical test with her several open and toxic confrontations with opposition elements and anyone that disagrees with her position through the media. We see this as an affront to the sensibilities of Nigerians and total disrespect to the sanctity of the Nigerian constitution”, he added.
He continued: “As civil society actors and veterans in election observation in the country, having contributed to the electoral gains in Nigeria, we condemn this nomination and affirm that this will erode the gains we have made in our electoral reforms and cast aspersions on the sincerity of the President in ensuring a reformed electoral process in the country. We appeal on Mr President to reconsider this nomination as it does not serve the nation any good.
“We strongly suggest that if the President feels so strongly to reward Lauretta Onochie for her loyalty and die-hard support, there are other areas of appointment the president can consider, but certainly not INEC. To do otherwise means upsetting INEC’s arrangement of non-partisanship”.
The CSOs warned that if her nomination was not withdrawn, they would take legal actions to ensure that this nomination is not confirmed by the Senate of the Federal Republic.
Fielding questions from journalists at the briefing, the Executive Director of Centre for Transparency Advocacy (CTA), Faith Nwadishi expressed hope that Onochie nomination would be rejected by the Senate, saying anything short of this would amount a betrayer of trust.
She said: “We are hoping that the National Assembly will do the right thing. The second part is that we have a Constitution that clearly states the criteria for appointing a national commissioner for INEC.
“As members of the National assembly, we are hoping that they will uphold the Constitution in the process of confirming that nomination. Our prayer is that they don’t confirm the nomination”.
Ms Nwadishi said a partisan person cannot be appointed as INEC commissioners, stressing that “we have seen of the years the activities of Lauretta Onochie that she has not been kind to the opposition or any Nigerian that holds contrary political opinion to her boss.
“Being a National Commissioner of INEC, you need to be apolitical because you are going to be interacting with different people. You don’t need that toxic character on the table when you want to talk about electoral reforms in this country”, she added.
Some of the CSOs who opposed her nomination include: Peering Advocacy and Advancement Center, Center for Transparency Advocacy, Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), YIAGA Africa, Social Action, HEDA Resource Center, and Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre.