Onochie’s rejection as INEC commissioner should be final
In recent times, Nigerians and their lawmakers have struggled to find a common ground. But the refusal by the Senate to confirm Lauretta Onochie as National Commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) may have put that to rest. Although the reasons adduced by the upper legislative chamber for rejecting her nomination by the President Muhammadu Buhari administration are far removed from the perceived reality in the public space.
According to the Senate committee in their final submission, the decision was inspired by the provisions of Section 14(3) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) on the Federal Character Principle.
Frankly, if the lawmakers are really interested in protecting what is left of the country’s nascent democracy and image, it should not waste any more valuable hours and taxpayers’ resources on whether to re-present the candidacy of Onochie as rumours are beginning to suggest. The Presidency reportedly expressed confidence in her candidacy despite the rejection by the Senate and has since not withdrawn the nomination. To say the least, this is sad if only because the patent partisanship of the nominee is there for all to see.
The justified public outrage that greeted her nomination should be enough pointer as regards the abundant evidence on why Onochie is unsuitable for the position.
As an institution saddled with the responsibility of conducting free and fair elections, and ensuring that every Nigerian is not disenfranchised, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has a lot riding on its integrity as an entity, including the unity of Nigeria. Moreover at a time when the various regions in the country are agitating for separate identities, only a free and fair election with an unbiased umpire would give the country a chance at unity. Having an individual like Onochie in a sensitive post of INEC Commissioner does not portray seriousness as regards the need to keep the country united on the platform of a thriving democracy.
The depositions of the late Kofi Annan, a former Secretary-General of the United Nations are worth recalling here. According to him, elections are not enough if they are not conducted with integrity and are able to reflect the real will of the people. These contentions of the former UN scribe are in consonance with civilised reasoning of democratic citizens on the need for elections to be clothed with integrity. Moreover, such elections must meet refined criteria for them to fulfil their key roles, which are to confer legitimacy on the winners and security on the losers and peaceful change for all.
Unfortunately, we do not believe that Lauretta Onochie fits this image of an unbiased umpire. Her close affinity with the ruling party and unalloyed loyalty to President Buhari in her position as a Special Assistant to the President on New Media both of which she is yet to renounce should naturally disqualify her. Moreover, even her futile attempt to repudiate her membership of the All Progressives Congress (APC) puts her integrity in question.
During her appearance at the Senate committee, Onochie claimed she had removed herself from everything about politics since President Buhari was elected as President for the second term.
“Since 2019, I don’t have anything to do with politics. As I am sitting down here, I am not a member of any political party in this country,” she told the panel. These assertions are not only laughable, they do not also accord with reality.
Indeed ample evidence points to the contrary that Onochie is in fact still a member of the APC. Her name is still written as number 2 in the ward 4 Register of the party in Aniocha Local Government Area of Delta State. Apart from her partisanship, Onochie’s profile does not exactly cut the image of an upright citizen as should be expected of a Commissioner of a national electoral body. Her activities on social media shows her up as a bully who takes a sadistic delight in denigrating the political opponents of her principal, President Buhari.
2023 is a crucial year for Nigeria where the country must decide whether it wants to move forward or be relegated to the status of a banana republic. INEC has a decisive role in either of these two contrasting outcomes. We believe that, with an individual like Onochie serving in a sensitive position of Commissioner, the choice is already made before the day arrives.
Therefore, we must commend the Senate for its stance even on the specious grounds, which relate to the violation of Federal Character tenets. Indeed, what the Senate has done amounts to some form of soft landing for the President. We urge the President to take the cue and use the opportunity for a honourable retreat. This means that the Presidency must refrain from pushing its luck on this sensitive but needless issue, which has the potential of contaminating our democracy.