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Lauretta Onochie: What constitution says about appointing INEC National Commissioner

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NIGERIANS were stunned Tuesday afternoon when Ahmad Lawan, the President of the Senate read the names of four Nigerians recommended by President Muhammadu Buhari for confirmation as National Commissioners at the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

Of the four Nigerians nominated by the President, only Lauretta Onochie, who was nominated to represent Delta State has generated furore among Nigerians.

Onochie is President Buhari’s Personal Assistant on Social Media – her appointment has come under public scrutiny since Lawan announced her name. While many who condemned her inclusion in the list argued that she is a card-carrying member of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), others said she has always been partisan in her social media posts and as such not qualify for the position in the INEC.

The main opposition party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and rights activists who have also condemned Onochie’s appointment by the President, argued also that her political leaning makes her nomination by the President contravenes the Act establishing INEC and the 1999 Constitution.

What the Constitution says

In appointing the members of the INEC, the 1999 Constitution requires the President to consult with the Council of State pursuant to section 154 (3) of the constitution.

In addition, Paragraph B of Part 1 of the Third Schedule of the constitution provides that “The Council of State shall have the power to advise the president in the exercise of his powers with respect to (iv) the Independent National Electoral Commission including the appointment of the members of the commission.

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The constitution adds that pursuant to section 154 (1) of the constitution, the appointment of the members of the Independent National Electoral Commission shall be subject to confirmation by the Senate.

Paragraph 14 of Part 1 of the Third Schedule of the constitution as amended by Section 30, Act No 1 of 2010, clearly stated that a member of the Independent National Electoral Commission “shall be non-partisan”.

Opposition party reacts

The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has described Onochie’s appointment as a highly provocative assault on the nation’s constitution and democratic process.

The party in a statement by Kola Ologbondiyan, its National Publicity Secretary, said her appointment by the President is an attempt to plant unscrupulous elements in INEC in order to corrupt and further desecrate the sanctity of the Commission.

It added that Onochie’s appointment is to undermine the country’s electoral system and destabilize its democratic process ahead of the 2023 general elections.

“Indeed, her nomination dresses up Mr. President as having more than an interest in legacy building and portrays him as one who has a personal candidature interest in the 2023 election. The only way to prove otherwise is to quickly withdraw Onochie’s nomination before the Senate.

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“Moreover, being a card-carrying member of the APC as records shows (from Ward 5 Onicha Olona, Aniocha North Local Government Area of Delta State), Onochie’s nomination is in clear violation of paragraph 14 of the 3rd schedule of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), which forbids a person involved in partisan politics to hold office as a member of INEC.

“It is therefore surprising that having sworn to the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Mr. President is taking actions that are antithetical to the very constitution and democratic governance.

“These actions are deliberate attempts by President Buhari to inflame social tensions, undermine our constitution and desecrate the sanctity of our electoral process, rather than finding solutions to the myriads of problems pervading our country,” the PDP said.

It vowed to deploy every legitimate means possible in a democracy to stop the approval of her nomination as an INEC national commissioner.

Similarly, Femi Falana, Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and human rights activist, in a statement on Tuesday said the partisanship of Onochie has disqualified her from occupying such a position in INEC.

“As an unrepentant member of the ruling party, Mrs. Loretta Onochie, has consistently attacked members of other political parties. To that extent, she is partisan and therefore not qualified to be a member of the Independent National Electoral Commission,” Falana said.

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