The re-nomination of Lauretta Onochie as commissioner is insensitive
If there is any doubt that President Muhammadu Buhari has scant regard for democratic ethos, the re-nomination of his Special Assistant on New Media, Ms Lauretta Onochie, as a Commissioner representing Delta State at the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC) has cleared such doubt. Nothing can be more devastating for a democracy than the tainting of an electoral umpire with a clear stamp of open partisanship. Besides, nominating a divisive candidate for such critical assignment is also an indication of gross insensitivity to the feelings and wishes of Nigerians.
There is no question about it. Onochie is a literal attack dog of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and an unashamed devotee of President Buhari. In any sane and decent society, it would be atrocious for the executive to nominate her for any position where partisan neutrality is remotely required. The moral burden is even heavier on the National Assembly. To confirm Onochie would be a travesty of legislative decency and responsiveness to popular will. For the executive, the solution to this outrageous nomination is simple: pull it down. For the legislature, it is even simpler: reject it.
Commonsense dictates that anybody appointed as an electoral umpire should not only be non-partisan but be seen to be so. In this case, Onochie is not only a presidential aide, she is also brutally partisan, and quite corrosive in the discharge of her duties. In promotion (and defence) of the APC, she has had running battles with key political actors in the past six years. Some of them have dragged her to court for alleged libel.
It is against this backdrop that President Buhari’s action is grievously insensitive, indiscrete, and lacking in moral leadership. It has equally and expectedly drawn the ire of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) who sees the nomination of Onochie as an assault on democracy and a systemic plot to rig the 2023 general election. Instructively, whereas President Buhari is a major beneficiary of extensive electoral reforms carried out by his predecessors, he has failed to add a single additional reform, having declined assent to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill ahead of the 2019 general elections.
As the name rightly implies, INEC was conceived as an impartial electoral umpire and several steps have been taken especially since 2010 to make it truly so. In 2010, for instance, the sixth National Assembly amended Sections 81, 84, and 160 of the 1999 Constitution to confer financial and administrative independence on the commission. These amendments have ensured that INEC no longer goes cap in hand to the executive to beg for the release of its appropriated funds.
To free INEC from the tethers of the presidency in administrative matters, a proviso was equally inserted in Section 160 of the constitution which confers on the commission the “powers to make its own rules or otherwise regulate its own procedure shall not be subject to the approval of the President”. To further insulate the commission from partisanship, Section 156 of the constitution was amended. That section hitherto provided that a candidate for appointment as chairman or member of INEC must possess the same qualifications as a candidate contesting for a seat in the House of Representatives as stipulated by sections 65 and 66. Absurdly, one of such qualifications is membership of a political party. To amplify this amendment, Part 1 of the Third Schedule to the constitution was amended by substituting Paragraph 14 with a new paragraph 14, which unambiguously provides at 14 (2) (b) that “A member of the Commission shall be non-partisan and shall be a person of unquestionable integrity”.
We therefore condemn this latest affront to our democracy, and we reaffirm our earlier position that Onochie is unfit for the job of INEC commissioner. The Senate should reject her re-nomination.