The nomination of Onochie as INEC commissioner

FOR an administration that is not exactly lacking in head-scratching decisions, even its most loyal defenders have scrambled to find justification for last week’s nomination of Delta-born Lauretta Onochie as National Electoral Commissioner for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The MuhammaduBuhari administration had, in a letter dated October 12 2020, and read during plenary by the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, sought the lawmakers’ confirmation for its selection. As things stand, the most charitable explanation we can adduce for this mind-boggling move is that the administration itself is notunaware of its absurdity, and the likelihood that the Senate will reject its request out of hand, but is taking a chance on the remote possibility that the nomination could fly under the radar since the attention of most Nigerians is diverted by ongoing protests against police brutality.

Other than that, the appointment seems patently absurd and needlessly provocative. For one thing, it flies in the face of Sections 14(2a) and 14(3b) of the Third Schedule of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) which state respectively that: “a member of the commission shall be non-partisan and a person of unquestionable integrity;” and “…a Resident Electoral Commissioner… shall not be a member of any political party.” In the first place, Ms. Onochie is currently President Buhari’s Personal Assistant on Social Media, a position she has occupied since October 2016. The least one can say about her many tweets attacking perceived enemies of her boss is that they do not come from a place of nonpartisanship. Second, not only is she a card-carrying member of the president’s All Progressives Congress (APC), she in fact actively campaigned for the president’s second term in 2018 and 2019.

Considering these facts, it goes without saying that Ms. Onochie is unqualified to hold the position for which the Buhari administration has nominated her, and the fact that the administration is willing to put its reputation and honor behind such a flagrant violation of the constitution means that either it did not do its homework, or simply does not care. Fortunately, the outrage provoked across the political spectrum and within the society at large shows that there are enough people in the country who do.

For instance, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) decried the nomination as an act of “executive recklessness, a dirty slap on the populace, and a gross violation of the 1999 Constitution (as Amended).” In the same vein, human rights lawyer Femi Falana has described Ms. Onochie’s appointment as illegal, arguing that “she is partisan and therefore not qualified to be a member of the Independent National Electoral Commission.”

The uniform outrage expressed across both political and civil society is justified, and we firmly align ourselves with what seems to be the predominant sentiment that the Buhari administration retract the nomination of Ms. Onochie. This is one fight that the Buhari administration does not need and can easily avoid. The nomination has empowered critics who argue, not illegitimately, that it puts the administration’s quality of decision making and overall judgment under a cloud. The administration can begin to claw back some goodwill by abandoning this preposterous appointment.

 

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