Nigeria: Lawyer Writes NASS, Opposes Confirmation of Lauretta Onochie As INEC Commissioner

Mr Ubani, a lawyer and former 2nd vice-president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), says Ms Onochie, as partisan nominee, is unfit to hold such a top position in the electoral body.

A lawyer, Monday Ubani, on Monday, wrote to the Senate Committee on INEC objecting to the confirmation of a residential aide, Lauretta Onochie, as commissioner for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

Mr Ubani, a former 2nd vice-president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), contended that the nomination of Ms Onochie, whom he described as "an unapologetic member of the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress" is "ultra-vires and unconstitutional."

Screening

The Nigerian Senate had on Wednesday commenced the screening of Ms Onochie alongside three other nominees who were nominated as INEC commissioners by President Muhammadu Buhari.

The nomination of Ms Onochie as an INEC resident electoral commissioner to represent Delta State generated a torrent of outrage last October. Many individuals and civic groups have called on the president to withdraw the nomination on grounds that Ms Onochie is partisan and so it would be unconstitutional for her to be appointed into such an office.

Ubani's criticism

In his letter, Mr Ubani objected to the "nomination and intended confirmation" of Ms Onochie citing the Section 152 of the Electoral Act in defending his argument.

It is important, according to him, the person who is going to serve as INEC commissioner, chairman or as an unbiased umpire for National elections to be seen by the general public as nonpartisan and uncompromised in any form or manner.

"Sir, Section 152 of the Electoral Act, provides that.

"No person holding an elective office to which this act relates or a registered member of a Political Party shall be eligible for or be appointed to carry out duties of a returning officer, an electoral officer, presiding officer or Poll Clerk," the lawyer wrote.

"Therefore, the nomination of Mrs Lauretta Onochie, a clearly partisan individual by the President, an individual who has in recent years publicly displayed her partisanship and undying support for the ruling party in her utterances, conduct and interaction with the public cannot and should not serve as INEC commissioner, a role reserved for an unbiased umpire.

"I, on-behalf of the Nigerian public, urge the Senate to righteously reject her nomination and confirmation forthwith," the letter read in part.

'Card carrying person unfit to be INEC commissioner'

He contended that as a card carrying member of the ruling party or any other party for that matter, Ms Onochie is unfit for the position she is nominated for.

Accordingly, Mr Ubani doubts if section 154 (3) of the constitution was complied with, this section prescribes, "that the President nominates INEC commissioner in consultation with the Council of State Paragraphs B of Part 1 of the 3rd Schedule of the constitution provides that the Council of State shall have power to advise the President in the exercise of his power with respect to (iv) the INEC including the appointment of members of the commission. When was this Section and paragraph complied with? If I may ask.

"Most importantly paragraph 14 of part I of the third schedule of the constitution as amended, a member of INEC should be 'non partisan', can Mrs. Lauretta Onochie be regarded by anyone in Nigeria, knowing her antecedent as the Special Assistant to the President as "non partisan" under the Nigerian context? The right answer is No," he said.

Background

Mr Buhari in a letter to the Senate in October 2020 announced the appointment of Ms Onochie seeking the lawmakers' confirmation.

Her appointment violated Section 14(2a) which said that appointees to INEC must be non-partisan and also not a card-carrying member of any political party.

The section states that "a member of the commission shall be non-partisan and a person of unquestionable integrity."

And Section 14(3b) of the same Schedule states that "there shall be for each state of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja, a Resident Electoral Commissioner who shall be a person of unquestionable integrity and shall not be a member of any political party."

Ms Onochie had openly displayed partisanship and total support for the president and the All Progressives Congress in general especially during the 2019 general election.

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