Nigeria: Why Lauretta Onochie Is Constitutionally Barred From Being INEC Commissioner, By YIAGA Africa, PTCIJ, Et Al.

opinion

We contend that her appointment will greatly undermine the neutrality and impartiality of the Independent National Electoral Commission.

The Senate President

Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,

National Assembly

3 Arms Zone, Abuja

Federal Capital Territory

ATTENTION:

The Chairman,

Senate Committee on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)

National Assembly

Three Arms Zone, Federal Capital Territory

Abuja

Dear Distinguished Senator,

Petititon Opposing President Buhari's Appointment of Lauretta Onochie As a National Commissioner of The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)

Introduction

On Tuesday, October 13, 2020, the Senate President read a letter from President Muhammadu Buhari requesting the confirmation of three nominees as INEC National Commissioners and one Resident Electoral Commissioner.

The three nominees for National Commissioner were expected to replace three out of five National Commissioners of INEC, whose tenures were due to terminate in November 2020.

Mrs Lauretta Onochie, who hails from Aniocha Local Government Area of Delta State and a current Special Assistant to the President on Social Media, is among the nominees awaiting confirmation by the Senate. She was nominated as National Commissioner of INEC to represent the South-South region.

On Wednesday, June 9, eight months after her nomination, the Senate referred Lauretta Onochie's name to its Committee on INEC to commence her screening as a National Commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

Given her antecedents... We contend that her appointment will greatly undermine the neutrality and impartiality of the Independent National Electoral Commission and it will increase mistrust in the INEC and Nigeria's electoral process... Mrs Lauretta Onochie is constitutionally prohibited from any appointment as a member of the electoral umpire.

Grounds of the Petition

The nomination of a Nigerian as a National Commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commission is governed by Section 154(3), 156(1a), Third Schedule, Item F Paragraph 14(2a) and 14(3b) of the 1999 Constitution (As Amended). A combined reading of the stated constitutional provisions demands that, first, the President, before appointing an individual as INEC National Commissioner, must first consult the Council of State, before forwarding the nomination to the Senate for confirmation. The fundamental question is: Did the President consulted with the Council of State before submitting to the Senate a letter nominating Mrs Lauretta Onochie as an INEC National Commissioner? A confirmation by the Senate without the input of the State Council is unconstitutional.

Secondly, the Constitution mandates that a person nominated as an INEC National Commissioner should be non-partisan. Section 156(1)(a) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria clearly prohibits the appointment of any person who is a member of a political party as a member of INEC. To further ensure the neutrality of the members of INEC, the Constitution clearly mandates in the Third Schedule, Part 1, Item F, paragraph 14 (1), that a National Commissioner shall be non-partisan and a person of unquestionable integrity. Mrs. Lauretta Onochie is not only a card-carrying member of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), and a Special Assistant to President Buhari on Social Media, but she is also notorious for her partisan, biased and, in some instances, inflammatory comments on national issues, targeted at perceived or imagined enemies of the Buhari government.

Given her antecedents, it is highly unlikely that she will remain neutral and objective if successfully screened as one of INEC's National Commissioners. We contend that her appointment will greatly undermine the neutrality and impartiality of the Independent National Electoral Commission and it will increase mistrust in the INEC and Nigeria's electoral process. By the combined effects of Section 156 (1)(a) and Third Schedule, Part 1, Item F, paragraph 14 (1), Mrs Lauretta Onochie is constitutionally prohibited from any appointment as a member of the electoral umpire. It is against the sacred spirit of our Constitution to accept her nomination.

The third requirement is that a person nominated as INEC's National Commissioner should be "a person of unquestionable integrity". Unfortunately, Mrs Onochie lacks the integrity to serve as an INEC National Commissioner due to her previous antics on social media. In addition to using her social media platform to express her loyalty to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), she peddles propaganda and misinformation regularly. There are several documented evidence of written attacks, social media altercations, and unfounded, malicious allegations against individuals or groups by the nominee, in a manner that clearly shows partisanship and a questionable character. (See Appendix 1). In addition, a February 2019 media analysis by Premium Times on individuals/accounts using fake news as campaign strategy online, revealed and identified Mrs Lauretta Onochie as one of the Nigerian politicians who used fake news as a campaign strategy online. (See Appendix 2).

The social media space is still littered with many other inexcusable tweets and posts by Mrs Onochie. It will be innocuous to state that the nomination of an individual as an INEC National Commissioner who, as in the present case, has habitually demonstrated unabashed partisanship, should be refused outright and rejected by the Senate.

We will provide just four examples here. First, in September 2018, Mrs Onochie tweeted a picture of an asphalt road being constructed with the caption, "Nasarawa-Jos Road", painting the picture that it was a road constructed by the Federal Government; this turned out to be false. The picture was a stock photo uploaded to Getty Images in November 2015. The embarrassing inaccuracy prompted the trend #TweetLikeLaurettaOnochie. (See Appendix 3).

A second example of her lack of integrity was when Mrs Onochie, in December 2018, shared an image of former President Obasanjo, with a quote credited to him that, "The money Atiku stole when he was my vice is enough to feed 300 million for 400 years". In another vein, Mrs Lauretta Onochie, in February 2019, uploaded a Facebook status screenshot that said, "Atiku becoming president is like hearing that a former armed robber is now your bank manager - OBJ (My Watch, page 49)". A fact check by the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR) indicates that there was no time that former President Obasanjo made such direct statements in any of his books. These quotes were deliberately fabricated by Mrs Onochie to score cheap political points. (See Appendix 4).

A third example that shows that the nominee peddles misinformation was when in April 2019, Mrs Onochie shared a picture with her followers in which she praised the then Borno State governor, Kashim Shettima, for launching "Africa's biggest Automated Solar Panel manufacturing plant". This tweet was shared by over 500 users and liked by over 1300 people. Investigation, however, established that the picture was not only credited to senior airman Larry E. Reid Jr (Staff Sergeant in the US Air Force), but was over 11 years old and shows a solar power plant in Las Vegas in the U.S. The whole tweet attributing the power plant to the then APC governor of Borno State was utter falsehood. (See Appendix 5).

In the fourth example, in September 2018, Mrs Onochie tweeted four pictures from her Twitter handle, claiming that they were low-cost housing projects in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, funded by the Federal Government. However, one of the pictures was first uploaded in April 2014 by the Lagos State Home Ownership Mortgage Scheme. The second picture is a bungalow at the Sir Michael Otedola Housing Estate in Odoragushin, Lagos. The third picture dates back to, at least 2016, and it has been used in articles about housing projects in Malaysia, Guyana and Kenya. The ICIR traced the last picture to affordable housing that was planned for Revelstoke in British Columbia, Canada. None of the four pictures, therefore, show housing projects in the FCT, Abuja. (See Appendix 6).

The social media space is still littered with many other inexcusable tweets and posts by Mrs Onochie. It will be innocuous to state that the nomination of an individual as an INEC National Commissioner who, as in the present case, has habitually demonstrated unabashed partisanship, should be refused outright and rejected by the Senate. Doing otherwise is a violation of our Constitution and the impartiality of our electoral umpire.

Following the precedent established by the Upper Chamber, it will be in place if the nomination of Mrs Onochie is rejected by the Senate. In December 2019, confronted with similar facts as in this case, the Senate stood down the nomination of Mr Olalekan Raheem as a Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on the ground that he was a card-carrying member of the APC. (See Appendix 7). Mrs. Onochie is not only a card-carrying member of the APC; she is partisan and very divisive.

We further state that the appointment of Lauretta Onochie, who is from Delta State, as a Commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commission will also desecrate Federal Character principle as... Delta State is already represented by Mrs. May Agbamuche-Mbu, SAN who currently serves as National Commissioner with the Independent National Electoral Commission.

Mrs Onochie should not be confirmed by the Senate because she is not qualified to contest election in Nigeria as a Member of the House of Representatives. Section 156(1a) of the 1999 Constitution provides as follows:

"No person shall be qualified for appointment as a member of any of the bodies aforesaid if -

(a) he is not qualified or if he is disqualified for election as a member of the House of Representatives provided that a member of any of these bodies shall not be required to belong to a political party, and in the caseof the Independent National Electoral Commission, he shall not be a member of a political party...

On when a person can be disqualified to contest election as a member of the House of Representatives; section 66(1a) of the 1999 Constitution provides thus:

"No person shall be qualified for election to the Senate or the House of Representatives if:

(a) subject to the provisions of section 28 of this Constitution, he has voluntarily acquired the citizenship of a country other than Nigeria or, except in such cases as may be prescribed by the National Assembly, has made a declaration of allegiance to such a country...

A collective reading of Sections 156(1a) and 66(1a) of the 1999 Constitution disqualifies a person, as in the present case, from being appointed an INEC National Commissioner on the ground that such a person is a member of a political party. Mrs Onochie is a British citizen and has over the years been involved in active politics in the U.K. Up till recently, she has been a full, card carrying member of the British Conservative Party. To be specific, Mrs Onochie, in 2010, contested election for a councillorship position in Thames Ward in the London Borough of Barking and Degenham, as a member of the U.K. Conservative Party. A total of 12 candidates contested for the election, and Mrs Onochie lost by emerging tenth on the ballot, after securing a total vote of 322 in her favour. (See Appendix 8). The mere fact that she holds dual citizenship makes her unfit to hold such a sensitive office. As a Nigerian and U.K. citizen, she is obligated to demonstrate loyalty to both countries. Therefore, her dual loyalty will undermine national interest and it could potentially threaten the independence of INEC.

In a similar vein, Mrs Onochie was a volunteer on the media campaign team for former Prime Minister David Cameron. While she was campaigning for the APC in Nigeria in 2014, she was at the same time involved in the Conservative Party's #Roadtrip2015 to campaign for the re-election of conservative candidates across the U.K. It will be improbable for this Upper Chamber to circumvent the provisions of Sections 156(1a) and 66(1a) of the 1999 Constitution. We urged this hallowed red chamber to reject her nomination and preserve the purity of the Nigerian Constitution.

We further state that the appointment of Lauretta Onochie, who is from Delta State, as a Commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commission will also desecrate Federal Character principle as provided in SECTIONS 14.3 AND 14.4 OF THE CONSTITUTION OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA 1999 (AS AMENDED IN 2011) as Delta State is already represented by Mrs. May Agbamuche-Mbu, SAN who currently serves as National Commissioner with the Independent National Electoral Commission. Her appointment will be detrimental to other states without INEC commissioners in the South-South geo-political region.

Prayers

To this end, we the undersigned implore you to use your good office to:

Completely reject the nomination of Mrs. Lauretta Onochie as a National Commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC);

Urge President Buhari to withdraw her nomination in the public interest and in furtherance of his commitment to leave a legacy of a truly independent electoral institution that enjoys the trust and confidence of citizens and electoral stakeholders;

Request President Buhari to uphold the Federal Character principle in re-nominating a non-partisan, neutral, and competent Nigerian to represent the South-South region as an INEC National Commissioner;

Also, request the President to uphold the principle of diversity by ensuring gender inclusion in the nomination of non-partisan and competent Nigerians as INEC National Commissioners;

Ensure that members of the Independent National Election Commission must be of individuals with impeccable character, unquestionable neutral inclinations, dispositions, and competence;

Ensure proper scrutiny and due diligence is exercised in the confirmation of nominations into the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC); and

As custodians of the Nigerian Constitution, the Senate should ensure that the principle of Federal Character is protected in order to guarantee inclusiveness and promote national unity amongst Nigerians.

We hope our petition will be entertained, considered and granted. Kindly accept the assurances of our esteemed regards.

Signed.

Yiaga Africa

Peering Advocacy and Advancement Centre in Africa (PAACA)

International Press Centre (IPC)

Institute for Media and Society (IMS)

The Albino Foundation

Centre for Citizens with Disability (CCD)

Nigerian Women Trust Fund (NWTF)

Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC)

Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ)

Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD)

CLEEN Foundation

Petitioners contact info:

c/o Yiaga Africa

No. 3, Frantz Fanon Crescent, 4th Avenue, Gwarinpa, Abuja

+234 813 934 5663, +234 703 666 9339

info@yiaga.org www.yiaga.org

APPENDICIES

Appendix 1

https://twitter.com/Laurestar?s=09

Appendix 2

ANALYSIS: How Nigerian politicians, supporters use fake news as a campaign strategy https://www.premiumtimesng.com/news/headlines/311532-analysis-how-nigerian-politicians-supporters- use-fake-news-as-campaign-strategy.html

Appendix 3

Appendix 4

FACT CHECK: The many social media lies of Lauretta Onochie, President Buhari's aide

https://www.icirnigeria.org/fact-check-many-social-media-crimes-president-buhari-social-media-aide/

Appendix 5

Appendix 6

FACT CHECK: The many social media lies of Lauretta Onochie, President Buhari's aide

https://www.icirnigeria.org/fact-check-many-social-media-crimes-president-buhari-social-media-aide/

Appendix 7

REC Nominees: Senate rejects 'former' APC member, confirms two others

https://www.premiumtimesng.com/news/headlines/366513-rec-nominees-senate-rejects-former-apc- member-confirms-two-others.html

Appendix 8

2010 Barking and Dagenham London Borough Council election

https://library.answerthepublic.net/en/A/2010_Barking_and_Dagenham_London_Borough_Council_election

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