Deji Elumoye and Chuks Okocha
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) yesterday rallied its members in the Senate to block the confirmation of President Muhammadu Buhari’s Personal Assistant on Social Media, Mrs. Lauretta Onochie, as a national commissioner in the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The party’s renewed opposition to Onochie’s nomination came as the Senate began the process of confirming her, along with other nominees, for the positions.
Buhari, in a letter dated October 12, 2020, had sought the Senate’s confirmation for the nominations of Onochie and five other nominees.
Criticisms had trailed the nomination of Onochie, who hails from Delta State, on the grounds of her being a registered member of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), in violation of Section 14(2a) of the Third Schedule of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, states that “a member of the commission shall be non-partisan and a person of unquestionable integrity.”
The Senate had stepped down the consideration of the request following the outrage generated by the inclusion of Onochie on the list.
Opposition parties and civil society organisations had argued that her nomination breached the constitution given her political affiliation.
But at yesterday’s plenary, the Senate President, Dr. Ahmad Lawan, read the executive communication, saying the confirmation request was made by the president in accordance with paragraph 14 Part I(F) of the Third Schedule of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.
Besides Onochie, others being screened are Professor Muhammad Sani Kallah (Katsina), Prof. Kunle Cornelius Ajayi (Ekiti), Saidu Babura Ahmad (Jigawa), Prof. Sani Muhammad Adam (North-Central) and Dr. Baba Bila (North-East).
Shortly after the executive communication was read, Senate Minority Leader, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, rose to challenge the nomination of Onochie.
He said: “Mr. President, in seconding this motion, we have dealt with this matter of the nomination of Lauretta Onochie. So, we feel surprised that the same name has resurfaced no longer as a national commissioner, but as a Delta State commissioner.
“Mr. President, reluctantly, I second the motion that these nominations be referred to the relevant committee for action and we shall meet in Philippi.”
Responding to Abaribe’s observation, Lawan, said: “The nominees are not stated resident electoral commissioners; they are national commissioners. And there was no change of request; so they are not resident electoral commissioners”.
Lawan later referred the president’s request to the Committee on INEC, chaired by Senator Kabiru Gaya, to screen the nominees and report back to the Senate in two weeks
However, reacting to the Senate’s decision to screen the nominees, the National Publicity Secretary of PDP, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, said it was a shame that the APC-led government would nominate a card-carrying member of a political party as a national commissioner of INEC.
He said the nomination of Onochie breached the establishment act of INEC that states that no political party card-carrying member should be appointed as a national commissioner.
Ologbondiyan said: “Our position is clear, we call on all our members, particularly the senators and the House of Representatives members, to ensure that Lauretta Onochei is not confirmed as an INEC commissioner
“Our position is predicated on the fact that Onochie is a card-carrying member of the APC. And as such, she cannot be an electoral umpire.
“The way the President Muhammadu Buhari administration is doing, they have shown that they have no modicum of shame when it comes to electoral issues. How can President Buhari nominate Onochie who is a card-carrying member of the party, APC as a member of INEC to become a national commissioner?
“She is a card-carrying member, a registered member of APC as an umpire to serve in INEC in the 2023 general election. what are they telling us? Are they telling us that there would be no election in 2023? Or that it would be as they did in 2019 when they just write numbers and results?”