Beyond all reasonable doubt, Lauretta Onochie, senior special assistant (New Media) to President Muhammadu Buhari since October 2016 should never have been nominated at all as a commissioner in the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). It is just as well that the Senate has rejected Onochie’s nomination. The Constitution, in the Third Schedule, Part1 (F) (14(1) (b) requires a member of the commission to “be non-partisan and a person of unquestionable integrity.” This is a weighty consideration incompatible with desperation, which is never in the character of an integrated person. Onochie’s candidacy was simply a misnomination.
Onochie, in her role as an officer in the office of the President from where the best social examples should flow, has evidentially proven herself to be a bit too controversial. In December 2016 when she was barely two months in her new job, she released on the social media a statement against a state governor that was noteworthy for its crudity of intent, of content and of language. Subsequently, she takes on, in more or less similar irreverent fashion, just about anyone, including former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, who expresses opinion critical of her principal or the government they represent. She has been dragged to court by Senator Peter Nwaoboshi who accuses her of defaming him in a June 8, 2020 tweet.
At her appearance before the Senate Screening Committee, she claimed, apparently to improve her own chances, that a sitting INEC commissioner representing Delta State, Mrs. May Agbamuche -Mbu was occupying the Cross River State slot. Committee chairman Kabiru Gaya put a lie to Onochie’s claim saying that “President Buhari actually specified (Agbamuche-Mbu’s) state which is Delta in the letter (to the Senate).’’ She told the screening committee that she was no longer a member of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) party whose ‘‘national leader’’ the president, she officially assists, even to the point of self-embarrassment.
The opposition to Onochie’s nomination came thick and fast, from many quarters, and for a variety of reasons. While opposing her nomination, Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State, noted that ‘‘the most fundamental consideration against the appointment of an electoral umpire in a democracy is the likelihood of bias which in this case is heavily weighed against Onochie…’’ He warned, rightly, that her presence in INEC will create credibility problem for the body. A coalition of nine civil society organisations (CSO), including the Nigerian Women Trust Fund (NWTF) think that she lacks moral and legal standing to hold the job. And it is challenging Onochie’s nomination in court. Jake Epelle of Albino Foundation spoke of Onochie’s ‘‘biased and sometimes inflammatory comments on national issues’’ and he argued that ‘‘her appointment…will gravely undermine the neutrality and impartiality of the commission (as well as) taint its credibility.’’
The Senate, mercifully, has rejected Onochie’s nomination. But it should never have come up in the first place. Characteristic of the tardiness in the Presidency, Onochie from Delta State was put forward as second INEC representative of the six-state South-South zone even as Agbamuche-Mbu is also from that state. The question therefore is why the president nominated her at all.
This government continues to commit embarrassingly avoidable mistakes that, many are wont to think are not really innocent mistakes but willful disrespect for due process and the rule of law. Constitutional injunctions require that the composition of government at all levels and their agencies should ‘‘reflect the federal character of Nigeria’’ in order ‘‘to promote a sense of belonging and loyalty among all the people s of the Federation.’’ Buhari is on oath to uphold this. Just why it took so much hue and cry for a controversy so needless in the first place to resolve puts in bad light this government in particular and Nigeria in general.
Furthermore, too many persons in public office appear to be failing in their duties. The Federal Character Commission (FCC) is charged and empowered to, among others, take ‘‘legal measures,’’ to ‘‘promote, monitor and enforce compliance with the principles of proportional sharing of all bureaucratic, economic, media and political posts at all levels of government.’’ Where was this body when Onochie was being screened? Or for that matter, where were the senators of the other states in the geopolitical zone when two persons from Delta State could have taken their slots.
For reasons that include the Onochie misnomination, many express concern about the credibility of the 2023 elections. There are stories aboard that the President might represent Onochie to the Senate. And, if the past is anything to go by, this is possible. Mr. Buhari should do nothing of such. It cannot possibly be that she is the only candidate best suited to fill the South-South slot. That would be commonsense-defying and an insult to the zone.
The president should be doing things that will assure the people of this country that free and fair elections will hold under his watch and that all will be well; instead of giving Nigerians cause to doubt and to worry. This is what good governance demands.