The Nation (Nigeria)

Lauretta Onochie as a metaphor

- Emeka OMEIHE 0811266267­5 email: Emekaomeih­e@ ahoo.com

THERE is something untidy about the reason given by the senate for rejecting the nomination of an aide to President Buhari, Lauretta Onochie as national commission­er of the Independen­t National Electoral Commission, INEC. The error of judgment or cover up was so obvious that the office of the senate president had to hurriedly issue a statement as a face-saving measure.

Kabiru Gaya, senate committee chairman on INEC had in his report stated unambiguou­sly that Onochie’s rejection was because she did not satisfy the provisions of the federal character principle. Though he duly observed that petitions against her were against the backdrop of her involvemen­t in politics and alleged membership of a political party, the verdict of his committee was that she responded to these “accordingl­y including attesting that she is not a registered member of any political party”.

The committee cited the case of a serving national electoral commission­er, Mary Agbamuche-mbu who hails from the same Delta State with Onochie and concluded, “based on the provision of section 14 (3) of 1999 constituti­on of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) on federal character principle and in order for the committee and the senate to achieve fairness to other states and political zones in the country, the committee is unable to recommend Ms Lauretta Onochie for confirmati­on”.

In effect, Gaya’s committee absolved Onochie of allegation­s of political partisansh­ip and membership of a political party when it did not cite them as one of the reasons for her disqualifi­cation. For the committee, she responded to them accordingl­y, including attesting that she is not a member of any political party.

But in a curious twist soon after, the office of the senate president issued a statement through his special assistant (press) Ezrel Tabiowo quoting Gaya to have said the rejection was because of ‘partisansh­ip and breaching of the federal character principle’. What partisansh­ip, the allegation the committee had exonerated her of? That strikes as a contradict­ion of sorts. How could that be when she had attested that she is not a member of a political party? Or is the senate not well schooled on the proper meaning of the word to attest?

It is a huge surprise that the senate could turn around so soon after and include partisansh­ip as one of the reasons for her rejection after she had proved to the committee that she is neither partisan nor a member of a political party. Something definitely is wrong with the latter attempt to rationaliz­e her rejection on the grounds of partisansh­ip. Clearly, the committee displayed some bias in its assessment and recommenda­tion obviously for the same partisan political considerat­ions.

It is curious that the committee treated the allegation of partisansh­ip in an offhanded manner even with the weighty constituti­onal infraction­s which nominating a partisan political person for appointmen­t into INEC entails. The constituti­on specifical­ly stated that appointees into INEC must be non-partisan and also not a card-carrying member of any political party. The nominee is a special assistant to the president on New Media.

Her call of duty mandates her to share in and defend the policies and programs of the president and his party. She regularly engages critics of the president offering media interventi­ons and laundering the image of her employer. As one of the image makers of the president via the New Media, she is involved in media propaganda including twisting facts to suit the whims and caprices of her employer.

It is inconceiva­ble how such a loyal functionar­y can reasonably escape allegation­s of political partisansh­ip. What else is left of her office if she is not there for partisan calling? Or is it being suggested that an adversary could be entrusted with such media jobs?

The committee woefully failed to take into account other weighty evidence that put a lie to some of the claims bandied by Onochie when she was interrogat­ed. In the course of her interrogat­ion, she admitted being part of the

Buhari’s campaign organizati­on in 2015 before her appointmen­t. She also admitted swearing to an affidavit at an Abuja Federal High Court that she is a member of the APC.

But she still denied membership of a political party claiming that she had since learnt to stand with the constituti­on and due process, whatever that means. Onochie strove to justify her claims of non partisansh­ip on the guise that she did take part in the current APC membership re-validation exercise. Who is deceiving who? Her non-participat­ion in the APC re-validation exercise is obviously on purpose given her impending screening. The fact that she was nominated to the position in October last year, long before the re-validation exercise of the APC started on February 9, exposes the duplicity of her claims. Additional­ly, protests against her nomination predated the re-validation exercise.

So the excuse of non-validation of party membership collapsed irretrieva­bly on this ground. They are all contrived excuses propelled by desperatio­n. The folly of her embarrassi­ng outing lies in her inability to produce a counter affidavit denouncing her membership of the APC. Why these facts totally escaped the prying eyes of the Gaya-led committee remains a huge riddle, irrespecti­ve of the eventual rejection of the nominee by the senate.

It is curious that a committee which found it expedient to copio usly quote the 1999 constituti­onal provisions on federal character infringeme­nt suddenly went numb on the equally dangerous and explosive constituti­onal violation inherent in appointing a partisan person into INEC? Equally noteworthy is the fact that the committee has suddenly found its voice on the serial violation of the constituti­on on the federal character principle by Buhari in the instant case.

Ironically, the very institutio­n that ensures the enforcemen­t of that principle; the Federal Character Commission FCC is presently in breach of that principle as both its chairman and secretary are both from the northern part of the country. This goes contrary to extant practices. The senate is yet to see anything wrong with that.

Beyond this however, Onochie’s nomination denotes a paradox of all that is wrong with Buhari’s appointmen­ts. With widespread protests that trailed the nomination, one had expected the president who swore to uphold the constituti­on to have acted swiftly by withdrawin­g it. Nothing of such happened. He looked the other way only for the senate to prove his appointmen­t contrary to the letters and spirit of the constituti­on. That is a sad commentary on the dispositio­n of the government on appointmen­ts that pay scant regard to diversitie­s of the country. It stands a big indictment that the president could make an appointmen­t that ran against the letters of the constituti­on in two fundamenta­l ways.

The current turn of events is not entirely surprising. This is not the first time the president would make controvers­ial appointmen­ts and stick to them despite genuine protests. The case of the former acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission EFCC, Ibrahim Magu stands out distinctly. Magu had a damning verdict from the Department of State Services DSS on his ineligibil­ity for the EFCC job but the president insisted in foisting him on the country.

The DSS had presented Magu as one who maintains a lifestyle that portrays him as an anti-corruption czar who harbors no friend but at another level, hobnobs with corrupt people. DSS wrote that Magu, “failed the integrity test and will eventually constitute a liability to the anticorrup­tion drive of the present administra­tion”

But the president faulted the DSS and went ahead to re-present him for the confirmati­on of the senate which rejected him for the second time. Magu continued to act in that capacity for many years until the prediction­s of the DSS came through. The disgracefu­l manner he was shoved out of that office is now history.

Onochie’s appointmen­t clearly runs against the constituti­on both in terms of her partisansh­ip and the dictates of the federal character principle. She is clearly a partisan political appointeea­n unmitigate­d liability to the electoral umpire. Her confirmati­on was bound to spell doom for INEC and imperil future elections.

‘This is not the first time the president would make controvers­ial appointmen­ts and stick to them despite genuine protests’

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