The Nation (Nigeria)
Lauretta Onochie as a metaphor
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’