The Senate Panel is determined to recommend confirmation from Lauretta Onochie for the top INEC role despite high level criticism.
News Online reports that Friday there was strong evidence for the Senate Committee to recommend confirm the appointment of Lauretta Onochie, president assistant, as National Commissioner of the Electoral Arbiter for Independent National Electoral Commission.
Remember, the following week President Muhammadu Buhari sought a confirmation by the Senate of the Onochie and other candidates in a letter of 12 October 2020 and read by the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan.
The letter reads: “I hereby forward, for confirmation by the Senate, the appointee to the Independent National Electoral Commission for the following four (4) Commissioners, pursuant to Paragraph 14 of Part I(F) of the third Annex to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, as amended.”
Professors Muhammad Sani Kallah (Katsina); Kunle Ajayi (Ekiti); and Saidu Ahmad are the nominees listed by the President (Jigawa)
Based on the controversy with Onochie, the Special Assistant to the President for New Media, whose critics believed he was a card carrier of the All Progressive Congress, the Red Chamber stopped action against the nominees.
But, surprisingly, Lawan asked INEC’s committee for confirmation, for Onochie’s appointments, and five others as INEC Commissioner, on Wednesday 9 June 2021.
In the list were added two new candidates, Professors Sani Adam (North Central) and Baba Bila (North East).
Eight months after the President sent the Senate a list of nominees for screening, the situation developed.
On Thursday, the committee of the INEC Senate, headed by Kabiru Gaya, reviewed the nominators and Onochie.
Onochie acknowledged in her opening remarks a number of petitions against her that disturbed her belonging to the APC and her status as a member of her State.
Three times before the Senate Committee, she renounced the party.
Prior to her appointment as a Special Assistant for Social Media, she admitted to being a part of the Buhari campaign organization in 2015.
Onochie also acknowledged that she was a member of the APC by depositing an affidavit before the High Court.
However, immediately following the 2019 elections, she said that she stopped being a member of the party.
“I had nothing to do with any political organizations, including support groups for Buhari, since 2019. She said.
“I did not participate in the exercise when the APC re-validated the members of the party.
“As I’m sitting down here, I’m not a member of any political party in this country. I have no partisanship in my blood.
“I have seen many petitions against my nomination not only from the Peoples Democratic Party, but also from some APC members.
“I’m not partisan, they know. It is about the law. No one has any reason to fear for my nomination as INEC commissioner representing Delta.
“As far as I’m concerned, I’m madam due process. That’s why all the attacks. I follow due process, I follow the law.”
However, her claims were contradicted by her affidavit dated 30 June 2021 at a high Court of the FCT attached to one of the requests against her.
In a case involving her as complainante an Emeka Ugwuonye, she filed an affidavit with the FCT High Court (defendant).
In her declaration on the oath of her witness, Onochie said, amongst others, that ‘I am a member and volunteer in the Buhari Support Organization of the All Progressive Congress.’
She said to the panel that Ms. May Agbamuche, a serving INEC Delta State National Committee representative on the election arbitrators’ board, actually represents Cross River.
There was a sharp disagreement between the senators about whether Onochie was to say or not to deny oaths, but Gaya decided it was not needed and postponed the proceedings.
Meanswhile, our correspondent’s inquiries have shown that some APC members in the panel are trying to influence Onochie’s confirmation by placing it in the next week’s committee report.
A panel member told our correspondent anonymously that Onochie was defeated as the basis for writing petitions.
He said, ‘The various petitions that we received on Onochie centred on her membership of the APC and the fact that her confirmation would make Delta State produce the two slots meant for the South-South region on the board of INEC.
“However, Onochie has told the panel that she is not a member of the APC. She has also said the Delta State-born woman on the INEC board is actually representing Cross River.
“If the argument is that she is a political appointee, even the Chairman of INEC, Mahmood Yakubu, was a Federal Government appointee because he served as the Executive Secretary of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund during former President Goodluck Jonathan administration.
“Personally, despite being an APC card-carrying member and senator, I don’t want Lauretta Onochie to be confirmed but we really don’t have anything to hold her back because she has cleared herself.”
Asked if the affidavit she swore to at the court could not be used against her, the Senator argued that events had overtaken it.
He said, “You can only argue based on moral grounds but the facts before us did not really empower us to disqualify her.
“The law said nominees for INEC appointment should not be a card-carrying member of any party and she said she had stopped being a member of the APC since 2019.”
Another senator, who equally spoke on condition of anonymity, said the committee was already in possession of a letter from the APC Secretariat, declaring that Onochie had ceased to be a member of the party.
He said, “I don’t know how else they want the woman to defend herself. She has said that she is not a member of the party and we have a letter written from the APC National Secretariat that she is not their member.
“As far as the committee is concerned, the petitions before us seeking Onochie’s disqualification has been addressed,” the source added.
Senator Lawal Gumau warned other members of the committee against taking any hasty decision that the Senate might regret later.
He said, “Nigerians were quick to condemn the former Minister of Finance (Kemi Adeosun) but we are all surprised when the court vindicated her recently.
“I don’t want us to do anything that we will regret in case we discovered later that she is not a card-carrying member of the APC.”
But a PDP Senator, who is a member of the committee, insisted that Onochie must be disqualified because she should not be appointed.
He told our correspondent on condition of anonymity that “the section of the constitution which disqualified her from the appointment states that she should never have been a member of any political party.’
When contacted on Friday, the Chairman of the INEC Committee, declined comments on the issue.
Gaya said, “I will not make any comments on the issue now. Our committee is still working on the report.”
Meanwhile our correspondent’s findings revealed that during the confirmation at the Senate panel, the opposition senators had pledged to resolve the question physically.