A court document has revealed how Lauretta Onochie, a presidential nominee for a sensitive Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) position, proudly declared her membership of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
Ms Onochie, currently the Personal Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Social Media, also confirmed in the document obtained by PREMIUM TIMES on Friday, that she is into active politics.
She also described herself as a “volunteer at the Buhari Support Organisation (BSO)”, a vibrant network of Mr Buhari’s staunch political supporters since the 2015 elections.
The document, which is her statement on oath filed in a pending suit, further confirms her widely known unapologetic partisanship, which has sparked public outrage against her recent nomination by Mr Buhari as a national commissioner of INEC.
She filed the statement on oath as part of a libel suit which she instituted at the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court, Abuja, in 2016.
In the suit marked CV/852/16, Ms Onochie seeks N1 billion in damages against Emeka Ugwuonye, whom she accused of defaming her by referring to her as a trafficker of young girls for international prostitution, in a Facebook post of January 21, 2016.
The suit was amended and refiled on March 8, 2017.
PREMIUM TIMES confirmed that Ms Onochie has appeared as a witness in the suit which is pending before Sylvanus Oriji, a judge in the Apo Division of the FCT High Court.
She was cross-examined by the defence team only last year, precisely on February 26 and March 3, 2020, when she also adopted all her claims contained in her statement on oath as true.
The lawyer she engaged to file the case is Festus Keyamo, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, who is the incumbent Minister of Labour and Employment in Mr Buhari’s cabinet.
Mr Keyamo is a top APC figure from Delta State like her.
As her screening for the INEC job approaches amid growing public condemnation of her nomination for the appointment, a law firm has written to the Senate denying that she is a member of APC.
“The onus to prove whether Lauretta Onochie is a card-carrying member of any political party, therefore, rest on her accusers,” the lawyers wrote without stating that they were acting for Ms Onochie.
The court document obtained by this newspaper has, however, removed every doubt about her membership of APC and her strong political bias for the political interests of Mr Buhari.
She made the disclosure in the document, bragging to be an educationist and ‘active politician’, whose reputation was injured by the Facebook post complained of in her suit.
She stated that with the “words” used in the post, her reputation “has been seriously injured in her character, credit, reputation and integrity” and “has been brought to public scandal, odium, and contempt and has suffered damage”.
“I am an educationist having served as Headmistress of Aunt Margaret International School Calabar and Principal of Holy Child Secondary School, Calabar. I have also served as a Lecturer at the Epping Forest College Essex United Kingdom,” she said of her career as an educationist.
Regarding her political career, she said, “That I am also engaged in active politics and a member of the Neighbourhood Watch and has also contested the Local Government elections under the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom.
“I am also a member of the All Progressives Congress and a volunteer at the Buhari Support Group.”
When contacted by PREMIUM TIMES over the phone on Friday, Ms Onochie requested that our reporter send her the enquiries in a text message.
She has, however, yet to respond to our reporter’s text message asking if she instructed the lawyers who sent letter to the Senate denying her membership on the APC, and if she still stood by her statement on oath affirming her membership of the party.
She did not answer our correspondent’s subsequent call.
The Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, on October 13, 2020, read a letter from President Buhari requesting the confirmation of three nominees as INEC National Commissioners and one Resident Electoral Commissioner.
Ms Lauretta Onochie, who hails from Aniocha Local Government Area of Delta State, was nominated as National Commissioner of INEC to represent the South-south region.
Eight months after her nomination, the Senate, on June 9, referred Ms Onochie’s name to its Committee on INEC to commence her screening for the appointment.
Many Nigerians have condemned her nomination due to her unhidden partisanship.
The Nigerian constitution explicitly prohibits the appointment of a person like Ms Onochie, who belongs to a political party as an INEC national commissioner. Credible voices including senior lawyers, civil society groups and media organisations have also said this.
Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ), YIAGA Africa and nine other civil society groups, in their June 16, 2021 petition to the Senate, rejected Ms Onochie’s appointment to INEC on many grounds, including her partisanship.
They cited section 156(1)(a) and Third Schedule, Part 1, Item F, paragraph 14 (1) of the 1999 Constitution, as disqualifying her from holding the post as a card-carrying member of APC.
A former 2nd vice-president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Monday Ubani, cited the same constitutional provisions in objecting Ms Onochie’s nomination in a letter to the Senate.
Other Nigerians and institutions have also raised objections to the nomination in separate letters and statements.
Ms Onochie’s suit
The crux of the matter in the libel suit filed by Ms Onochie is about a post she credited to one Mr Ugwuonye in a Facebook group, ‘DUE PROCESS ADVOCATES,’ on January 21, 2016.
Ms Onochie reproduced what she claimed to be the libellous statement posted by Mr Ugwuonye, labelling her as a “vicious trafficker of poor girls into international prostitution”.
The post is titled, ‘A MAJOR BREAK IN THE TRACKING OF THE DUBAI MADAMS AND THEIR AGENTS – A KEY MADAM REVEALED AS A SOCIALITE WITH APPARENT ON CONNECTIONS TO NIGERIAN POLITICIAN’.
In the post which Ms Onochie reproduced in her suit, the the author accused her of engaging in the trafficking of young girls to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Italy, and Greece.
It was alleged in the post that she is known as ‘Aunty Lolly’ within her human trafficking circle in foreign countries.
It added that Ms Onochie is “into the business of recruiting young ladies, promising them a good life in Dubai and elsewhere, swearing their parents to shrines, selling them off for $5,000 to $15,000, making nude videos of them and using thugs to intimidate their parents.”
Ms Onochie denied the allegations in her suit, demanding a retraction of the post and N1 billion in damages against the defendant.
She said the post was made to malign her reputation.
She said contrary to the allegation of her involvement in trafficking of girls in the Facebook post, she “is at the foremost of the campaigning for the girl-child emancipation and woman empowerment.”
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