A coalition of civil society organisations (CSOs) has urged the Federal High Court in Abuja to set aside President Muhammadu Buhari’s nomination of Lauretta Onochie as a National Commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The plaintiffs, in their suit filed on July 6, 2021, are challenging Senate’s “referral, consideration, screening and possible confirmation” of Ms Onochie for the position on the grounds that she is “a well-known card-carrying member of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and currently serving as the Personal Assistant on Social Media to President Buhari.
Citing various constitutional provisions barring card-carrying members of political parties from being nominated or appointed to serve in the electoral body, the plaintiffs asked the court to declare Ms Onochie’s nomination as INEC commissioner as “wrongful, illegal, null and void”, and prayed that “same should be set aside”.
They pointed out that the Nigerian constitution “expressly prohibits the President from appointing a person involved in partisan politics as a National Commissioner or Resident Electoral Commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commission.”
The nine plaintiffs, in the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/604, include: The International Press Centre (IPC), Centre for Citizens with Disability (CCDC), Nigerian Women Trust Fund (NWTF), and Albino Foundation (AF).
The rest are the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID) and YIAGA Africa Initiative.
They sued President Buhari, the Attorney-General of the Federation, the Nigerian Senate, and Kabiru Gaya, the chairman, Senate Committee on INEC, as the 1st to the 4th respondents respectively.
Mr Buhari had, in a letter to the National Assembly, asked the lawmakers to approve Ms Onochie’s nomination for the position of a commissioner at the electoral umpire.
Ms Onochie’s candidacy for the top INEC job has triggered uproar among Nigerians over allegations of the former being a staunch supporter of the ruling APC.
A PREMIUM TIMES’ report exposed how Ms Onochie declared on oath in a suit she filed in 201t and amended in 2017 that she is a member of the APC and a volunteer at the Buhari Support Organisation (BSO), a network of staunch supporters of Mr Buhari’s political interests.
The suit filed by the nine plaintiffs is the culmination of widespread public outrage that has greeted the news of Ms Onochie’s nomination by President Buhari.
Their lawyers, Justin Chuwang and Akintayo Balogun, cited sections 1 (3), 154 (1) , 14 (2)(a), and 14 (3)(3)(b) of the 3rd schedule of the Nigeria Constitution as well as section 146 of the Electoral Act 2010, in arguing against her nomination.
‘She can’t be fair and unbiased’
In their affidavit filed in support of the suit, the plaintiffs averred that as regards Ms Onochie’s nomination, she lacked the moral standing to be appointed to hold a sensitive position in an electoral umpire which is supposed to have integrity as one its hallmarks.
“Ms. Onochie cannot be a fair and unbiased umpire to serve in the Independent National Electoral Commission,” the affidavit deposed to by Ezenwa Nwagwu, a board member of YIAGA Africa, one of the nine plaintiffs, read in part.
The plaintiffs included in their suit the processes filed by Ms Onochie in her 2016 suit declaring on oath to be an APC member and involved in active politics.
‘Misinformation, denigrating attacks on opposition figures’
The affidavit chronicled Ms Onochie’s social media posts “designed to denigrate members of the opposition political parties”.
“That her criticism and constant denigration of political opponents cannot allow such opponents to be at ease seeing a member of another political party presiding as a supposed unbiased umpire.
“That based on the various baseless, bigoted and inaccurate activities of Ms Lauretta Onochie, especially on social media, she is not a person of integrity capable of occupying a sensitive and trusted position as that of a National Commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commission.
“That he knows as a fact that these factors, which are baseless, unfounded and untrue are hindrances to confirmation of Ms Lauretta Onochie as an official of the Independent National Electoral Commission.
“That following the false representations made by Ms. Lauretta Onochie on social media, she has lost goodwill and confidence before right-thinking members of the society and of Nigerians generally, especially for an occupant of a sensitive office of the National Commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commission,” the affidavit they filed in support of their suit read in part.
One of the opposition figures cited by the plaintiffs as having been a target of Ms Onochie’s social media attacks is former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) who ran against President Buhari of the APC in the 2019 general election.
“That the statements were so exasperating that the former Vice President was compelled to commence an action in libel against Ms. Lauretta Onochie at the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory holden at Abuja which action is still pending before Honourable Justice Orji of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory holden at Apo in Abuja,” the affidavit read in part.
The plaintiffs added that since her appointment as the Personal Assistant to the President on social media, “she has been known to broadcast baseless, false, inaccurate, bigoted and fabricated reports just in a bid to paint the 1st defendant’s administration in a good light some of which is inaccurate.”
“That several of the social media posts by Ms Lauretta Onochie, in support of the administration of the 1st Defendant (Mr Buhari),” the plaintiffs said, “have been known to be false and misleading and had received a heavy backlash and condemnation from Nigerians.”
“That despite Ms Lauretta Onochie’s name surfacing in the Senate as a nominee of the 1st Defendant, she has not been disengaged from the services of the 1st Defendant and now seeks to be confirmed as a National Commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commission,” they added.
The plaintiffs prayed for, among others, an order of perpetual injunction restraining Mr Buhari from nominating Ms Onochie and any other card-carrying member or members of the APC or any other political party in Nigeria as a National Commissioner for the INEC.
They also sought an order of perpetual injunction restraining the Senate and Senate Committee on INEC “from referring, considering, screening, deliberating or confirming the nomination of Ms. Lauretta Onochie, a well-known member of the All Progressives Congress and current serving Personal Assistant on Social Media to the 1st defendant (Buhari) as a National Commissioner or Resident Electoral Commissioner for the Independent National Electoral Commission, by the 3rd and 4th defendants, or into any other office in the Independent National Electoral Commission.”
In addition, they sought a mandatory order on the 2nd defendant (the AGF) “to ensure the compliance of the 1st, 3rd and 4th defendants with the orders of the honourable court made in these proceedings.”
Meanwhile, the suit is yet to be assigned to a judge for hearing.
Support PREMIUM TIMES' journalism of integrity and credibility
Good journalism costs a lot of money. Yet only good journalism can ensure the possibility of a good society, an accountable democracy, and a transparent government.
For continued free access to the best investigative journalism in the country we ask you to consider making a modest support to this noble endeavour.
By contributing to PREMIUM TIMES, you are helping to sustain a journalism of relevance and ensuring it remains free and available to all.
TEXT AD: To advertise here . Call Willie +2347088095401...