The Personal Assistant to the President on New Media, Lauretta Onochie, has claimed she is not partisan. Well, not anymore.
Ms Onochie, who said she is out of politics, described herself as “Madam Due Process.”
She stated this on Thursday when she appeared before the Senate Committee on INEC to be screened for the position of national commissioner for the electoral umpire.
Ms Onochie, was appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari in October 2020 as an INEC commissioner to represent Delta State – an appointment which triggered outrage among Nigerians as many described it as unconstitutional.
The president, in a letter to the Senate, sought the lawmakers’ confirmation.
Many have asked the president to withdraw the nomination on grounds that Ms Onochie is partisan and so it would be undemocratic for her to be appointed into such an office.
Civic groups including Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism and YIAGA Africa jointly wrote the Senate opposing Ms Onochie’s appointment.
The PDP also protested against the move.
PREMIUM TIMES reported how her appointment violates Section 14(2a) of the Third Schedule of the 1999 Constitution as amended which states that “a member of the commission shall be non-partisan and a person of unquestionable integrity.”
But the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, on June 9, directed the Senate’s INEC committee to screen Ms Onochie and four other nominees.
The committee, chaired by Kabiru Gaya (APC Kano), commenced the screening of Ms Onochie and the other nominees on Wednesday. The nominees are Kunle Cornelius, Saidu Ahmad, Sani Adam and Baba Bila.
During their screening, other nominees spoke on their goals for the new position, their integrity as well as their being non-partisan.
On the agenda, Ms Onochie was listed as the last nominee to be screened. And when it was her turn, almost all the panel members questioned her integrity and partisanship.
The lawmakers referred to petitions and documents that showed she is partisan. This includes an affidavit she signed affirming her membership of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
In her response, she said the petitions against her nomination are because she follows “due process.”
“I have seen the petitions against me but I stand for justice and fairness. Thus nobody has anything to fear. I am Madam Due Process and this is the reason behind my attacks, because I follow the law and due process.
“I have no partisanship bone in my body until I was invited to come and work with President Muhammadu Buhari,” she said.
A member of the panel, Seriake Dickson, stated that Ms Onochie’s appointment would be less problematic if she was nominated to be in the president’s cabinet.
He also noted that INEC already has a national commissioner from Delta State, from where Ms Onochie hails. He asked her to justify why she should be confirmed.
“Since Buhari was elected as president for the second term, I have removed myself from everything politics. Since 2019, I don’t have anything to do with politics. As I am sitting down here, I am not a member of any political party in this country,” was her response.
She also explained that the INEC commissioner currently representing Delta State, Ms Agbamuche Mdu, represents Cross-River State because she married someone from Cross River “and so she is not representing Delta state.”
A dissatisfied Ike Ekweremadu, a former deputy senate president, said he knows that Ms Onochie does everything to support the president. He also expressed worry about the concerns raised by CSOs in different petitions to the Senate calling for the rejection of her nomination.
He also referred to a letter written by Ms Onochie to the committee chairman in July where she said in paragraph five that “a register was opened and we all put our name as members of the Buhari support organization.”
Mr Ekweremadu did not give full details of the letter.
He, however, urged Ms Onochie to emulate former Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, and reject the nomination “to protect the integrity of the president.”
Ms Adeosun had resigned as a minister after a PREMIUM TIMES report exposed her for presenting a forged NYSC exemption certificate to Nigerin authorities as part of her credentials.
Next was Plateau senator, Istifanus Gyang, who produced a court affidavit where Ms Onochie swore to being involved in politics and also being a member of the APC. But again, Ms Onochie insisted that she removed herself from politics in 2019.
She admitted to working with Mr Buhari but has stopped anything related to politics since 2019.
“I swore an affidavit saying I’m involved in politics and a member of APC when I just returned to the country,” she said.
Those on the other side…
Then there were senators Yahaya Gumau (Bauchi South) and Bamidele Opeyemi (Ekiti North) who saw no reason Ms Onochie’s past should be used against her.
Mr Gumau stated that all the allegations against Ms Onochie are based on sentiments.
While Mr Bamidele argued that the current INEC Chairman, Mahmoud Yakubu, had worked for Mr Buhari in different capacities in the past and it did not count against him. Thus working for President Buhari should not account against Ms Onochie, he said.
The committee is expected to present their report to the Senate on another legislative day. The report will contain recommendations either confirming or rejecting the appointments of Ms Onochie and the other nominees.
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