Press Statement on Petition by CSOs on the nomination of Mrs. Lauretta Onochie as a National Commissioner to the Independent National Electoral Commission

Ladies and Gentlemen of the press,

On Tuesday 13 October 2020, the President sent the names of four nominees to the Senate for confirmation as Commissioners in the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Three of the names were nominated as National Commissioners and one as Resident Electoral Commissioner. The three nominees for National Commissioner are expected to replace National Commissioners whose tenure would terminate in November 2020. Following these nominations, Civil society organizations raised major constitutional issues with the nomination of Mrs. Lauretta Onochie and requested the Senate to reject it forthwith. Surprisingly on Wednesday, 9th June 2021, eight months after her nomination, the Senate referred the name of Mrs. Lauretta Onochie along with other nominees to its Committee on INEC for screening as INEC Commissioners.

 As Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) working to support Nigeria’s journey towards democratic consolidation by promoting electoral integrity, we collectively demand that the Senate reject the nomination of Mrs. Lauretta Onochie as a National Commissioner in INEC. This press conference is to reinforce our detailed petition to the Senate President, Dr. Ahmed Lawan and the Senate Committee on INEC on Friday 18th June 2021 against the nomination of Mrs. Lauretta Onochie. 

Our petition against the nomination of Mrs. Lauretta Onochie as a National Commissioner of the Independent National Electoral  is founded on the following grounds:

  1. Mrs. Lauretta Onochie does not meet the constitutional requirements of being non-partisan (as defined by Section 156(1)(a) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria) to be nominated as an INEC National Commissioner. She is not only a Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on social media, she is also a card-carrying member of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). In her position as Special Assistant to President on Social Media, she has built a partisan reputation by her biased and sometimes inflammatory comments on national issues and against perceived or imagined enemies of the Buhari administration.

With this antecedent, she is unlikely to be non-partisan, neutral and objective in her duties as an INEC National Commissioner if she is confirmed. Her appointment as a national commissioner or in the leadership of INEC will gravely undermine the neutrality and impartiality of the Commission, and  taint its credibility. Such an appointment will undermine citizens’ confidence in INEC,  increase mistrust in the Commission and Nigeria’s electoral process. It will  also jeopardize the trust of other political parties in the Commission.  

  2. The Constitution requires that a nominee for the position of INEC National Commissioner must be a “person of unquestionable integrity”. Unfortunately, Mrs. Onochie’s actions on social media show that she lacks the required integrity to be appointed into such a sensitive position. There are several documented evidence of written attacks, social media altercations and malicious, unfounded allegations against groups or individuals by Mrs. Onochie via her social media accounts. In fact, Premium Times in its February 2019 media analysis on individuals/accounts using fake news as campaign strategies online, identified Mrs. Lauretta Onochie as one of the leading purveyors of fake news.

3. Mrs. Lauretta Onochie is not qualified to be appointed as INEC’s National Commissioner based on the fact that she is a British citizen, thus falling short of the constitutional requirements for being appointed to that position as stated in  Sections 156(1a) and 66(1a) of the 1999 Constitution. Further proof of Mrs. Onochie being a British citizen is contained in the fact that until recently, she was a full, card-carrying member of the British Conservative Party, even contesting elections for a councillorship position in Thames Ward in the London Borough of Barking and Degenham in 2010 as a member of the UK Conservative Party.

The fact of her dual citizenship and political activities in the UK raises major questions on her loyalty and commitment to Nigeria. As a Nigerian and UK citizen, she is obligated to demonstrate loyalty to both countries. Therefore, her dual loyalty will undermine national interest and potentially threaten the independence of INEC.

  4. Finally, the appointment of Lauretta Onochie who is from Delta State as a Commissioner for the Independent National Electoral Commission negates the Federal Character principle as provided in Sections 14(3) and 14(4) of the 1999 Constitution as Delta State is already represented by Mrs May Agbamuche-Mbu, who currently serves as National Commissioner with the Independent National Electoral Commission. Her appointment will be detrimental to other states without INEC commissioners in the South-South geo-political region.

To this end, we make the following demands to the Senate Committee on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC): 

  1. Reject the nomination of Mrs. Lauretta Onochie as INEC National Commissioner.
  2. Ensure proper scrutiny and due diligence is exercised in the confirmation of nominations into the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).  
  3. Ensure that nominees to positions in the Independent National Electoral Commission are individuals with impeccable character, unquestionable neutral inclinations, dispositions, and competence.

We also make the following demands to the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Muhammed Buhari:

  1. As a matter of urgency, withdraw the nomination of Mrs. Lauretta Onochie in the public interest and in furtherance of stated and repeated  commitment to continue a legacy of a truly independent electoral commission that enjoys the trust and confidence of citizens and electoral stakeholders. 
  2. Uphold the federal character principle in re-nominating a non-partisan, neutral, and competent Nigerian to represent the South-South region as INEC National Commissioner.
  3. Observe the principle of diversity and gender inclusivity in nominating candidates who are non-partisan and competent as INEC National Commissioners.

We believe that as custodians of the Nigerian Constitution, the Senate will ensure that the Constitution is upheld in the appointment of National Commissioners.We firmly believe that the Senate will continue to nurture our democracy by protecting the sanctity of INEC and the credibility of our electoral process.

God bless Nigeria.

Signed

  1. Yiaga Africa 
  2. Peering Advocacy and Advancement Centre in Africa (PAACA)
  3. International Press Centre (IPC)
  4. Institute for Media and Society (IMS)
  5. The Albino Foundation
  6. Centre for Citizens with Disability (CCD)
  7. Nigerian Women Trust Fund (NWTF)
  8. Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC)
  9. Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ)
  10. Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD)
  11. CLEEN Foundation

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