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PH activists, lawyers reject Onochie’s appointment as INEC commissioner

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Amaechi Okonkwo, Port Harcourt

Civil rights activists in Rivers state have vehemently rejected the nomination of Ms. Lauretta Onochie, special adviser to President Mohammadu Bihari on social media as a national commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, saying she was not qualified because she is a card-carrying member of the ruling All Progressives Congress APC.

They argue that the claim by her that she didn’t revalidate her membership in the recent revalidation exercise of the APC, was not enough excuse for the Nigeria senate to confirm her appointment saying that the position requires neutrality which could not be expected of her considering her partisan and vocal support of the APC.

Speaking to our correspondent in Port Harcourt on the matter a popular Port Harcourt lawyer, Eugene Ode, said that by Section 128 of the Evidence Act, 2011 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria any information contained in a document cannot be altered orally.

He explained that, in Onochie’s case, the proof of her membership of APC wasn’t only documentary but a sworn deposition in an affidavit saying that, in law, facts contained in an affidavit can only be countered or withdrawn by another affidavit and that, up till the moment, she was hadn’t retracted or withdrawn her averments in that affidavit where she held herself out as an APC member.

“So legally speaking she is still an APC member as at today. That being the case, she is not qualified to hold the position of INEC commissioner for the doing so shall run fowl of item 14(2)(a) of the third schedule of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (As amended)”, Barr. Ode declared.

In his reaction, Chairman of the Rivers Civil Society Organisation (RIVSCO) said; “Our position is that the Senate shouldn’t confirm Lauretta Onochie. Our reason is hinged on the fact that, INEC or its commissioners ought to be neutral entity or persons. It is, therefore, legally and morally wrong to appoint someone with interest in a place the person needs to be neutral.” 

RIVSCO said that, outside of Luaretta, being one of the spokespersons of the president, she is an open member of the ruling party in the country. Her verified social media accounts shows, she is a member of the ruling All Progressive Congress. “Her claim that she had resigned her membership of her party doesn’t hold water,” it added.

“Let’s even assume, but not concede, she has resigned her membership of the APC, members of the public will still assume she only did so to get the INEC job. It’s our opinion that such jobs should be given to known neutral citizens in the country and these we have in abundance,” RIVSCO demanded.

On his part, Fyneface Dumnamene Fyneface, environmental justice activist, human rights defender and executive director, Youths and Environmental Advocacy Centre (YEAC) emphatically said Ms Onochie should not be confirmed by the senate as INEC commissioner. 

He gave his reasons; “She is partisan and card-carrying member of the APC. The position that she didn’t revalidate her membership has not changed the fact that she is a member of the APC, an interested party in elections in Nigeria that she is to join to conduct especially in 2023. She has not denied that she is a member of the APC but only that she didn’t revalidate her membership which has not also been independently, empirically and forensically verified.” 

Fynface added; “So, as it is, it is difficult to erase APC affiliation from a woman that almost since the creation of APC has been an active member and through which she rose and climbed to prominence in Nigeria and was appointed as an aide to the President of the Republic. Besides, it is even her membership of the APC and how she had served loyally and vocally in the party that earned her that presidential appointment.”

He said that considering her antecedent of party loyalty she would always manifest that APC blood in her and become bias at the expense of national interest and our fragile democracy if the Senate confirmed her. 

“Thus, while I do not have anything against the person of Lauretta Onochie or the APC, it is my opinion that the senate should not confirm her to serve in INEC if the credibility of our elections, independence of INEC and local and international perception of the kind of INEC we would have if Lauretta Onochie is sitting there as commissioner is of importance to the Senators. They should rule that the president may give her another appointment and direct Cross River State to recommend another candidate for the president to appoint for immediate confirmation by the National Assembly as INEC commissioner”, he stated. 

The Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), South South Zone, has declared the nomination of Lauretta Onochie, a card-carrying member of the APC, an affront to the constitution.

The CLO also urged members of the senate not to clear Onochie into an office as sensitive as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC’s) as commissioner.

In a press statement signed by the zonal chairman, Karl Chinedu Uchegbu, the group maintained that Onochie’s nomination is a clear breach of the 1999 constitution. 

“Onochie who is currently serving as the special assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on new media and was nominated by the president as INEC Commissioner in October 2020, cannot be expected to remain an unbiased umpire if appointed 

“Recall that she had also campaigned for President Buhari in 2015 and the CLO is of the view that if her nomination is confirmed by the Senate, it would mar future elections and casts doubts on the independence of INEC,” he said. 

The pro-democracy organisation observed further that Section 156(1)a) and third schedule, Part 1, Item F, Paragraph 14(1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) outrightly disqualified any person in partisan politics and card-carrying member of a political party from being appointed into INEC as an electoral umpire

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