A coalition of civil society organisations (CSOs) has asked the National Assembly to reject the nomination of Lauretta Onochie as a national commissioner for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) because she is a British citizen.
The coalition noted that Ms Onochie’s citizenship will undermine national interest and potentially threaten the independence of INEC.
Speaking for the coalition during a press conference in Abuja yesterday, a board member of YIAGA Africa, Ezenwa Nwagwu noted that Onochies’s dual citizenship makes her fall short of the constitutional requirements for being appointed to that position as stated in Sections 156(1a) and 66(1a) of the 1999 Constitution.
The nomination of Onochie, who is the Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Social Media, has triggered outrage with many calling on 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.
President Buhari forwarded the name of Ms Onochie and five others to the Senate in October last year for confirmation as INEC national commissioner.
The other nominees are: Prof. Muhammad Sani Kallah from Katsina; Prof. Kunle Cornelius Ajayi, Ekiti State; Saidu Babura Ahmad, Jigawa; Prof. Sani Muhammad Adam, North Central and Dr. Baba Bila, North East.
The president, in a letter to the Senate, announced the appointment and sought the lawmakers’ confirmation. The appointment had triggered outrage among Nigerians as many described it as unconstitutional.
The Senate President on June 9, directed the Senate committee on INEC headed by Kabiru Gaya to screen Ms Onochie and five other nominees.
But Nwagwu stated: “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.”
Founder of Albino Foundation, Jake Epelle, noted that Onochie, in her position as special assistant to President Buhari on social media, 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.
Epelle maintained that she is unlikely to be non-partisan, neutral and objective in her duties as an INEC National Commissioner if she is confirmed, adding that CSOs will be left with no option other than to seek legal redress.
“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,” Epelle said.
He added: “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.
“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.
Epelle urged the Senate to reject the nomination of Onochie as INEC National Commissioner and ensure that due diligence is exercised in the confirmation of nomination into INEC.
He added: “Ensure that nominees to positions in the Independent National Electoral Commission are individuals with impeccable character, unquestionable neutral inclinations, dispositions, and competence.
“We also call on Muhammed Buhari to 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.
“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.
“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.”