In recent times, not many issues in the public domain have raised more opprobrium, vehemence, and even angst and disgust, amongst diverse and varied competent, well-meaning and very critical stakeholder groups, individuals and organisations in the electoral process than President Muhammadu Buhari’s nomination of Ms Lauretta Onochie as federal commissioner in the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to the Senate for confirmation.
On Wednesday, June 9, the senate president, Ahmad Lawan, at plenary, referred President Buhari’s request to confirm Prof. Muhammad Sani Kallah (Katsina Laureetta Onochie (Delta); Prof. Kunle Cornelius Ajayi (Ekiti); Saidu Babura Ahmad (Jigawa); Prof. Sani Muhammad Adam (North-Central) and Dr Baba Bila (North-East) as national commissioners of INEC to its committee on INEC for screening. The committee was given two weeks to conclude its assignment and report back to plenary on the request that was first sent to the senate in October, last year.
While it is not clear whether the committee delayed work on the assignment, it is manifestly evident that the committee has taken more time than was allotted and lay its report before the upper legislative chamber in plenary for final debate and confirmation.
However, there has been a floodgate of reactions from a wide range of the Nigerian public over the appearance of the name of Ms Onochie on the list of those to be considered at all. The opposition and rejection of Ms Onochie began from the floor of the senate itself when the Minority Leader, Senator Enyinaya Abaribe, whose statutory function it was to second the motion moved by the Majority Leader, Senator Yahaya Abdullahi, declared his reluctance in seconding the motion on account of the presence of the name of Ms Onochie.
Those who see the appointment of the Delta State born Ms Onochie as inappropriate and therefore unfit for the office cite the fact that the person in question is already a political office holder as the Special Assistant to the President on Social Media. To this, they add that she is also strongly believed to be a member of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
The Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), in its reaction to the issue, registered its objection to the nomination and implored the senate to reject Ms Onochie as an officer of INEC. Idayat Hassan, Director of CDD, said in a statement that Ms Onochie’s appointment to serve in such a non partisan portfolio could jeopardise Nigeria’s democratic principles if allowed by the senate.
“First, Ms Onochie is from Delta State, the same state from which Barrister May Agbamuche-Mbu, a current national commissioner, hails. Barrister Agbamuche-Mbu’s tenure is not ending until December 2021″, the statement said, adding that “Also, Mr Mike Igini, the Resident Electoral Commissioner for Akwa Ibom State, hails from the same state and his tenure will end in August 2022. Neither Mrs Agbamuche-Mbu nor Mike Igini has been removed from office”.
Consequently, the CDD argued that Ms. Onochie’s consideration for confirmation would not only contravene the Federal Character principle of the 1999 constitution, but as well constitute inequity and an unfair treatment of the other South-South states who are also qualified to be appointed into INEC.
According to the CDD, “ Secondly, Ms Onochie does not hide her partisan support for the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) and she is likely a card-carrying member of the party.
“It is also important to realise that her partisanship is the reason she was appointed to her current role as an aide to President Muhammadu Buhari on Social Media.
“This, therefore, precludes her from being appointed into INEC. Section 156 (1)_ and item F, Paragraph 14 of the Third Schedule of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, forbid an appointee to INEC to be a political party member or a partisan individual.
“There is no doubt that Ms Onochie will continue to protect the interest of the APC if confirmed by the Senate. Moreover, CDD believes strongly that she will represent political baggage that could damage the commission’s legitimacy. Any election she oversees will likely be subjected to multiple litigations, even in a genuine win by the APC and other parties”, the organization said among others.
On Tuesday this week, a coalition of nine civil society organisations took their opposition to Ms Onochie’s appointment a notch further by instituting a legal action against President Buhari, the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), the Senate and Kabiru Gaya, chairman of theSsenate committee on INEC.
The CSOs which include the International Press Centre, Centre for Citizens with Disability, Nigerian women Trust fund, Incorporated Trustees of Albino Foundation, Incorporated Trustees of Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, Incorporated Trustees of Peering Advocacy and Advancement Centre in Africa, Incorporated Trustees of Centre for Media and Society and Incorporated Trustees of YIAGA Africa Initiative are praying the court to declare the nomination of Ms Onochie as “wrongful, illegal, null and void and same nullified”.
In the suit filed before a Federal High Court in Abuja and marked FHC/ABJ/CS/604/2021, the CSOs are asking the court to determine whether the president “can nominate a card-carrying member or members of his political party or any other political party in Nigeria, as a national electoral commissioner for the Independent National Electoral Commission” contrary to Sections 14 (29), 14 (3), 14 (36), 14 (4) and Section 154 (1) of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended ).
Among other reliefs, the applicants are asking the court for an order of perpetual injunction “restraining the 3rd and 4th defendants (the Senate and Kabiru Gaya) from referring, considering, screening, deliberating or confirming the nomination of Ms Lauretta Onochie”.
In the affidavits deposed to by the applicants in support of the originating summons, the CSOs insisted that “Onochie cannot be a fair and unbiased umpire to serve in the Independent National Electoral Commission” owing to her close working relationship with President Buhari and his administration.
However, in a move that appeared to be intended to undercut the progress of the case, and in brazen indifference to the massive and overwhelming outpouring of stiff, strident and unrelenting rejection of the appointment of Ms Onochie, the senate, yesterday, began the screening of the six nominations into INEC national commissionership position including the embattled presidential aide.
If, at the end of the day, Ms Onochie gets the nod of the APC dominated red chamber, there are many Nigerians who will not only feel disappointed but also register the 9th Senate as being there to serve the interest of President Muhammadu Buhari and the APC as against the more sacred interest of the Nigerian people and that of the constitution.
Yet, even if the senate rejects the nomination, Nigerians will not stop to question the rationale, the wisdom and what the president intended to achieve by his preference for such a defective, obnoxious offensive, provocative and embarrassing choice. The only way to pacify Nigerians and assure them that the entire Onochie saga was not plotted to take them for granted is for the president to render an unreserved apology to his compatriots.
By: Opaka Dokubo
Kogi Gov’ship Election Petitions Stolen By Gunmen – Police
The Kogi State Police Command has confirmed that gunmen attacked the secretary of the state governorship election tribunal, Mr David Umar Mike on Monday in Lokoja and made away with sensitive petition documents on the just concluded gubernatorial election in the state.
The state police command’s Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), SP William Aya, disclosed this in Lokoja on Wednesday.
The police authorities said the attackers of the state governorship tribunal secretary carted away all the petition documents filed by five political parties at gunpoint.
According to the police authorities, the documents carted away from Mike include, petitions filed by four (4) Parties: Action Alliance (AA), Action People’s Party (APP), Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) and Social Democratic Party (SDP) as well as two (2) Record Books/a Bag containing his personal item.
The police added that the incident happened just before the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) office at about 13:20hrs on Monday, while victims were on their way to the tribunal venue at the state High Court complex, Lokoja.
Police said, “On Monday, 04/12/2023 at about 1820hrs, one Mr David Umar Mike ‘m’ Secretary to Kogi State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal along with Labode Apreala (f) Confidential Secretary and Hassimu Adamu Assistant Secretary, came to State Criminal Investigation Department, Kogi State Police Headquarters and reported that on the said date, three of them left their Hotel rooms in Lokoja about 1300hrs, heading to their Office at the High Court Complex driving in his (David’s) Peugeot 406 Car.
“That just before the CBN at about 1320hrs, one SUV vehicle which had earlier overtaken him blocked his car with two other SUVs following behind.
“All of them surrounded and blocked him as he attempted to reverse. That he saw about seven hooded men all heavily armed and dressed in black attire who shot severally into the air and dragged him and his two other colleagues out of their car, ransacked the car and made away with all the petition documents.”
SP Aya added that the state Commissioner of Police, CP Onuoha Benthrand, had ordered for a thorough and diligent investigation into the incident.
Meanwhile, the police command has advised the general public to avoid statements that may prejudice ongoing investigation into the matter even as the command appealed to anyone with useful information on the incident to provide same to the command.
SDP and the All Progressives Congress (APC) had traded words over the attack on Monday with both sides pointing an accusing finger at each other.
While the SDP alleged that the attack was perpetrated by hired political thugs, the APC said it was staged.
Benue LGs Dissolution Lawless – Senate Minority Leader
The Senate Minority Leader and Senator representing Benue South, Abba Moro, has condemned the recent dissolution of local government chairmen in the state by Governor Hyacinth Alia, describing it as “lawlessness”.
In an interview on live television, Wednesday, Senator Moro expressed his disapproval of the Governor’s action, stating that it was a violation of the Nigerian Constitution.
He maintained that the governor did not have the power to unilaterally dissolve elected officials, and such actions could only be taken through due process and legal means.
He said, “Let me say clearly from the beginning, the constitution doesn’t provide for caretaker. Two years plus ago, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Ekiti State that sacked council chairmen that the governors do not have power to sack local government council and constitute caretaker committees.
“And even went further to say that the state houses of assembly do not have power to dissolve councils and that the state governors do not hide under laws made by the state assembly to dissolve elected councils.
“How can you now say you are investigating 23 local governments, 276 council wards and all of them have been found corrupt? If you find somebody, prosecute him.
“The issue now is that the action that the State House of Assembly has taken which they said he followed is wrong. What is wrong is wrong.
“This is the lawlessness that is taking place in Benue State. Is that correct? We must rise up against this thing.”
Third Republic Lawmakers Demand Unpaid Salaries, Allowances
Former lawmakers elected in the Third Republic, on Wednesday, demanded the immediate payment of their unpaid salaries and allowances to make ends meet.
The lawmakers made the plea while leading a delegation of the Third Republic Forum to present an award of selfless service to an alumnus of the Third House of Assembly and current member representing Sagbama/Ekeremor Federal Constituency, Bayelsa State, Frederick Agbedi.
A member of the group, Basil Okafor, said President Bola Tinubu, who was elected Senator on the platform of the Social Democratic Party belonged to the set now battling to have their entitlements paid to them
“The President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, an octopus in battle, has fought from 1992 till date to make input and he is today the President. We have a lot of problems that we now think that having a President who is one of us, having members of the House of Representatives and multiple Senators, that some of these problems can be addressed. We have problems with our claims and salaries that were not paid at that time. We have problems that we are seeking the face of this government to see how they can help us resolve.
“And we know that having Agbedi here, he can help us coordinate his fellow members to champion this cause and the press should also help us in any way to highlight some of these problems that are facing us because we are the old boys of this current government,” he said.
He noted that the rules governing the activities of the 10th House were put in place by the Third Republic lawmakers, adding that the current lawmakers now only amend the rules to meet current realities.
Also speaking, the National Organising Secretary of the group, Hajiya Amina lauded Agbedi for his contribution to the development of the Nigerian society.
“We are here this afternoon to honour our own, the man called Fred Agbedi. He is a man who represents the interest of his people, who even represents the interest of women and fought for the creation of the Ministry of Women Affairs. He is women-friendly,” she said.
Stressing the difficulty the Third Republic lawmakers are facing owing to unpaid entitlements, she said, “Many of us have died. When we came here, we were 593, but over 250 have gone. Most of the women are dead.
“Yesterday (Tuesday) was 31 years since we were sworn in as members of this parliament. Our grandchildren can now vote and be voted for but we still have problems.
“If Moshood Abiola and Babagana Kingibe have been honoured and recognized, we were the foot soldiers. We were the delegates that voted them into power. What about us? Why can’t we be honoured and our standing salaries paid?
“Some of us are half dead. I am also half dead because my engine is knocked. I am just trying to make life easy for myself. We are calling on the government and the President to help us.”
While thanking his guests for the honour done to him, Agbedi called on the Federal Government to quickly pay up the salaries and allowances owed to the ex-lawmakers saying, “All their entitlements should be given to them. Even the President, Bola Tinubu will benefit from this.”
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