The Senate on Tuesday, July 13, declined to confirm Lauretta Onochie, one of President Muhammadu Buhari’s nominees, for the position of National Commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The Senate Committee on INEC, chaired by Senator Kabiru Gaya considered Onochie’s nomination alongside six others. In its report however, it declined to recommend Onochie for confirmation as National commissioner, stating that it did so to avoid violating the Federal Character Principle contained in section 14(3) of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution, as INEC currently has a National Commissioner from Delta State, where Onochie hails from.
Onochie is the President’s Special Assistant on Social Media and has been nominated twice to serve as an official of INEC, first in October 2020 and again in June 2021. Onochie’s nomination attracted several petitions from civil society organisations (CSOs) and other concerned Nigerians on the basis of her membership of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the subsisting tenure of a National Commissioner from Delta State. Observers worried that Onochie’s apparent support for the President and the APC meant that she failed to meet the criterion of non-partisanship required for membership of INEC as stipulated in Item F, paragraph 14(2) of the third schedule to the 1999 Nigerian Constitution. CSOs underscored the need to ensure that the composition of INEC remains transparently non-partisan and independent of political bias, in addition to the need to strengthen the integrity of Nigeria’s electoral system and the confidence of the electorate.
As Nigerians laud the Senate’s move declining to confirm Ms. Lauretta Onochie’s for appointment, concerns have arisen over the Senate’s basis for its decision, which did not include Onochie’s partisanship and membership of the APC, and if this leaves a possibility of her renomination when the tenure of the serving National Commissioner from Delta State comes to an end. Speaking on the Senate’s rejection of Onochie’s appointment, the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, a platform of over seventy CSOs in a press briefing led by its Convener, Ms. Ene Obi, urged “President Buhari to nominate a qualified and non-partisan woman to replace the nomination of Ms. Lauretta Onochie…” The platform reiterated that, “… it is unconstitutional for anybody in partisan politics to be in INEC and this should be taken into consideration with respect to subsequent nominations for positions at the Electoral Commission.”