Some Nigerians on Tuesday reacted angrily to the appointment of Lauretta Onochie, Special Assistant on Social Media to President Muhammadu Buhari, as a national commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Senate President Ahmad Lawan had, at plenary, read the letter from President Buhari nominating Onochie from Delta State, alongside three others, as INEC commissioners.
The others nominated were Prof. Mohammed Sani from Katsina State; Prof. Kunle Ajayi from Ekiti State, and Seidu Ahmed from Jigawa State.
Onochie was popular for attacking critics of the president on her social media handles
Reacting to the appointment, Pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, had described Onochie’s appointment as the peak of insensitivity.
Yinka Odumakin, the organisation’s National Publicity Secretary, said the president had decided to provoke Nigerians by appointing a partisan fundamentalist into INEC.
While calling on Nigerians to reject the appointment, Afenifere said failure to do so would mark the end of INEC.
He said: “It is the peak of insensitivity and provocation by Buhari to bring a partisan fundamentalist as a commissioner of INEC.
“It would be easier to count the number of decent Nigerians the saucy lady has not insulted than those she has rudely run her mouth against for Buhari.
“The president is killing INEC and turning it to APC’s electoral board.
“If Nigerians don’t resist and reject it, it would mark the final conquest of the country and the beginning of the end of INEC and electoral democracy
“Appointing her can only happen in a failed country.”
Similarly, the Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike, while addressing #EndSARS protesters in Port Harcourt, urged Nigerian youths to set their priorities right by protesting against Onochie’s appointment.
He said even though the #EndSARS protest was heating up, young people should focus on real issues, including demanding a reform of the Nigerian system.
“In Nigeria, we must choose our priorities. Nobody is talking. Let me tell you, just now we heard that Mr. President has appointed his media aide (Lauretta Onochie) as an INEC Commissioner.
“You appoint your own media aide as a Commissioner in INEC and you are saying that you want INEC to be independent.
“How will that INEC be independent? And nobody is talking about it. Nobody is protesting it.
“So, as you are protesting for police reforms, also protest that Mr. President cannot bring his own aide to be a national commissioner in INEC.
“That is what is supposed to be done. That is rigging. They have started rigging ahead of 2023 and nobody is saying anything,” Wike stated.
Also, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) rejected the appointment, describing it as ominous, highly provocative, and an assault on the Nigerian constitution and democratic process.
Onochie is a card-carrying member of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
The party said it would deploy every legitimate means possible in a democracy to stop the approval of her nomination.
Addressing newsmen at a press conference in Abuja, the spokesman of the PDP, Kola Ologbondiyan, said: “Indeed, from Mr. President’s public promises, one would have thought that he was desirous of leaving a legacy of credible elections, having failed in all ramifications of governance.
“However, this nomination of his personal staff, Lauretta Onchie, as INEC national commissioner, supports the position of the PDP that his statements were mere glib talks on electoral sanctity and clearly demonstrates that he has no plans whatsoever to leave a legacy of credible polls.
“This ugly development is another shameful attempt to plant unscrupulous elements in INEC in order to corrupt and further desecrate the sanctity of the commission, undermine our electoral system and destabilise our democratic process ahead of the 2023 general elections.
“We had hoped that, as Mr. President had professed in the past, he is truly running his second and final term in office. If that were so, then Lauretta Onochie’s nomination as INEC national commissioner clearly points to a totally different direction.
“Indeed, her nomination dresses up Mr. President as having more than an interest in legacy building and portrays him as one who has a personal candidature interest in the 2023 election. The only way to prove otherwise is to quickly withdraw Onochie’s nomination before the Senate.
“Moreover, being a card-carrying member of the APC as records show (from Ward 5 Onicha Olona, Aniocha North Local Government Area of Delta state), Onochie’s nomination is in clear violation of paragraph 14 of the 3rd schedule of the 1999 constitution (as amended), which forbids a person involved in partisan politics to hold office as a member of INEC.”
In the same vein, a three-time member of the National Assembly, Senator Dino Melaye, asked President Buhari to immediately reverse the nomination.
Melaye, in a statement, described the nomination as unconstitutional, an affront on the patience of Nigerians and an insult to the institution of INEC.
Also on Tuesday, a coalition of Civil Society Organisations, under the aegis of the Situation Room, called on President Buhari to reverse the appointment, saying Onochie “is a known partisan supporter of President Muhammadu Buhari and his ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC)”.
The group, in a statement signed by Clement Nwankwo, the Situation Room Convener, said the “Situation Room calls on President Muhammadu Buhari to immediately withdraw her nomination.
“Should the president fail to withdraw this nomination the Nigerian Senate is hereby called upon to disregard her nomination without any consideration whatsoever,” the statement read.
It stated further that Onochie’s appointment contravened the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended.
On its part, the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), described Onochie’s nomination as a direct “murder” of INEC.
The rights group anchored its rejection on claims that Onochie was known for peddling fake news and for being a fanatic member of the APC.
HURIWA, in a statement by its National Coordinator, Emmanuel Onwubiko, and Miss. Zainab Yusuf, National Media Affairs, said Buhari was setting Nigeria up for a serious political crisis.
According to the statement, “The Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) has learnt of the appointment of Special Assistant on Social Media to President Muhammadu Buhari; Lauretta Onochie, as an electoral commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commission representing Delta State.”
No fewer than 14 prominent Civil Society Organisations in Nigeria criticised President Buhari for nominating Onochie as an INEC commissioner.
One of the groups, Centre for Transparency Advocacy (CTA), said on Tuesday, in Abuja, that the appointment may erode the gains already being achieved by the electoral umpire.