THERE were indications on Monday that some foot soldiers of President Muhammadu Buhari may have infiltrated the Senate to frustrate opposition to the confirmation of his Personal Assistant on Social Media, Ms Lauretta Onochie, as a national commissioner in the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The development is against the dizzying threats by lawmakers on the platform of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to abort her confirmation today (Tuesday) on the floor of the Senate.
A senator, who spoke with the Nigerian Tribune in confidence, claimed that some lobbyists of President Buhari in the National Assembly have since moved in to ensure soft-landing for the embattled nominee to represent Delta State in the commission.
Delta is one of the states in the South-South geopolitical zone of the country.
The source said the team of lobbyists is led by the Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters, Senator Babatunde Omoworare.
The source further revealed that the lobbyists also include a PDP senator from the South-South, who has been talking to his colleagues from the zone to back out of the anti-Onochie group in the Red Chamber.
According to the source, the PDP lawmaker, who has been useful to the Presidency, was instrumental in ensuring that the lawmakers from the South-South, who were members of the Joint Committee on Downstream Petroleum Sector, Petroleum Resources (Upstream) and Gas moderated their contributions during the Committee work for the passage of the controversial Petroleum Industry Bill despite contentious clauses in the draft bill that was passed.
It could not be confirmed if the Senator Ahmed Lawan-led ninth Senate would proceed to confirm Onochie as INEC national commissioner, in spite of the public outcry trailing her nomination.
The Senate Committee on INEC led by Senator Kabiru Gaya screened all the six nominees last Thursday and concluded its assignment on Friday.
Another lawmaker, who, incidentally is a member of the committee on INEC, hinted that the committee found nothing untoward in the prolife of Onochie. He noted that having denied her membership of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the fact that the national secretariat of the ruling party wrote to the committee, denying her membership of the party, it would be a wrong judgment on the part of the committee to be swayed by claims and counter-claims on the social media.
The PDP, in its reaction, accused the ruling party of trying to deceive Nigerians over its opposition to Onochie.
Speaking with the Nigerian Tribune on the phone, deputy national publicity secretary of APC, Yekeen Nabena said there was a precedence in the nomination of political appointees or politicians into INEC.
He alleged that INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) in Edo State, Johnson Alalibo, was a card-carrying member of the PDP.
He recalled that former President Goodluck Jonathan nominated Honourable Alalibo, who was a member of the Bayelsa State House of Assembly as REC. “It is a very simple thing. You are saying she is a member of APC, despite her denial? Fine! A serving INEC Commissioner in Edo State, Honourable Johnson Alalibo from Bayelsa State is a card-carrying member of the PDP. Quote me!
“He is a REC in Edo State. If PDP is making noise, what about the REC in Edo State, who conducted the election that produced Godwin Obaseki? Alalibo was nominated by Jonathan but they now want to vilify Buhari. So, what are they complaining about? Why the anger against Onochie? Even civil servants are politicians, one way or the other. President Buhari only copied Jonathan,” he alleged.
PDP vows to frustrate confirmation
Meanwhile, the national publicity of PDP, Kola Ologbondiyan, told Nigerian Tribune in a telephone interview that the goal to stop the nomination of Onochie is not a PDP thing but a collective move across party lines to protect the constitution and the country.
He revealed that political parties represented in the National Assembly were working together to ensure that she was not confirmed for the position.
Ologbodiyan said it was a matter for the lawmakers to deal with and expressed confidence that the confirmation of the senior special assistant to the president would be scuttled.
“It is not a PDP affair. It is a matter for the legislators. But, we are working across party lines and I can assure you that she will not be confirmed. It is about protecting the constitution and the nation,” Ologbodiyan stated.
Investigation revealed that the PDP has already protested to the National Assembly, organising a rally at the premises and writing a letter addressed to the Chairman, Senate Committee on INEC, Senator Gaya.
In the letter titled: Rejection of the nomination of Lauretta Onochie as INEC Commissioner, and signed by Senator Umaru Ibrahim Tsauri, the national secretary of PDP, the party maintained that her ‘confirmation would be a wholesome abuse of democratic tenets and dragging the reputation of the President and the Senate in the political mud.”
Reacting to her nomination, Convener, Nigerian Voters’ Assembly, Comrade Moshoood Erubami, in a telephone interview, said there was no reason for the sustained agitation against Onochie’s, having denied her membership of the APC.
He said: “I think she deserves it. Nigerians are only raising an eyebrow because of the sensitivity of the office. I can tell you that when the Peoples Democratic Party was in government, members of the party served in INEC.
“If we have to go by precedence, there is nothing scandalous about Buhari’s nomination of Onochie as INEC national commissioner. She has openly denied her membership of the ruling party.”
Her nomination a misnomer – PANDEF
In his reaction, the national publicity of the pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), Honourable Ken Robinson said his organisation has always maintained that Onochie’s nomination was a misnomer.
He said: “There is nothing much to say on Lauretta Onochie’s nomination as INEC national commissioner.
“The INEC Act states that the chairman and members of the commission shall be – (a) persons of unquestionable integrity….
“Nigerians know who Lauretta Onochie is, and the roles she played, in the recent past in the interest of President Muhammadu Buhari and his administration.
“Howbeit, since the president has maintained her nomination for the INEC job, the burden is now on the leadership of the Senate of theFederal Republic of Nigeria to, with a clear conscience, demonstrate to Nigerians and the global community that it is patriotic and impervious to primordial impressions, and not a ‘rubber stamp’ as some have labelled it.”
CSOs kick against confirmation
On his part, co-convener of the Centre for Civil Society (CCS), Comrade Ariyo Dare Atoye who spoke to the Nigerian Tribune, urged the National Assembly to align with Nigerians by voiding the nomination of Onochie, whom he argued had an unfettered allegiance to Mr President and the ruling party.
“The National Assembly exists not in isolation but on behalf of the people to whom our nation’s sovereignty belongs, and therefore it must act based on the overriding public concern that Lauretta Onochie is not a fit and proper person to serve in INEC.
“It must be said that Delta State and the South-South have in abundance quality, outstanding, purposeful and professional women who can serve in INEC; hence the National Assembly should write the president to forward another nominee from Delta,” Atoye said.
CUPP to Senate: Toe the path of honour, reject Onochie
The coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) called on the Senate to toe the path of honour by rejecting what it termed a terrible nomination. CUPP, in a statement by its spokesperson, Comrade Mark Adebayo, said the Senate would become an accomplice if it acted to the contrary, accusing the authorities of a third term agenda.
“In the established tradition of the Buhari regime, it has again turned deaf ears to the overwhelming public outcry against the ill-advised nomination of a known supporter of the president as an INEC commissioner.
“Since last year that the nomination of Ms Onochie went public, many socio-political organisations, opinion moulders, civil society organisations and the general public have raised an alarm on the danger a publicly biased individual can unleash on our electoral system and democracy, but typical of this government that runs a near-fascist regime, it has ignored these patriotic calls for restraint on the Onochie nomination,” the CUPP alleged.
The group claimed that Onochie was an APC member and active member of the Buhari campaign groups, adding that she remained vocal in her support for the Buhari administration.
“It is no rocket science to know that Onochie can never be neutral in any election involving her party and her principal’s interests. She can’t be trusted to preside over a free, fair and credible election anywhere and at any level in Nigeria,” the CUPP alleged.
It called on members of the Senate, as the representatives of the people, to save the country’s fledgling democracy by rejecting Onochie’s nomination and reserve for itself a place on the right pages of history and posterity, in case Buhari would not hearken to the citizens’ concerns as he is wont to.
“We call on the Senate to toe the path of honour and reject this terrible nomination by not confirming her nomination. Should the Senate go ahead to confirm Onochie’s nomination, it would become an accomplice.”
Buhari’s tactless in nominating Onochie —JODER
A rights group, Journalists for Democratic Rights (JODER) condemned in strong terms the nomination of Onochie, describing the move as tactless on the part of the Federal Government. It wondered why the government was insisting that the Senate approve a well known ardent supporter of ruling APC and an outstanding defender of the president’s regime for that very sensitive position.
The executive director of JODER, Comrade Adewale Adeoye, expressed the group’s view in a statement, noting that though Onochie had the legitimate right to express her opinion on political participation, “the right she does not have is to use INEC, a public institution, to advance her political preferences which she will certainly do.”
Adeoye, while describing the Buhari regime as tactless in its decision to nominate her for INEC job, posited that there were other positions she could be nominated for if the government wanted to compensate her. “I don’t know why the Federal Government should insist on her. She has been an outstanding defender of President Muhammadu Buhari’s regime. She is a paid staff of the APC. She currently is a political appointee
“The position of INEC commissioner should not be partisan on the line of politics. It does not matter if she carries an APC membership card or not. She has exposed herself as an ardent APC supporter. She portrays herself as opposed to PDP and all the other political parties.
“Of course, she has the legitimate right to express her opinion on political participation. The right she does not have is to use INEC, a public institution to advance her political preferences which she will certainly do.
“The government’s decision is tactless. If the government wants to compensate her, there are other positions she could be nominated for,” he argued.
He argued that if the Senate believed there should be honour in the political process in the country, it ought to know that giving such an appointment to Onochie was a dark spot in coming elections.
“I do not expect the National Assembly to reject her. The lawmakers are largely members of APC. But if they think there should be honour in the political process, giving that appointment to her is a dark spot in coming elections. It’s a warning that the forthcoming elections might be compromised,” Adeoye said.
Also speaking, a lawyer, Wale Obanigba, urged the National Assembly to reject Onochie following the controversies surrounding her nomination. According to Obanigba, “In my own view, we need to strengthen our democratic institutions to be able to build trust and confidence of the people in the electoral process. The appointment of Mrs Lauretta Onochie has generated controversies. Her neutrality, based on her past political views, has raised several concerns from critical stakeholders, and for the sake of trust and confidence. I will admonish the Senate to set aside partisanship and reject her nomination.”