By Cosmas Omegoh
Controversy has many hues. And President Muhammadu Buhari’s Personal Assistant on Social Media, Lauretta Onochie, knows many of its shades.
Last Tuesday, October 12, President Buhari added to the avalanche of controversies trailing Onochie’s steps when he nominated her as an Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) commissioner.
In a letter the president transmitted to the Senate, he requested that Onochie be confirmed to represent the South-south zone. Three other persons: Prof Mohammed Sani from Katsina State, Prof Kunle Ajayi from Ekiti State and Seidu Ahmed from Jigawa State were also nominated.
However, Onochie’s name instantly raised a lot of dust in the political space. Many are outraged by her nomination, maintaining it is another Buhari goof – a needless breach of the constitution.
Opponents of Onochie’s nomination are unrelenting in their belief that it is a brutal assault on the nation’s psyche and democracy. They are insistent that she is a card-carrying member of the APC in her Onicha-Olona ward in Delta State. They are certain she cannot be non-partisan in discharging her duties as an electoral umpire. They are equally certain that nothing will change as she will still remain a die-hard supporter of Buhari and a secret sympathiser of APC.
At the moment, over 70 civil society organisations, eminent lawyers and individuals have taken up the gauntlet against the Buhari move. They want Mr President to rescind his decision. And where he refuses – as he might want to – they want the Senate to throw out Onochie’s nomination so as to restore confidence in Nigeria’s electoral future.
The People’s Democratic Party was the first to fire the salvo. Its National Publicity Secretary, Mr Kola Ologbondiyan, said: “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 election.
“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.”
While urging President Buhari to withdraw Onochie’s nomination, a coalition, Alliance on Surviving COVID-19 and Beyond (ASCAB), led by rights lawyer, Mr Femi Falana (SAN), recalled that “pursuant to Section 154 (1) of the Constitution, the appointment of the members of the Independent National Electoral Commission shall be subject to confirmation by the Senate, paragraph 14 of Part 1 of the Third Schedule to the Constitution as amended by Section 30, Act No 1 of 2010, a member of the Independent National Electoral Commission shall be non-partisan.”
Similarly, a civil society organisation, Concerned Nigerians Group (CNG), has written to the Senate, urging the rejection of Onochie as nominee for the INEC job.
CNG’s convener, Comrade Deji Adeyanju said: “We find President Muhammadu Buhari’s appointment of his Personal Assistant on Social Media, Lauretta Onochie, as INEC commissioner from Delta State to be a reprehensible attempt to destroy the integrity and independence of Nigeria’s electoral commission.
“Lauretta Onochie is an openly partisan, card-carrying member of the APC, Nigeria’s ruling party, who constantly attacks and denigrates critics of the ruling party.
“Her appointment (nomination) is in violation of Paragraph 14 of Part 1 of the Third Schedule to the Constitution as amended by Section 30, Act No 1 of 2010, (stating that) a member of the Independent National Electoral Commission ‘shall be non-partisan.’”
In the same vein, Mr Clement Nwankwo, the convener of Situation Room, a civil society organsiation, in a statement said that the nomination attempts to weaken efforts at building a credible electoral process in the country.
He noted that in the 1999 Constitution, Paragraph 14 is against a “partisan politician” being a member of an electoral body like INEC.
While describing the nomination as a “self-serving interest,” he urged the Senate to jettison the idea should the president fail to withdraw it.
“The Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room is concerned about the nomination of Ms. Lauretta Onochie, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Social Media as national commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) representing the South-south.
“Ms. Onochie is a known partisan supporter of President Muhammadu Buhari and his ruling party, the APC.
“Item F, Paragraph 14 of the Third Schedule of 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as amended) forbids a partisan politician as a member of INEC – a body charged under the Constitution to unbiasedly conduct of free and fair elections,” he pointed out.
The Senate Minority caucus also lamented that the president flouted the nation’s constitution with the appointment of his aide as a national commissioner of the INEC.
Represented by Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, the Senate caucus demanded the withdrawal of Onochie’s nomination from Buhari.
Not left out in the push to get Onochie out of the way is onetime Senator, Dino Melaye. Everyone of them is insisting that the action of the president remains unconstitutional.
However, some analysts in muffled voices have argued that although Onochie is a partisan person, once she assumes duty, she would shield her partisan toga. They contended that some unnamed persons who were known to be sympathetic to the PDP had at some point, turned around to become electoral umpires.
But whether Onochie would remain non-partisan and inspire the right confidence in the electoral process going forward remains unclear.
Many who have followed Onochie since 2016 when she was appoint to her present position, agreed that she readily became President Buhari’s attack dog, treading on tough turfs, where even angels would not dare.
Always active on the social media, her several tweets attacking perceived enemies of her principal come through always as pungent as they are corrosive.
Many would agree that when Onochie is not stoking the embers of controversy, controversy itself is staring her in the face.
Those who know would also agree that she is such a unique woman – nay – a unique personality on account of her carriage and conduct – abusive, audacious, bold, brash, cantankerous, cerebral, controversial, elegant, indecorous, fearless, provocative and more.
In one of her controversial tweets, she lampooned Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, calling him “buffoon” for calling for President Buhari’s resignation for allegedly failing to tackle the wave of insecurity in the country. She tweeted: “Security issues are sad concerns around the world, including Nigeria.
“Buffoon Enyinnaya Abaribe, telling Nigerians to ‘pick stones to stone THEM’, is out of order! It’s a call for anarchy”.
Onochie hails from Onicha-Olona in Aniocha North Local Government Area of Delta State.
She is said to be a trained pastor, having attended a Bible college in Calabar, Cross River State.
She is a mother, grandmother, an academic and behaviour deficiency correctional expert.
Onochie attended University of Calabar where she studied Elementary Education and University of Benin where she took a degree in Business Education.
She also graduated with a post-graduate degree in Post Compulsory Education and Training (PCET) from the University of Greenwich, in UK. Thereafter, she enrolled in two certificate programmes at Harvard University, one in Humanitarian Response to Conflict and Disaster and Health Effects of Climate Change.
She was said to be lecturing in UK before she was appointed as President Buhari’s first female assistant.