Some senior lawyers have spoken out about the unfolding drama trailing the nomination and screening of Lauretta Onochie as a commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commission.
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria and human rights activist, Mike Ozekhome, told Sunday PUNCH that Onochie’s nomination for INEC job was faulty, because of her affiliation with the ruling All Progressives Congress and being a diehard devotee of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.).
Ozekhome said, “Have they ever read the constitution? Do they know the meaning of the word ‘independent’ attached to our electoral umpire? What would you expect from such a rabidly partisan woman other than outright and unbridled rigging of any elections she presides over, or is involved in? She is simply a direct participant and beneficiary in any such elections. No one has been known to fail himself or herself in an examination in which such a person is student, invigilator, marker, examiner and marks awarder.”
Ozekhome, however, said he would not be surprised if, despite widespread criticisms, the Senate goes ahead to confirm Onochie for the job.
The SAN argued that by confirming Onochie, the Ahmad Lawan-led Senate would only be reinforcing itself as “arguably the worst in Nigeria’s legislative history since the golden days of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Dr. Nwafor Orizu and the Eighth National Assembly.”
In a separate interview with Sunday PUNCH, Remi Olatubora (SAN) described Onochie as “the most unqualified person for INEC job, given her obvious partisanship in favour of the APC and the President in the last few years.”
The SAN added that if a recent affidavit which Onochie deposed to, affirming her membership of the ruling APC was true, her claim before the Senate that she was no longer an APC member would amount to perjury, which, he warned, is a grievous criminal offence.
Olatubora said, “One, if she was no longer a member of APC as she presently claimed but deposed to an affidavit that she is a member, she committed perjury. Perjury is one of the most serious offences in the Nigerian criminal law, because it directly subverts administration of justice.
“Two, if she is still a member of the APC and she testified to the contrary before the Senate of the Federal Republic, she has committed perjury and criminal contempt in the face of the parliament of the Federal Republic.”
Ifedayo Adedipe (SAN) ascribed the situation to the alleged lack of respect that the present administration has for public opinion.
He said, “It speaks to the fact that Buhari has a low opinion of Nigerians and is very contemptuous of public opinion. Otherwise, that woman ought not to be nominated at all. She is partisan, no doubt about that.”
Adedipe stated that it was not a crime for Lauretta Onochie to be a member of the APC, however, the INEC role requires non-partisanship.
“She is a member of the APC. That is not a crime; but the constitution expects that whoever will be a member of the INEC would be non-partisan,” he said.
Adedipe also added that the Nigerian Senate had not acted well in the matter.
“I do not know how the Senate would have considered it appropriate to invite her for screening. They would have asked the president to give them someone else.
“As it is, INEC is not free of controversies, then you now add Onochie to it. That would be dangerous.
“I do not support her nomination and find her denial of being a member of the APC quite telling,” he added.
Recall that The PUNCH had reported that the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, had asked the Senate Committee on INEC to screen Onochie and five others as INEC Commissioners.