months after President Muhammadu Buhari forwarded the nomination of his Special Assistant on Social Media, Lauretta Onochie to the Senate for confirmation as a national commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the Red Chamber is yet to commence legislative work on the request.
Onochie’s fate is delaying the confirmation of three other INEC nominees submitted to the Senate.
President Buhari had, on October 12, nominated Onochie (Delta), Professor Muhammad Sani Kallah (Katsina) and Professor Kunle Cornelius Ajayi (Ekiti) as national commissioners of the INEC. He also nominated Saidu Babura Ahmad as a resident electoral commissioner (Jigawa).
Buhari, in an executive communication to Senate President Ahmad Lawan, stated that his request was pursuant to Paragraph 14, part I (f) of the Third Schedule to the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended.
Apart from reading Buhari’s letter on the floor of the Senate, the nomination has not been referred to the Committee on INEC for screening.
As is customary, after the president’s letter seeking confirmation of nominees is read on the floor of the Senate, the request will be referred to the relevant committees on the next legislative day for further action. the Senate president is yet to act on Onochie’s nomination, with sources saying it was due to the thunderous outrage that trailed her appointment.
The chairman, Senate Committee on INEC, Senator Kabiru Gaya (APC, Kano), also confirmed that the names of the four nominees had not been referred to his committee for screening.
Senators, mostly from the leading opposition party and some from the All Progressives Congress (APC) and civil society groups had kicked against her nomination, saying she was “too partisan” to be a commissioner in an important institution like INEC.
Opposition senators said that by nominating Onochie, Buhari had “willfully gone against the constitution he swore to uphold,” and urged him to withdraw it.
“Item F, paragraph 14 of the Third Schedule of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) forbids a card carrying member of a political party to be a member of the INEC,’’ Senate Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe, quoted in a short statement.
Also, the National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Kola Ologbondiyan, said the nomination Onochie as INEC national commissioner supported the position of the party that Buhari’s statements “were mere glib talks on electoral sanctity and clearly demonstrates that he has no plans whatsoever to leave a legacy of credible polls.”
Why Senate is yet to act
It was learnt that the Red Chamber decided to suspend legislative action on the three other nominees in anticipation of a response from the presidency.
A top source familiar with the issues surrounding her nomination told Daily Trust on Sunday that Lawan was conscious of the public perception of the Ninth Senate, which critics call a “rubberstamp’’ for always speedily endorsing the executive’s requests.
He said though some senators were contacted to help her scale through the screening, the Senate president is silent on it because acting on Onochie’s nomination “would affect the by-partisan harmony in the Senate.”
Findings revealed that other nominees have been reaching out to some senators to mount pressure on Lawan to refer their nominations to the committee for screening.
The source said, “Apart from reading the executive communication, Lawan has not done anything on it. Who will confirm that kind of nomination? The INEC is an electoral umpire and you are nominating a known aide of the president to be a commissioner there.
“But senators who are close to the three other nominees have been mounting pressure on the Senate president to refer the nominations to the committee and the panel should step down Onochie’s nomination.
“Lawan cares about the public perception of the Senate and has said that the presidency may nominate her for another position.”
On whether Lawan has communicated to the presidency to replace Onochie, the source said the Senate anticipated that its long silence on the request may force the presidency to replace her.
He said, “When the president writes the Senate, after reading the executive communication, the Senate president would refer the nomination to the appropriate committee. The report of the committee will then be considered on the floor, where a resolution on the nomination would be passed.
“The president can write to replace any nominee, irrespective of the stage the screening has reached in the Senate. But the Senate president cannot ask the president to replace any nomination. It is the committee report that the lawmakers will debate and pass a resolution on. I don’t think Lawan wants the committee report to have any negative effect the cordial relationship between both arms. That’s why he has been silent about it.”
How INEC fares without national commissioners
The INEC has 12 national commissioners, two each from the six geopolitical zones. The commission said though there are six national commissioners that are yet to be appointed by the federal government, the commission has a strategy to carry out its activities without the full complement of the commissioners.
National commissioners of the INEC are assigned to oversee some of the states in geopolitical grouping, supervising the resident electoral commissioner in the assigned states.
They also function as chairmen and members of the 15 standing committees.
The INEC standing committees are: Appointment, Promotion and Discipline Committee (APDC), Board of Survey and Technical Equipment Acquisition Committee (BOSTEAC), Board of Electoral Institute (TEI), Election Observation and Party Monitoring Committee (EPMC), Estate, Works and Transport Committee (EWTC), Finance and General Purpose Committee (F&GPC) and Health and Welfare Committee (HWC).
Others are Information Technology and Voter Registration Committee (ITVRC), Information and Voter Education Committee (IVEC), Legal Services and Clearance Committee (LSCC), Operations and Logistics Committee (OLC), Outreach and Partnerships Committee (OPC), Planning, Monitoring and Strategy Committee (PMSC), Security Committee (SC) and Tenders Board (TB).
The Chief Press Secretary to the INEC Chairman, Mr Rotimi Oyekanmi, said the commission currently has six national commissioners.
According to him, six national commissioners are yet to be appointed by the federal government.
“The chairman and the six available national commissioners have ensured that the commission does not suffer any harm. It is not an easy undertaking, but it is not beyond the team.
“Indeed, the commission has, over the years, developed a unique feature of adjusting itself in this kind of situation. This is not the first time the commission is facing this type of scenario, but it has always demonstrated an extraordinary capacity to survive under pressure,” Oyekanmi said.
He, however, said the commission would be glad to have the remaining six national commissioners in place as soon as possible.
The Presidency was silent on Saturday over the delay in the confirmation of Onochie and the other three national commissioners.
Daily Trust sent separate messages to Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, and Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator Babajide Omoworare after phone calls.
The message read: “Four months after President Muhammadu Buhari sent four names to Senate for confirmation as INEC National Commissioners, including his Special Assistant on Social Media, Lauretta Onochie, whose nomination attracted stiff opposition for allegedly being a card-carrying member of APC.
“What’s the Presidency doing to ensure the confirmation of these four nominees whose names were submitted even before that of INEC Chairman? Why the delay and silence over the matter?”
There was no response from the two officials.