DON'T MISS : Talking Africa Podcast – Mozambique's insurgency: After Palma, what comes next?

Nigeria: Furor as Buhari picks close aide Onochie as Delta State electoral commissioner

By Nwokoye Mpi
Posted on Friday, 25 June 2021 17:54, updated on Monday, 13 September 2021 16:43

Independent National Electoral Commission workers are seen during the Nigeria's governorship and state assembly election at the Gwarinpa ward in Abuja, Nigeria 9 March 2019. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

The credibility of the 2023 national elections in Nigeria is at stake in a row triggered by President Muhammadu Buhari’s nomination of Lauretta Onochie, a supporter of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), as commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Delta State.

Opposition parties and civic activists say Onochie candidacy’s must be withdrawn because the law states clearly that political party members are barred from serving as electoral commissioners. Some oppositionists suggest Onochie’s appointment could be part of a bigger plan by the ruling APC to rig national elections in 2023.

“We are beginning to suspect there is a deliberate attempt at undermining the institution of INEC,” said Ernest Ereke, programme manager at YIAGA Africa Centre for Legislative Engagement. “There is a deliberate effort to ensure that INEC is not neutral, is partisan, and that INEC takes decisions in favour of a particular political party.”

Ereke adds that President Buhari’s nomination of Onochie for commissioner at INEC clearly breaches the constitutional provisions on elections. Onochie’s appointment is still more contentious because of her role as social-media adviser to President Buhari since 2015, in which she has criticised opposition politicians relentlessly.

Fight against Onochie’s appointment

If confirmed, she would become an electoral commissioner in Delta State, at the heart of the country’s oil-producing region which is likely to see one of the hardest-fought elections in the country in 2023. The senate, in which the governing party has a comfortable majority, screened Onochie for the INEC post on 6 June, after President Buhari nominated her for the position eight months earlier.

Deputy senate president, Ovie Omo-Agege, is from Delta State; and as a senior member of the APC, he is determined to see his party win the state in 2023. And the fight against Onochie’s appointment looks set to continue.

Monday Ubani, a former vice president of the Nigerian Bar Association, submitted a petition to the senators in Abuja, pointing out that Onochie was an “unapologetic member” of the APC. “If they go ahead to confirm her? It’s simple, I’ll seek judicial redress,” he tells The Africa Report.

A group of 10 civil society organisations added weight to Ubani’s call, in a separate petition to the senate. “We contend that her appointment will greatly undermine the neutrality and impartiality of INEC and it will increase mistrust in the INEC and Nigeria’s electoral process,” it says.

‘Circulating fake news’

Opposition leaders say Onochie is one of the most aggressive and hyper-partisan of the President’s media aides. Ahead of the 2019 presidential election, she was at the forefront of Buhari’s re-election campaign, and civic activists accuse her of circulating fake news about opposition candidates:

  • In December 2018, Onochie circulated photos on social media alleging that opposition party candidate Atiku Abubakar was sharing cash and food at a rally in Sokoto. A fact check showed that the photos were from a year earlier when a Lagos-based charity organisation distributed food and money to people in the state.
  • Onochie shared a photo on social media of road construction in Rwanda, claiming it was one of Buhari’s achievements.

Onochie is also a British citizen and stood for election as local councillor in Britain in 2010.

That record, along with her membership of Nigeria’s APC, should rule out her candidacy for INEC, the civil society petition says.

“The senate of the federal republic, all the members swore to uphold the tenets and provisions of our constitution. One is that she’s not qualified by virtue of Section 156 of the constitution which requires that a member of the commission must not be a card-carrying member of a political party,” says Ereke, one of the authors of the petition.

“And we know that Lauretta Onochie is a member of a political party. Again, if you go to Section 66, it bars her from serving on the commission of INEC for the fact that she already pledged allegiance to another nation other than Nigeria. So are we going to be sacrificing our national interest on the altar of partisan politics?”

Kola Ologbondiyan, national spokesman for the main opposition party, the People’s Democratic Party, called on its members in the national assembly to block Onochie’s confirmation. “The Buhari administration have shown that they have no modicum of shame when it comes to electoral issues,” he told This Day newspaper.

“How can President Buhari nominate Onochie, who is a card-carrying member of the party, as a member of INEC to become a national commissioner? […] She is a card-carrying member, a registered member of APC as an umpire in INEC in the 2023 general election. What are they telling us? Are they telling us that there would be no election in 2023?”

Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.

View subscription options