A coalition of civil society organizations (CSOs) urged the Federal High Court in Abuja to overturn President Muhammadu Buhari’s appointment of Lauretta Onochie as national commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The plaintiffs, in their complaint filed on July 6, 2021, challenge the Senate’s “dismissal, consideration, selection and possible confirmation” of Ms Onochie for the post on the grounds that she is “a well-known member of the ‘All Progressives Congress (APC) and currently as President Buhari’s personal social media assistant.
Citing various constitutional provisions prohibiting card-holding members from being appointed or appointed to serve in the electorate, the plaintiffs asked the court to declare Ms Onochie’s appointment as INEC commissioner as “unjustified, illegal, null and void ”, and prayed that“ the same should be set aside ”.
They pointed out that the Nigerian constitution “expressly prohibits the president from appointing a person involved in partisan politics as a national commissioner or resident election commissioner of the Independent National Election Commission.”
The nine plaintiffs, in the suit marked FHC / ABJ / CS / 604, are: the International Press Center (IPC), the Center for Disabled Citizens (CCDC), the Nigerian Women Trust Fund (NWTF) and the Foundation Albino (AF).
The others are the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Center (CISLAC), the Center for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID) and YIAGA Africa Initiative.
They sued President Buhari, the Attorney General of the Federation, the Nigerian Senate, and Kabiru Gaya, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on INEC, respectively 1st to 4th defendants.
Mr Buhari had, in a letter to the National Assembly, called on lawmakers to approve Ms Onochie’s appointment as commissioner to the electoral arbitrator.
Ms Onochie’s candidacy for the top INEC post has sparked an uproar among Nigerians over allegations that the former is a staunch supporter of the ruling APC.
A PREMIUM TIMES report exposed how Ms Onochie declared under oath in a lawsuit she filed in 201t and amended in 2017 that she is a member of the APC and a volunteer with the Buhari Support Organization (BSO), a network of avid supporters of the interests Mr. Buhari’s policies.
The complaint filed by the nine plaintiffs is the culmination of widespread public outrage that greeted the news of President Buhari’s appointment of Ms. Onochie.
Their lawyers, Justin Chuwang and Akintayo Balogun, also cited Articles 1 (3), 154 (1), 14 (2) (a) and 14 (3) (3) (b) of the 3rd Schedule to the Constitution of Nigeria. like article 146 of the 2010 electoral law, opposing his appointment.
“She cannot be fair and impartial”
In their affidavit filed in support of the lawsuit, the plaintiffs asserted that with respect to the appointment of Ms. Onochie, she lacked the moral capacity to be appointed to a sensitive position in an electoral arbitrator who is believed to have integrity as one of its characteristics.
“Ms. Onochie cannot be a fair and impartial arbiter to sit on the Independent National Electoral Commission,” reads part of the affidavit filed by Ezenwa Nwagwu, member of the board of directors of YIAGA Africa, one of the nine complainants.
The plaintiffs included in their action the proceedings initiated by Ms. Onochie in her 2016 action declaring under oath to be a member of the APC and involved in active politics.
“Disinformation, denigrating attacks against opposition figures”
The affidavit chronicled Onochie’s social media posts “designed to denigrate members of opposition political parties.”
“That his criticisms and his constant denigration of political opponents do not allow these opponents to be comfortable seeing a member of another political party presiding as a supposedly impartial arbiter.
“That on the basis of the various unfounded, fanatic and inaccurate activities of Ms. Lauretta Onochie, especially on social networks, she is not a person of integrity capable of occupying a sensitive and trustworthy position such as that of national commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commission.
“Let him know as a fact that these factors, which are unfounded, unfounded and false, are obstacles to the confirmation of Ms. Lauretta Onochie as an official of the Independent National Electoral Commission.
“That following the false statements made by Ms. Lauretta Onochie on social networks, she lost goodwill and confidence in the face of well-meaning members of society and Nigerians in general, in particular for an occupant of a sensitive office in the National Commissioner for Independence National Electoral Commission ”, part of the affidavit they filed in support of their action reads.
One of the opposition figures cited by the complainants as having been the target of Ms. Onochie’s attacks on social media is former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) who ran against President Buhari of the APC in the 2019 general election.
“That the statements were so infuriating that the former Vice President was forced to bring a libel suit against Ms Lauretta Onochie in the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory in Abuja, a case still pending before the Honorable Judge Orji of the High Court. of the Federal Capital Territory detained at Apo in Abuja, ”the affidavit reads in part.
The plaintiffs added that since her appointment as the President’s personal assistant on social media, “she has been known to disseminate baseless, false, inaccurate, fanatic and fabricated reports for the sole purpose of presenting the administration of the 1st defendant in a good light some of which is inaccurate.
“That several of Ms Lauretta Onochie’s social media posts in support of the administration of the 1st Respondent (Mr Buhari),” said the plaintiffs, “are known to be false and misleading and have received a strong backlash and condemnation from Nigerians.
“That despite the name of Ms. Lauretta Onochie surfacing in the Senate as the candidate of the 1st Respondent, she has not been disengaged from the services of the 1st Respondent and is now seeking to be confirmed as National Commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commission », They declared. added.
The plaintiffs sought, among other things, a perpetual injunction order prohibiting Mr. Buhari from appointing Ms. Onochie and any other card-holder or members of the APC or any other political party in Nigeria as national commissioner of INEC.
They also asked for a perpetual injunction order prohibiting the Senate and the Senate Committee on INEC “from referring, examining, screening, deliberating or confirming the appointment of Ms. Lauretta Onochie, a well-known member of the All Progressive Congress and current personal assistant. on social networks to the 1st Respondent (Buhari) as National Commissioner or Resident Election Commissioner for the Independent National Electoral Commission, by the 3rd and 4th Respondents, or any other post of the Independent National Electoral Commission.
In addition, they sought a mandatory injunction from the 2nd defendant (AGF) “to ensure the compliance of the 1st, 3rd and 4th defendants with the orders of the honorable court issued in this procedure”.
Meanwhile, the lawsuit has yet to go to a judge for hearing.
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