Deji Elumoye in Abuja
The Senate Committee on Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) yesterday screened President Muhammadu Buhari’s Personal Assistant on Social Media, Ms. Lauretta Onochie, for the position of national commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
However, there was a disagreement among members of the Senate Committee on INEC over the nomination.
Onochie, whose nomination has raised controversy over her alleged partisanship and for being a member of the All Progressives Congress (APC), denied her membership of the ruling party three times before the Senate committee.
This was despite the fact that she deposed to an affidavit in an Abuja High court in June 2021 affirming her membership of APC.
The Senate Committee on INEC, headed by Senator Kabiru Gaya, screened Onochie along with five other nominees whose names were sent to the Senate for confirmation on October 12, 2020, by Buhari.
Nominees screened along with Onochie were Prof. Muhammad Kallah (Katsina), Prof. Kunle Ajayi (Ekiti), Mr. Saidu Ahmad (Jigawa), Prof. Sani Adam (North-central) and Dr. Baba Bila (North-east).
Addressing the committee, Onochie initially admitted to being a card-carrying member of APC, adding that she ceased being a member after Buhari was re-elected in 2019.
She said: “I have learned over the years to stand with the constitution and due process but not on partisanship or sentiments. Since 2019, I have not had anything to do with any political organisation, including Buhari support groups. When APC was doing re-validation of party members, I did not take part in that exercise.
“As I’m sitting down here, I’m not a member of any political party in this country. I’ve no partisanship in my blood. I have seen many petitions against my nomination not only from the PDP but also from some APC members. I’m not partisan. They know. It is about the law. No one has any reason to fear for my nomination as INEC commissioner representing Delta.
“As far as I’m concerned, I’m madam due process. That’s why all the attacks. I follow due process; I follow the law.”
However, an affidavit dated 30th June 2021, she swore to at an FCT High Court, attached to one of the petitions against her, contradicted her claims.
She deposed to the affidavit at the court in a case involving her as plaintiff and Emeka Ugwuonye (defendant).
Onochie in her witness statement on oath said: “That I am also engaged in active politics and a member of Neighbourhood Watch and has also contested the local government elections under the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom. I am also a member of the All Progressives Congress and a volunteer at the Buhari Support Organisation.”
Onochie told the committee that Mrs. May Agbamuche-Mbu, a serving INEC National Commissioner from Delta State is actually representing Cross River on the board of the electoral body.
Senators Ifeanyi Ubah, Seriake Dickson, Istifanus Gyang, and Ike Ekweremadu, in their separate questions, asked Onochie again to confirm her membership of the APC, but three times, she disavowed the ruling party.
However, a suggestion by Senator Opeyemi Bamidele (Ekiti Central) that Onochie be placed on oath after she denied her APC membership was supported by Senator Lawal Gumau (Bauchi South).
But two PDP senators, Ekweremadu and Dickson, who objected on the ground that doing so will breach Senate rules that do not allow any nominee to be put on oath during screening.
Gaya upheld their objections, saying Onochie would not be placed on oath so as not to run afoul of the Senate rules.
Gaya subsequently adjourned the proceedings and said the report of his panel would be submitted to the Senate next week.
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