The Senate has stepped down the confirmation of the Special Assistant to the President on Social Media, Lauretta Onochie, as a National Commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The chamber has reached out to the presidency to replace Onochie, whose nomination has divided senators.
The Presidency is currently weighing its options on her although it can still re-present the nominee depending on political circumstance.
Onochie’s fate is delaying the confirmation of three others on the list submitted to the Senate by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Buhari had on October 13, nominated Onochie and three others as INEC commissioners: Prof. Muhammad Sani Kallah (National, from Katsina State); Prof. Kunle Cornelius Ajayi (Ekiti) and Saidu Babura Ahmad (Resident Electoral Commissioner, REC (Jigawa).
Buhari, in the letter, had said: “Pursuant to Paragraph 14 of Part I (F) of the Third Schedule to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, as amended, I hereby forward for confirmation by the Senate, the appointment of the following four Commissioners for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).”
It was gathered that the Senate committee discovered that Onochie is “greatly partisan based on her conviction that All Progressives Congress (APC) and President Buhari are the best for Nigeria”.
It was learnt that apart from protest by the opposition, some APC senators also agreed that she is “positively partisan” in her devotion to work.
The affected APC senators vowed that they would not back her clearance since a candidate for Resident Electoral Commissioner from Osun State was rejected in similar circumstances.
Findings confirmed that despite her brilliance, most senators do not want Onochie because her confirmation process may “mess up the by-partisan harmony in the Senate.
A senator who spoke in confidence said: “We were able to confirm the allegation of partisanship against Onochie in the course of our checks. Her nomination was faulty from the outset.
“We do not begrudge her for standing by her conviction. But in the light of…, she cannot be a National Commissioner for INEC. A nominee cannot profess bias for politics or any party.
“To avoid heating up the Senate and a likely conflict with the Presidency, we decided to ‘step down’ her confirmation.
“This is a middle course approach which will not embarrass both the presidency and the nominee, whose dossiers are already with the opposition parties, especially the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).”
Responding to a question, the Senator said: “I can confidently tell you that our leadership has got in touch with the presidency on our decision on Onochie. We have asked the presidency to forward another nominee to us.
“We decided to suspend legislative action on the three other nominees on the same list with Onochie in anticipation of the response of the presidency.”
A ranking senator said the chamber was out to protect the integrity of INEC and the 2023 polls.
He said: “Some of us were uncomfortable with Onochie in view of our determination to protect the sanctity of 2023 poll and the integrity of the electoral umpire. If we want a credible poll, the entire process must be flawless.
“Onochie’s nomination and confirmation (if we had gone ahead) will attract many cases in court. We believe the Senate should not look foolish. It is nothing personal against her; we have to abide by the constitution.
“This is the second time we have taken such a decision. In December 2019, the Senate rejected Raheem Muideen, who was nominated by the presidency as a Resident Electoral Commissioner. There was a petition against him on his membership of APC.
“The lesson in this is that the presidency must conduct due diligence before submitting any list of nominees to the Senate. Onochie can be a minister but not INEC National Commissioner.”
A source in the presidency said: “The government is looking at options available to it.”