Applauding President Muhammadu Buhari for listening to the voices of Nigerians by dropping his extremely partisan senior Aide Ms. Lauretia Onochie as National Commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commission and replacing her by renewing the appointment of a versatile constitutional lawyer May Agbamuche, the Senate has been asked to confirm the nominees.
HURIWA said the acceptance of the voice of the people by President Muhammadu Buhari and the eventual dropping of Lauretta Onochie as Commissioner NOMINEE saved the INEC from the imminent implosion that would have followed should President Muhammadu Buhari insisted on foisting such an extremist politician of the All Progressives Congress specie into INEC as National Commissioner.
Besides, the Rights group has also commended President Buhari on the landmark nomination of a longstanding staff of the independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as National Commissioner.
HURIWA said there is already a precedent whereby the President Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government appointed the then Senior Director at the National Human Rights Commission as substantive Executive Secretary in the person of Tony Ojukwu who then went on to bag the professional title of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) in office as head of the HUMAN RIGHTS Commission.
HURIWA recalled that President Muhammadu Buhari had in December last year re-appointed May Agbamuche-Mbu as a National Electoral Commissioner (INEC) for a second term of five years.
His decision was conveyed in a letter to the Senate. The letter was read out by the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, at the start of plenary on Tuesday.
In the letter, the president appointed five other national electoral commissioners and a resident electoral commissioner. He sought Senate confirmation of the nominees.
The nominees are National Commissioners and Resident Electoral Commissioner for INEC Mohammed Haruna (Niger State, North Central) – National Commissioner, May Agbamuche-Mbu (Delta State) – National Commissioner and Okeagu Nnamdi (Abia State, South East) – National Commissioner.
Others are Maj. Gen. A.B. Alkali (Adamawa State, North East) – National Commissioner, Rada Gumus (Bayelsa State, South South) – National Commissioner, and Sam Olumekun (Ondo State, South West) – National Commissioner. Also appointed was Olaniyi Ijalaye (Ondo State, South West) as Resident Electoral Commissioner.
Ms Agbamuche-Mbu, whose first tenure expired in September, was in acting capacity when the president appointed Lauretta Onochie to take her place. Ms Onochie, currently a presidential aide, was appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari in October 2020 as an INEC commissioner to represent Delta State.
Ms Onochie’s controversial appointment had generated public outcry from individuals, civic groups and opposition parties who wrote petitions, staged protests and called on the Senate to reject it.
HURIWA disclosed that many described the appointment as unconstitutional – majorly because she is partisan and had openly campaigned for the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). Although she had told the Senate committee on INEC that she quit politics in 2019 and that she was no longer partisan – a claim which turned out to be false, she was, however, rejected by the Senate in July. The basis for her rejection was, however, not her partisanship.
HURIWA recalled the Senate had said her appointment was rejected because “it breaches the federal character principle.” “In the case of Ms Onochie’s…the Committee, bound by the provisions of Section 14(3) of the 1999 Constitution on Federal Character Principle… the Senate may wish to recall that in 2016, the Senate based on the recommendation of its INEC Committee confirmed Barr. May Agbamuche-Mbu from Delta State as a National Commissioner in INEC, who is still serving.
“…Confirming the nomination of Ms. Lauretta Onochie from the same Delta State will be a violation of the Federal Character Principle. Therefore, based on the provisions of Section 14(3) of the Constitution…and in order for the Committee and the Senate to achieve fairness to other states and political zones in the county, the Committee is unable to recommend Ms Lauretta Onochie for confirmation as a National Electoral Commissioner for INEC but would rather recommend to the Senate to request that the President makes another nomination,” the report read.
The Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria said the Fifty-six-year-old Ukeagu is the first serving or even retired INEC employee to be appointed as National Commissioner since the Commission was created in 1999.
Ukeagu, from Abia State, aside being a sociologist, has acquired many training in electoral management both within and outside Nigeria, including in the U.S, the bastion of democracy. His career in INEC spans over 30 years, cutting his teeth as a member of the National Youth Service Corps in the Commission from where he rose through the ranks to become an electoral manager especially in electoral logistics.
He worked on several election rounds as Electoral Logistics Officer at the INEC Headquarters, Abuja.
He was Director Logistics in Electoral Operations and used his technical experience and electoral managerial skills to assist to ensure the smooth conduct of general elections in 2011, 2015, and 2019.
To his credit, Mr. Ukeagu developed logistics plans for procurement and delivery of materials required for electoral activities including those used in 2003 general elections.
HURIWA recalled that National Commissioner nominee Mr. Ukeagu also developed the transportation plan for the nationwide deployment of men and materials for the conduct of voters’ registration exercise and the 2003 general elections. Ukeagu designed ballot papers and result sheets used for the conduct of the 2007 general elections and successfully handled deployment of men and materials for the elections.
He also developed Advisory Architecture for securing men and materials deployed for the 2007, 2010 and 2015 general elections.
He introduced customisation of ballot papers and result sheets deployed for the 2011 and 2015 General Elections.
This innovation reduced time spent in result management at the end of polling as well as cost of materials as they were produced to reflect the actual number of political parties participating in the elections.
HURIWA has therefore endorsed the decision of the President and tasked the National Assembly to confirm them so preparation for next Year’s most important election can kick-off without further delay just as the Rights group said it believes that the Electoral Act can also be signed into law immediately.