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Lauretta Onochie: Nigeria’s democracy has an alarming problem

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Long derided as a rubberstamp of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government, a tag that’s proven to be well-earned, Nigeria’s 9th Senate is set to face one of its most important tests this week.

The upper legislative chamber of the National Assembly tried a dodge last year when the president first nominated his personal assistant of six years to a very influential position in one of the country’s most crucial agencies.

The nomination was allowed to gather dust while the Senate leadership reportedly quietly pushed the president to reverse his obscene decision and name a replacement.

But this is Buhari we’re talking about here, so, of course, he pressed last month on his request for his own media aide to occupy such a delicate non-partisan position.

Much of the critical reception of the nomination has been wrapped around the fact that Onochie is clearly partisan and immediately pollutes the air of integrity needed to occupy the position.

She has in the past been deeply involved in the activities of the All Progressives Congress (APC), and very publicly attacked the party’s opponents and political figures.

In the lead up to the 2019 presidential election, she spread a fake story that an opposition candidate, Atiku Abubakar, shared food plus a cash handout of N500 to potential voters alongside a misleading photo.

That post, which she never deleted or apologised for, typifies the nature of her provocative attacks on opposition parties and politicians, and not just in the line of her duty to the president, but to the APC.

This was a lie, as tweets she posted in June 2020 in regards to the APC’s internal crisis, at the time, have shown.

And even if those tweets were to be discarded and Onochie taken at her word, she presented no evidence that she officially resigned her previous card-carrying membership of the APC post-2019 election.

Her convenient explanation was that she never participated in the APC’s membership revalidation that took place earlier this year; but since she didn’t officially resign from the party, it means she was a card-carrying member when Buhari first announced her nomination last October.

It’s that simple.

The problem the confirmation of Onochie poses is immediately obvious – a lack of trust in a system that should be reasonably above suspicion, a problem it already struggles with.

Whatever she does as an INEC official would be tainted by her partisan history, and a lack of public trust that she can suddenly reverse that very public history.

This very problem has already been played out around the 2019 presidential election when Nigerians were outraged by the involvement of INEC Commissioner, Amina Zakari, who is related to Buhari through marriage.

Even though she had been appointed by a previous government, and even served as INEC’s acting chairman for a brief period, her appointment as the Chairperson of INEC Advisory Committee and Presidential Election Collation Center Committee was a contentious moment before the polls.

And the bigger picture for the danger that the confirmation of Onochie’s nomination would pose to Nigeria’s democracy is the precedence it creates.

If someone with Onochie’s very public history of partisanship is confirmed by the Senate, it would open the floodgates for such similar problematic appointments to be made in the future.

The provocative nature of this appointment has confused just as much as it has worried many critics and regular Nigerians.

It almost feels like some deliberate attempt to unsettle the country’s democratic foundations for whatever sinister reason escapes the unsuspecting mind.

That Buhari who repeatedly vows commitment to progressive electoral reform would stick his neck out for such a disquieting nomination is an odious betrayal of his words.

But this is not exactly out of character for a government that has consistently said things that are actually the opposite of the reality Nigerians could see and feel.

Onochie brings with her a lot of baggage that can do irreparable damage to the trajectory that Nigeria’s fragile democracy takes, and that must not be allowed to happen despite how bleak things already appear.

At some point this week, 109 senators will have the opportunity to vote ‘Aye’ or ‘Nay’ on the most toxic nomination of President Buhari’s administration.

By no objective measure is Lauretta Onochie fit to be confirmed as a National Commissioner of INEC.

This week’s vote must be a resounding ‘Nay’.

Pulse Editor’s Opinion is the viewpoint of an Editor at Pulse. It does not represent the opinion of the organisation Pulse.