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Again! Lawyers’ letter to Senate goes to INEC Committee Chairman,  Kabiru Gaya on Lauretta Onochie

AGAIN! A letter dated Monday 21 June 2021 has gone to the Chairman Senate Committee on Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Senator Kabiru Gaya, on the confirmation of the National Comissionership nominee, Lauretta Onochie,

The letter came barely three days after a letter was sent to the Nigeria’s Senate President Ahmed Lawan, explaining why the conspiracies against the nominee should be dismissed.

Recall that Onochie was nominated by President Muhammadu Buhari.

The lawyers’ letter said the Senate should back her for the electoral body’s all-important position.

This new letter from lawyers of Jackson, Kargbo & Co in Abuja, signed by Samu I P. Kargbo, titled, “RE: APPEAL FOR THE NON-CONFIRMATION OF THE APPOINTMENT OF MRS LAURETTA ONOCHIE AS INEC COMMISSIONER”, was directly sent to the INEC Committee Chairman as a counter to an earlier petition to him by another lawyer, Marcel Dim-Udebuani Agams, a Legal Practitioner and Notary Public who is based in Abuja.

In Agams’ letter, the committee chairman had been urged to use his good offices to reject Mr President’s appointment of Lauretta Onochie as a Commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) but lawyers of Jackson, Kargbo & Co tore the mischief based request from the fellow learned colleague to shreds, as, according to them, such request is not recognised by law.

In the news on Wednesday 23 June 2021, it was reported that in further effort to help the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to be rightly guided as it finally takes the bold step to screen and confirm the President Muhammadu Buhari’s nomination, Lauretta Onochie, among others, as National Commissioner for Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), legal practitioners from YUSUF DANKOFA & CO had written the Senate President, Dr. Ahmed Lawan, in support of the woman of integrity.

This, according to the report published by The DEFENDER, Vanguard, daily Trust, new Telegraph, Citizens Compass and Ashe News, was contained in a letter addressed to the Senate President and titled, “LEGAL ISSUES IN SUPPORT OF PRESIDENT MUHAMMADU BUHARI’S APPOINTMENT OF LAURETTA ONOCHIE AS A NATIONAL COMMISSIONER OF INDEPENDENT NATIONAL ELECTORAL COMMISSION (INEC)”.

The lawyers, according to the letter, said: “We have observed with dismay, the ferocious and atrocious attempts at misleading this august body by some NGOs through some of their petitions against the nominee, which is neither rooted in Law nor Equity.

“Some of the interpretations of the Constitutional provisions on the grounds of their demands are no doubt perverse interpretation of law to suit their prejudices and personal idiosyncrasies.

“We are of the view that keeping quiet in the face of this misleading legal submission by the petitioners will not promote justice, hence this intervention by us,” the letter from YUSUF DANKOFA & CO stated to the Senate President.

In yet another letter, which is one of several legal protest letters now before various levels including INEC Committee of the Senate, Jackson, Kargbo & Co lawyers are saying that there is no reason for the Buhari’s nominee not to be confirmed as INEC National Commissioner and so urging the committee to screen and general house of Senate to confirm her.

The letter read: “This is a response to the letter written to you by Marcel Dim-Udebuani Agams, a Legal Practitioner and Notary Public who is based in Abuja, in which he urged you to use your good offices to reject Mr President’s appointment of Mrs Lauretta Onochie as a CommissiOner of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

“Like others who comfort themselves with the fancy that Mrs Lauretta Onochie could be disqualified from being appointed to the office of a Commissioner of INEC because she is a staff of Mr President, the Petitioner ignored the fundamental fact that your oath of office enjoins you to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and not such adverse sentiments as those against Mrs Lauretta Onichie. It is in that spirit that I implore you to note how the content of the Petitioner’ letter betrayed the confusion and misunderstanding of the role of the Senate in the appointment of Mrs Lauretta Onochie.”

Continuing it said: “The Petitioner made the argument that the appointment of Mrs Lauretta Onochie is against the provisions of Sections 154(3), Paragraphs 14(2)(a) and 14(3)(b) of Part 1 of the Third Schedule to the Constitution and Section 152 of the Electoral Act. Because of his reference to the mentioned paragraphs of the Third Schedule, I guess that The Petitioner also intended to refer to Section 156(1)(a) of the Constitution that provides that:
(1) No person shall be qualified for appointment as a member of any of the bodies aforesaid if – (a) he is not qualified or if he is disqualified for election as a member of the House of Representatives provided that a member of any of these bodies shall not be required to belong to a political party, and in the case of the Independent National Electoral Commission, he shall not be a member of a political party;

“It is also not easy to grasp the relationship between Section 152 of the Electoral Act and Mrs Lauretta Onochie’s appointment. That section provides that: 152. Without prejudice to the other provisions of this Act, the Commission may delegate any of its powers and functions to any National Electoral Commissioner, Resident Electoral Commissioner, Electoral Officer, any other officer of the Commission or any other officer appointed under the provision of this Act subject to any conditions or limitations which it may consider necessary or expedient to impose and no such delegation shall be construed to limit the right of the Commission to exercise such power, itself.

“The Petitioner also made the strange arguments that the appointment of Mrs Lauretta Onochie is repugnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience; that her neutrality cannot be guaranteed; and that she is not only against God but also against humanity.

“In urging you to discountenance The Petitioner’s letter, the following observations are humbly made:

“1. THE PETITIONER’S LETTER IS IN BAD FAITH

“The Petitioner’s letter is a personal one urging you to use your good offices, as Chairman of the Senate Committee on INEC, to scuttle the confirmation of Mrs Lauretta Onochie. The letter and the extensive publicity it has been given constitute an attempt to bear pressure on you to act inappropriately or inauthentically concerning the appointment of Mrs Lauretta Onochie. Anyone who pressures you to adopt values that are external to the letter and spirit of the Constitution in the consideration of the confirmation of Mrs Lauretta Onochie has little or no respect for you and your exalted office.

“2. THE SENATE HAS AN ABIDING DUTY TO PROTECT MRS LAURETTA ONOCHIE FROM DISCRIMINATION BASED ON HER POLITICAL VIEWS AND EMPLOYMENT.

“Section 42(1)(a) of the Constitution provides that: (1) A citizen of Nigeria of a particular community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion shall not, by reason only that he is such a person –
(a) be subjected either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any executive or administrative action of the government, to disabilities or restrictions to which citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religious or political opinions are not made subject.

“So, unless specifically disqualified by the Constitution, Mrs Lauretta Onochie cannot be subjected to extraneous values and standards.

“Section 154(3) provides that: “(3) In exercising his powers to appoint a person as Chairman or member of the Independent National Electoral Commission, National Judicial Council, the Federal Judicial Service Commission or the National Population Commission, the President shall consult the Council of State.”

“The allegation Mrs Onochie’s appointment violates this provision gives the impression that the President did not consult with the Council of State. This is a factual allegation that can only be established by hard facts and not by speculation or any inference of whatever kind. This allegation is not against Mrs Onochie, but against the President, and it will constitute a very grave and dangerous precedent to act on such a very serious allegation without proof.

“Section 156 speaks to membership of a political party and only disqualifies a person who is a member of a political party. The section does not refer to – and does not disqualify – a person who is a staff of Mr President. One does not become a member of a political party by assertion, implication or inference. For instance, to be a member of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Section 9 of the party’s Constitution provides for first an application for membership to the Ward Executives of the Party in the Ward of the Local Government Area where the applicant was born, resides, works or originates. The acceptance of the application is then followed by enrolment in the Register of Party Members in that Ward and payment of the prescribed fees. The membership is completed by the issuance of a Membership Card.

“Any person who claims or alleges that Mrs Lauretta Onochie is a member of the APC or any other party has the burden of proving that allegation through clear and unimpeachable evidence, and not by drawing inferences from her being a Special Adviser to the President or from her political views, no matter how strong.

“You may also note that unlike the appointment of a Minister, Section 151 of the Constitution does not require a person appointed as a Special Adviser to belong to a political party. There is, therefore, no basis for the conclusion that her appointment is based on her membership of the APC.

“May it also be noted that Paragraphs 14(2)(a) and 14(3)(b) of Part 1 of the Third Schedule to the Constitution do nOt stand alone or separate from Section 156(1)(1) of the Constitution; rather they are an amplification of what Section 156(1)(a) strives to prevent, and that is favouring one political party against another because of one’s membership of the other party. What is prohibited is the open membership of a political party in opposition to another political party.

“Irrespective of the slant or narrative, what is in issue is whether or not Mrs Lauretta Onochie is a card-carrying member of the APC or any other political party. Until those urging the Senate to reject her appointment present concrete evidence of her memebrship of a political party, rejecting her appointment will be a flagrant abuse of her fundamental right of freedom from discrimination as enshrined in Section 42 of the Constitution.

“3. MRS LAURETTA ONOCHIE’S DEFENCE OF THE POLICIES OF THE GOVERNMENT

“May it be noted that Mrs Onochie is not an employee or adviser to the APC or any political party but an adviser to the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. In her role, she assists Mr President in carrying out his functions in the area assigned to her. In doing her job, she sometimes defends the policies and views of the Government. That should not, in any way, make her partisan or a member of the APC. Indeed, there are many public analysts out there who sometimes support, criticize or oppose Government policies and stands on issues. Their stand does not make them partisan or members of either the All Progressives Congress (APC) or any of the opposition parties.

“The framers of the constitution have, in their wisdom, taken away the job of Special Advisers from partisan politics, by not requiring a person to belong to a political party or even be confirmed by the Senate, because of the realization that the President would, one way or the other, require the services of professionals outside political party influence. The requirement for the National Assembly to set out by law or resolution the number of such Advisers and their remuneration is to control cost and not limit the discretion of the President to source such Advisers at his pleasure.

“In summary, if the Constitution had wanted to disqualify a Special Adviser from being nominated as a Commissioner of INEC, it would have done so as it has done to Ministers and members of the National Assembly.

“4. THE CLAIM THAT THE APPOINTMENT OF MRS LAURETTA ONOCHIE IS REPUGNANT TO NATURAL JUSTICE EQUITY AND GOOD CONSCIENCE

“This allegation is not rooted in Section 156(1)(a) or any other provision of the Constitution, and should be discountenanced. It is trite that whereas in this case, the Constitution sets the condition for the disqualification of a person, not even the National Assembly or a State House of Assembly can alter that condition in any way, directly or indirectly. It is, therefore, utterly ridiculous to suggest that Mrs Onochie could be disqualified based on an indeterminable repugnancy claim.

“THE CLAIMS THAT THE NEUTRALITY OF MRS ONOCHIE CANNOT BE GUARANTEED AND THAT SHE IS BOTH AGAINST GOD AND HUMANITY ARE FRIVOLOUS, VEXATIOUS AND ABUSIVE.

“The claims that her neutrality cannot be guaranteed and that she is against God and humanity are made for annoying and exposing Mrs Onochie to public ridicule and opprobrium. Such frivolous, vexatious and abusive claims ought to be condemned.

“6. CONCLUSION
May you discountenance Mr Agam’s Petition and give Mrs Lauretta Onochie a fair day at the Screening.

“Long Live the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Long Live the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” Samu I P. Kargbo, the legal practitioner listed all details and facts in the letter to Senate INEC Committee Chairman, Senator Kabiru Gaya.

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