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Needless moral burden

by Bioreports


APPOINTMENTS under the executive presidential system is an often-flaunted prerogative of an incumbent, even where specific instances of the exercise of that prerogative may be controversial and obviously informed by self-serving considerations by the appointer. A classic case is the nomination of conservative judge Amy Coney Barrett to the United States Supreme Court by President Donald Trump, barely four weeks before the 3rd  November presidential poll in that country. Republican Trump nominated Barrett for congressional confirmation hearings to fill the opening created by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg who recently died. Democrats prefer that he shelve the nomination until after the election, which opinion polls showed them highly favoured to win; but Trump had openly argued that he expects the electoral contest will eventually end up for adjudication by the Supreme Court, and he apparently aims at stacking up the Bench as could potentially strengthen sympathetic disposition towards him. In doing this, he insists on exercising his presidential prerogative of appointment.

We operate the American model in Nigeria, hence President Muhammadu Buhari routinely exercises the executive prerogative of appointment. But as is inherent to that system, the prerogative isn’t always exercised to the satisfaction of all. Sometimes when exercised, you are left wondering if there was any consideration of potential legacy effects. That is the case with the president’s nomination, last week, of his Senior Special Assistant on Social Media, Lauretta Onochie, for Senate confirmation as a National Electoral Commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). In a letter to the Senate, he named Onochie from Delta State alongside Prof. Muhammad Sani Kallah (National Electoral Commissioner), Katsina; Prof. Kunle Cornelius Ajayi (National Electoral Commissioner), Ekiti; and Saidu Babura Ahmad (Resident Electoral Commissioner), Jigawa.

It is awkward that the two major political parties – the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) – have pitched in to milk partisan capital from the ensuing debate; but we must objectively isolate the issues that make Onochie’s nomination for the INEC job inappropriate. The electoral body is a neutral national institution that must be held in trust by fiercely dispassionate individuals with a cold temperament able to insulate them against susceptibility to partisan disposition. That must be why the 1999 Constitution, as amended, provides that members of the commission as well as resident electoral commissioners must be non-partisan and persons of unquestionable integrity. Onochie, by her antecedents and comportment, fall far short of these conditions and would be a heavy moral burden on the commission. She is not only a partisan, she functioned as an ‘attack dog’ of President Buhari – a temperament not suitable for the dispassion required in INEC.  As non-partisan civil society groups have strongly canvassed, her presence in the electoral body would be a moral burden and could reverse gains made in the electoral process. These should be avoided.

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