A Professor of Law, Yusuf Dankofa, Ph.D, has written a letter to the Senate President and Chairman of the Senate Committee on Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) supporting President Muhammadu Buhari’s appointment of Lauretta Onochie as National Commissioner,Independent National Electoral Commission,INEC.
The Professor faulted all the grounds upon which critics have opposed Onochie’s appointment.
He 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.”
Read the full text of the letter obtained by Newsdiaryonline below:
21 June 2021
The Senate President
Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
3 Arms Zone Abuja
Federal Capital Territory
Senate Committee on Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC).
National Assembly,3 Arms Zone Abuja.
LEGAL ISSUES IN SUPPORT OF PRESIDENT MUHAMMADU BUHARI’S APPOINTMENT OF LAURETTA ONOCHIE AS A NATIONAL COMMISSIONER OF THE INDEPENDENT NATIONAL ELECTORAL COMMISSION(INEC)
We are Legal Practitioners based in the above address with interests in Human Rights Law and Practice, Constitutionalism and Public Interests Advocacy. It is upon the above premise that we forward this letter to you being our own contributions towards the discourse and conversation surrounding the submission of Ms Lauretta Onochie’s name for confirmation as a Commissioner in INEC by Mr. President.
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 the law to suit their prejudices and personal idiosyncrasies. We are of this view that keeping quiet in the face of this misleading legal submissions by the petitioners will not promote the end of justice, hence this intervention by us. We therefore submit as follows:
One of the grounds that some of the Petitioners proffered against the nomination of Mrs Lauretta Onochei is that she has dual citizenship. They argued that she is a British Citizen and has over the years been involved in active politics in the UK and has even contested and lost elections in the UK. To them the mere fact that she holds dual citizenship makes her unfit to hold such a sensitive office and that as a Nigerian and UK citizen, she is obligated to demonstrate loyalty to both countries. Her dual loyalty therefore will undermine national interests and could potentially threatened the independence of INEC
With all sense of professionalism, we emphatically assert that this is not only incorrect, it has no basis under our jurisprudence. It is axiomatic that a Nigerian with dual citizenship can contest for any election in Nigeria or given appointment to hold any office in Nigeria. There have always been deep misconceptions about eligibility of these categories of Nigerians to contest for elections or be appointed into offices either political or otherwise in Nigeria.
To resolve this logjam, the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) on citizenship must be examined. Section 28 of the constitution clearly provides that a person that is a Nigerian citizen by birth can have dual citizenship and be a citizen of another country. It is only a Nigerian citizen by naturalisation or registration who is also a citizen of another country that loses his citizenship of Nigeria. Thus the key determinant here is citizenship by birth. A person that is a citizen of Nigeria by birth can afford to have another citizenship from another county and this will not jeopardise his or her citizenship or his or her right to vote for any election in Nigeria. The Judgements of the Court of Appeal in Dr Willie Ogebide v Mr Arigbe Osula(2004)12 NWLR PART 886 page 138 paras C-E and Labour Party and ors v Ishola and ors (2014)LPELR-24386(CA) are locus classicus on this subject matter.
Onnoghhen JCA as he then was in the first case above said;
“…it is clear and I hereby hold that the acquisition of dual citizenship per say is not a ground for disqualification for election to the National Assembly particularly where the Nigerian Citizen is a citizen by birth. That is the clear meaning of the provisions in section 66(1) and 28 of the 1999 constitution when taken together. The only Nigerian Citizen disqualified by the said sections is one who is a Citizen of Nigeria by either registration or naturalisation who subsequently acquired the citizenship of another country to his Nigerian citizenship”
From the above legal and judicial point of view, dual citizenship cannot prevent any Nigerian citizen by birth from voting or being voted for into any elective position or being appointed into any position or office in Nigeria. Since Ms Lauretta Onochie falls into the category of a Nigerian by birth, she cannot be denied the opportunity of being appointed into any position in Nigeria as doing otherwise will amount to a breach of the Constitution and that of her fundamental human rights. The arguments therefore that she cannot be appointed into a public office because of her dual citizenship is not only hollow but lacks any constitutional or legal foundation and this should be resolved in her favour.
We further submit that the fact that Ms Lauretta Onochie is a serving Public Servant to Mr President does not make her partisan. As a matter of sound democratic practice, a President can appoint any personal or public aide across party lines or affiliation and that will not confer partisanship on that person. Besides what confers partisanship on a public servant? The courts have opined that before partisanship can be determined, such a person must be a card carrying member of a registered Political Party. The onus to prove whether Lauretta Onochie is a card carrying member of any political party therefore rest on the shoulders of her accusers. From what we can gather from our own investigation as public interests’ advocates, Lauretta Onochie is not a card carrying member of any political party and being a Presidential aide to Mr. President does not confer any party affiliation on her. A good example is the recent appointment of Professor Ibrahim Gambari as the Chief of Staff to Mr President, Professor Gambari who is an Academic and also a well-known Diplomat has a long history of being apolitical till his appointment. Can it be argued that since Professor Gambari accepted this appointment, he has now become politically partisan to the extent that his commitment to the nation and the constitution he swore to protect would be undermined? The answer is no. We therefore further submit that this accusation is neither here nor there because it is of no probative value.
CONSULTATION OF COUNCIL OF STATES BY THE PRESIDENT BEFORE APPOINTMENT AS A COMMISSIONER IN INEC.
The argument that Mr. President must consult the council of state before sending nominations to senate is not only hollow, but outrightly disingenuous. The council of State is a body created under S.153(1)b of the constitution. That section provides that:
There shall be established for the Federation the following bodies namely, Code of Conduct Bureau, Council of States, INEC and a host of other bodies. It is therefore legally untenable for the President to seek the approval of a body that has the same root of birth before he can send nominations to the senate. This argument in the face of the separation of power doctrine becomes highly illogical as the parliament is the only organ vested with such exclusive powers under the constitution
PERSON OF QUESTIONABLE CHARACTER
It is highly preposterous for anyone to present a petition on the above grounds. Yes, the constitution provides that persons of questionable characters should not be appointed to public offices but the same constitution provides that before anyone can be adjudged guilty of such condition that person must have been so declared by a court of law. It is therefore beyond any individual to declare anyone unfit to hold any offices based on his own prejudices permutations and subjective elements.S.36(5) of the constitution provides that every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed innocent until he is proved guilty, if this being the case, on what parameters of the law is anybody going to accuse someone that has not been charge with an offence guilty of questionable character?
It is pertinent at this juncture to appeal to your good selves to discountenance the spurious submissions of all the Petitioners against this nominee as all the petitions are only grounded on frivolities make beliefs and fictitious arguments. Our democracy is hinged on rule of law and not rule of man. Ethics or moral considerations which are subjective matters cannot be defined by individuals or non state actors. These are within the exclusive purview of tribunals and administrative panels. If indeed the Petitioners are serious, they would have furnished this respected Parliament certified true copies of decisions of any administrative panel of enquiry that impinges on the morals or character of the nominee. Failure to produce these vital documents is fatal to their case.! Matters of these nature cannot be left to conjectures of political traducers and elements of agony.
The entire petitions from the foregoing are unmeritorious, frivolous, mundane, profane and an attempt at irritating and rubbishing the image of a patriotic Nigerian. The posting that the nominee comes from Delta state, which already has another member in INEC is not also correct. Mrs. Agbamuche-Mbu is currently representing Cross River State, the birth place of her husband which is a convention married women always enjoy.
Conclusively, we urge you to dispassionately evaluate our submissions vis a vis those of the Petitioners and discountenance their grounds as all are empty without proper foundation of Law.
Thank you and do kindly accept the assurances of our best regards
Yusuf Dankofa, Ph.D
PROFESSOR OF LAW