*Igbani, Belgore, Umar on the cards, *INEC staff apprehensive
By Ben Agande
ABUJAâ€”INTENSE lobbying by individuals who want to be chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, heightened, yesterday, as persons perceived to be close to the Acting President Goodluck Jonathan came under intense pressure from politicians.
This followed revelation by the Acting President at a forum in the United States of America, that the chairman of INEC, Professor Maurice Iwu, would not be reappointed when his tenure expires on June 13.
The Acting President had told an audience at the Council on Foreign Relations, in Washington DC, where he is on a visit at the invitation of President Barak Obama, that INEC had lost public confidence to conduct free and fair election, and it would be difficult for the government to allow the current leadership of the commission to go ahead with the conduct of next yearâ€™s elections.
Sources close to the Acting President, said his Principal Secretary, Mike Oghiadome, consideredÂ Â one of his closest aides, has come under intense pressure from both politicians and those who want to succeed Professor Maurice Iwu.
A source told Vanguard: â€œMike Oghiadome has been under pressure but with the definite pronouncement by the Acting President that Iwu would not be reappointed, the pressure has doubled. It is unbelievable the number of people angling to take over from Professor Maurice Iwu.â€
Ishmael Igbani screened earlier
Vanguard gathered that but for the sickness of President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua, it was almost concluded that a former INEC National Commissioner, Dr. Ishmael Igbani was billed to take over as Chairman of the Commission from Professor Maurice Iwu.
The sickness of President Yarâ€™Adua, however, put a hold on that.
One source close to the goings on in the Presidency told Vanguard that the Acting Presidentâ€™s camp was broadly divided in two with one camp believing that a neutral person not tainted by government job should be appointed to head the commission while the other camp believed that somebody with knowledge of the conduct of elections should be appointed to head the commission in view of the short time left before the next election.
The source said: â€œThose pushing for Dr. Igbani believe that since he was a national commissioner and had no controversy surrounding his tenure, he was better positioned to be the INEC chairman.
“They argue that Igbani knew what was wrong and could correct them within the short period before the conduct of the elections. Most importantly, he was said to have undergone all security screening and was even introduced to the National Council of State before the presidentâ€™s sickness stalled it.â€
Alfa Belgore being considered
Vanguard also gathered that the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Alfa Belgore was also being considered for appointment as the INEC chairman because of his credibility.
A former Minister who is close to the Acting President told Vanguard â€œWhat the commission needs now is the needed credibility to win the confidence of Nigerians. Some of us believe that if Belgore is available and willing to serve, he should be made the INEC chairman. I know that contact has been made with him but I donâ€™t know whether he is ready to serve.â€
Other names that have been associated with the INEC chairmanship position include the former president of the Nigerian Bar Association, Olisa Agbakoba, former governor of Kaduna State, Abubakar Umar, among others.
Meanwhile, there was palpable fear in the Commission, yesterday, following the revelation by the Acting President that some officials may lose their jobs in a planned overhaul.
When Vanguard visited INEC, staff were seen discussing the development in groups as to what fate awaited some of the senior directorsÂ who were largely seen to be the real brains behind the abysmal performance of the commission in the conduct of elections.
A staff who spoke with Vanguard on condition of anonymity said: “Some people who are beneficiaries of Professor Maurice Iwuâ€™s illegality are already panicking that they may lose their position. There is the case of some directors who ought to have been retired from service but have been retained by Professor Iwu because they do his biddings.”