Opposition senators are restive over two serious issues: the alleged plot to remove Prof. Attahiru Jega as chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC and their unwavering opposition to the nomination of Senator Musiliu Obanikoro as a minister
By Johnbosco Agbakwuru
Going by the threats and counter threats by the two main political parties in the country, the ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party, PDP, and the main opposition All Progressives Congress, APC, over the forthcoming elections, one may be tempted to say that the country is sitting on a keg of gunpowder. The political gladiators in the land have not helped matters as on daily basis they threaten fire and brimstone if things don’t go their way. In the centre of the heat of this drama is the National Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Prof. Attahiru Jega whose office seems to have attracted both friends and enemies.
While the INEC boss is accused of having alliance with the opposition APC by the ruling party, the PDP, the opposition APC on the other hand has raised alarm alleging sinister moves to send Prof. Jega on retirement leave following his alleged insistence in ensuring a free, credible and transparent election. But the former university lecturer who is at the receiving end seems unperturbed as he has gone ahead with the preparations to conduct the elections.
Penultimate week, Jega appeared on the floor of the Senate to brief senators following the decision to shift the elections earlier scheduled for February 14 and 28.
Bamboozling the senators
When he appeared, he bestrode the Senate like a colossus and was able to bamboozle the lawmakers especially those from the ruling PDP who had wanted to use the occasion to find fault in the way he was handling the electoral process.
Although, some of the PDP senators were not comfortable with the introduction of card reader by the INEC boss, his insistence and explanation on the expected advantage of using card reader for accreditations, especially to minimize electoral fraud was able to convince doubters on its advantage.
While some of the PDP senators tried to find fault in Prof. Jega on the way he was handling the preparation for the elections and the alleged lopsidedness in the collection of the Permanent Voters Card, PVCs which at that time was higher in some parts of the country, the APC senators, however, showered encomium on the INEC boss and to give him all the necessary backing.
The APC senators, however, remain concerned on what they claim as a plot to remove Jega from office that will see him go on pre-retirement leave before the elections.
The APC Senate caucus led by the Senate minority leader, Senator George Akume last Thursday raised the alarm about the plot following what they claimed as reliable information. They, however, did not disclose how they got the information.
The APC Senators claimed that information from their ‘credible’ source to that effect had it that the INEC Chairman would be given a letter by the office of Head of Service, HOS, directing him to proceed on retirement leave next week.
Senator Akume said that such alleged sinister move to force the INEC boss out of office was because of the forthcoming elections and warned that the move was capable of plunging the country into anarchy.
He said, “Honestly, we said it before; this is the road to Golgotha, road to Armageddon. This people want to destroy this country completely. Today this country is broke and it is not because of Jega. People who are responsible are there and they are friends of government. Nigerians want peace not pieces.”
They further claimed that Prof. Jega was ready to conduct the presidential and National Assembly elections on February 14 only to be forced to put the elections off as a result of the pressure and the letter from the National Security Adviser, NSA, on security challenges especially in the North East.
They said, “Today we want to say that only dishonest politicians fear (Prof. Attahiru) Jega as the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). We have received information from very, very informed and credible source that next week the Chairman of the INEC will be served a letter by the office of the Head of Civil Service directing him to proceed on terminal leave.
“Whether the letter comes from the Head of Service or the Secretary to the Federal Government does not make sense. What we are saying is even if you go by the terms of the head of the civil service of the 11th of August, 2010, with reference no: HCSF/CMO/1772/T1/11 it is not applicable whatsoever to the chairman of INEC.
“This circular was talking about clarification on pre-retirement leave. Pre-retirement leave is applicable to tenured officers, careers civil servants and you are bound to disengage when you get to 35 years in service or when you get to 60 years of age.
Issue of card readers
“This provision is not applicable to Jega. Why would the Federal Government controlled by the PDP want to temper with an arrangement that is so critical to this election. Jega was ready to conduct elections; the Federal Government controlled by the PDP was not ready.
“Today nobody has faulted what Jega is doing but we have seen articles sponsored against Jega by a particular political party. Bringing the issue of card readers and trying to hang Jega cannot work. Monies for the cards were appropriated by the National Assembly and they have been applied for the acquisition of these very sensitive materials.
“But on a daily basis, Jega is being hammered. They say Jega is depriving over 10 million people of their right to vote. That is not true and we condemn what the government is trying to do and we want to appeal to all of you to rise up and defend our democracy.
The senators were firm in their conviction that the president does not have the constitutional power to suspend any appointee.
Senator Kabir Marafa representing Zamfara South said, “Section 157(1) clearly states that the president can only remove Jega with the vote of two-third majority of all Senators. Under whatever guise whether suspension, retirement or voluntary leave, he cannot be removed.”
The APC senators did not stop there, they also threatened to oppose the confirmation of one of their former colleagues, Senator Musliu Obanikoro who was nominated by the president for ministerial appointment.
Spokesman of APC Senators, Senator Babafemi Ojudu said that it was the position of the opposition Senators that Senator Musliu Obanikoro was not qualified for the appointment.
He said, “It is our position that such a person (Senator Obanikoro) is not qualified to hold public office. We are going to oppose that and the three Senators from Lagos have written to Mark opposing that. Obanikoro is not qualified to hold public office based on his antecedent. The case will be coming up on March 6 and when any case.”
But as the present seventh senate is constituted, the APC is in the minority. It is said that the minority will always have its say, but it is not certain that they will have their way.