By Jude Opara
When President Muhammadu Buhari appointed Mrs. Amina Bala Zakari as the acting chairman of the Independent National Commission (INEC), he may have had a number of reasons that prompted that choice including the fact that as one of the National Commissioners of the commission, Mrs. Zakari must have acquired some experience from working closely with the immediate past chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega.
Zakari, if confirmed as a substantive INEC chairperson will make history as the first woman to occupy the hot seat which certainly needs an individual with the zeal and character to discharge the task which is often very contentious because of the high interest elections generate in Nigeria.
That President Buhari decided to name her as the Acting Chairman of INEC points to the fact that she may be presented to the National Assembly for screening for the plum and contentious job despite the fact that her tenure as a National Commissioner will end today, July 21.
PDP kicks against Zakari’s appointment
But just few hours after that appointment, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) openly called for the removal of Mrs. Zakari because of alleged closeness to some egg heads of the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) including President Buhari himself.
National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Olisa Metu had claimed that Mrs. Zakari is not fit for the job because she was said to have worked with the President at the defunct Petroleum Task Force (PTF) as well as having worked as a secretary at the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) administration when the present governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai was the minister.
Granted that the PDP as an opposition party is poised to give the nation a virile opposition, many analysts are of the view that they should not and must not criticize every move of the Federal Government without first analyzing the situation properly.
Support from other parties: However, some other political parties have waded into the matter criticizing the PDP for its outburst over the appointment insisting that President Buhari did not err in his choice of Zakari to man the electoral commission at this period.
Recently, the Coalition of Progressive Political Parties (CPPP), an umbrella organization of 13 registered political parties in the country described as dangerous, irresponsible and inciting the statement issued by the PDP on the appointment of the acting chairman of INEC.
Chairman of the Coalition and National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM), Bashir Yusuf Ibrahim, said; “The dangerous precedent whereby a political party is trying to decide for the country who becomes the INEC chairman is dangerous and calls for concern.” He reminded the PDP that the task of appointing the INEC chairman is constitutionally reserved for the President and Commander-in-Chief and the National Assembly.
Women groups laud appointment
But as if they were waiting for it, women groups from all strata of the society immediately rose in support of one of their own insisting that the appointment was well carried and from the manner they responded, it is given that they will vehemently resist any attempt to reverse it.
For instance, the Women in Politics Forum (WIPF) endorsed the appointment which they say is a clear indication that President Buhari may have harkened to their voice over the realization of the affirmative action of giving women some sensitive positions in government.
WIPF, which had earlier criticized President Buhari for the low number of women in his Transition Committee, had at a forum in Abuja applauded the government for the appointment of Zakari describing it as a right step in the right direction. They spoke through their president, Mrs. Ebere Ifendu.
“The position of Women in Politics Forum is that the appointment of Mrs. Zakari is in line with the national gender policy and procedure for appointment in INEC. The time has come for Nigeria to realize that appointment of women into executive and other positions is not a favour as has been mooted in some quarters.”
As at the last count, there have been positive comments for Zakari from the Protective Gender Initiative (PGI), Women Rights Advancement and Protection Alternative (WRAPA), National Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ), Women Advocate Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC), Women Foundation of Nigeria (WFN) and Nigerian Women Trust Fund (NWTF) Federation of International Women Lawyers (FIDA), 100 Women Lobby Group, Equity Advocates (EA).
But a simple analysis shows that during the reign of the PDP when the new INEC boss was the Secretary of Social Department amongs others at the FCT, she must have been appointed by the ruling party then. Some salient questions are; was she a member of the PDP at that time? Was she able to discharge her duties diligently? And if the answer to the second question is yes then there is nothing wrong for the APC administration to appoint any Nigerian who is competent into any office.
Another fact is that it was also the government of the PDP under former President Goodluck Jonathan that appointed Mrs. Zakari as a National Commissioner representing the North West.
It is also on record that in the past the ruling PDP through the President had appointed the electoral umpires who have served the Commission before Zakari.
As for her perceived closeness to President Buhari, it could be argued that probably the President who has shown the intention to really rebuild the country may have seen some sterling qualities in her that encouraged him to go outside the box to appoint her into that highly sensitive office.
What should be of concern, according to some observers is how to encourage the woman to sustain and improve on the successes recorded under Prof. Jega and not to play politics of who the person occupying the office is or whom she is close to.
After all it was former President Jonathan that appointed Prof. Jega but when the 2015 elections were conducted and he lost Jega did not announce him the winner because he appointed him into office. I don’ want to believe that the PDP is jittery and afraid of being paid with its own coin by teaming up with the electoral umpires to subvert the wishes of the people.
One other argument of the anti-Zakari campaigners is the fact that she hails from Jigawa State, North West Nigeria while President Buhari hails from Katsina State also in the same geo-political zone.
The Nigerian Constitution which is the grand norm for every official action in the country did not say that a sitting president and the chairman of the electoral body should not come from the same zone.
Politicians across board have been contesting elections whether the chief electoral umpire was from his zone or not.
From the way the 2015 general elections went, it is very clear that Nigerians are maturing and have started looking at the performance of public officials when it comes to elections. A smart politician should ensure that most of his campaign promises were kept before the next election because if not he will be punished at the polls.
To bounce back in 2019, the PDP may have to keep a close tab on its governors to ensure that they deliver on the promises they made to the electorates during campaigns while hoping that the APC could derail.
It is true that Mrs. Zakari was in charge of Political Parties’ Affairs, a position that must have given her an ample opportunity to have interacted with the parties, to know how they behave, which is also one important qualification that somebody that should lead INEC must possess.
In spite of her qualifications, Zakari’s temporary appointment will end today. Unfortunately, the Senate is on recess while President Buhari is in the United States for a three-day working visit. Who heads INEC from tomorrow? This is a legal question waiting for an answer.