July 6, 2015

Jega’s exit and the uncertainty in INEC

NOBODY in Nigeria until few days ago would think President Muhammadu Buhari could take a decision that would undermine the independence of INEC and public trust. The decision to direct the internal administrative workings of INEC through the choice of Amina Zakari to take-over the affairs of the Commision in the manner it was done came as a a great surprise.

The President should have been properly briefed that as long as the tenure of the national commissioners subsists, the chairman could always hand-over to any of them. This has been the way its been done whenever Prof. Attahiru Jega was outside the country and even when he was out of Abuja by handing over to any of his colleagues without recourse to the President because it is not an appointment the way presidency seemed to have wrongly construed his action.

The power of the President to appoint a chairman and members of INEC and other executive bodies under sections 153 and 154 in particular could only be exercised in consultation with the Council of state and Senate confirmation after screening. The President cannot act alone as he has done as required by the constitution given the sensitive nature of the election management body.

There is no provision in the constitution that gives the President power to direct routinely who should be an acting chairman. As long as there are commissioners whose tenure subsists handing-over to one another is a routine administrative process that hallmarks the independence of INEC. What has taken place now is a direct incursion if not invasion of the independence of the election management body by the presidency and this calls for concern. Eternal vigilance the saying goes is the price a free democratic society must pay to retain its democratic rights, especially the right of democratic choice of its leaders at periodic elections. All sons and daughters of Oduduwa and Nigerians value this political right above all other rights and are ever ready to champion, defend and protect a body like INEC from being a tool in the hands of any individual or groups. Never again should Nigeria be returned to the Prof. Maurice lwu era after Prof. Jega’s commendable achievements particularly in the area of growing public confidence in the electoral process.

The people of the South West whose votes along with those of other Nigerians brought this new government, expect that everyone, particularly President Buhari who is a beneficiary of an INEC headed by Jega, would ensure that anyone who is to take over from Jega, should be someone who commands public confidence,trust and must be untainted and free from baggages of nepotism. One thing that Nigerians and the world would credit and remember President Goodluck Jonathan for, is his appointment of Prof.Jega that was nationally applauded, as well as his non interference in the administrative affairs of INEC, that led to a significant improvement in the electoral process such that an opposition party could win the last General election.

However, the exit of Prof. Jega has unwittingly exposed the new government of President Buhari, as one with very suspect motivations with regards to  future elections, requiring all freedom loving Nigerians to pay close attention to the unfolding script and very disturbing development in INEC.

Our late sage Pa Obafemi Awolowo in 1986 at the eve of the take off of the Ibrahim Banbagida organised Political Bureau, meant to fashion a governance framework that would lead to transition to civilian regime, declared that “whenever Nigerians expect  that a new dawn has  come they would be disappointed” . To be fair, thirty days is not enough to assess a new government but for us in the South West who voted for and gave President Buhari the much needed constitutional requirement of 25%, which he never got from the three geo-political zones of the South in his three unsuccessful attempts except the 2015 elections, but who are now being told or reminded daily that our votes are less in value to other zones with bogus figures and as such do not deserve certain positions, we can only wish everyone well. Afterall, no king reigns forever, every king reigns but for a time.  However, we the people of South West could see early enough a clear danger to our most cherished value of freedom of choice for the sons and daughters of Oduduwa in future elections.  Hence. we would not standby and watch the take-over by an individual or groups who may eventually destroy a very key national institution like INEC, by the questionable choice made few hours after Prof. Jega’s exit.

More than ever before, Nigerians are now interested in who takes over from Prof. Jega. and the entire composition of that Commission.  The curious replacement of one Ambasador Wali whom Prof. Jega handed over to with Alhaja Amina Bala Zakari by the Buhari administration few hours after his exit, given her well known and established family ties with the President that both cannot deny poses a worrisome and a very early significant threat to the independence  of the National Electoral Commission, an institution that all Nigerians should  protect and watch very closely.

Prof. Jega it was reported, between  the 1st and 2nd of June 2015, wrote to the Presidency informing it of his impending exit by 30th June, a fact the government ought to be aware of from administrative diligence. However, until the morning of Prof. Jega’s exit,  government did not respond. Why?  Given the exit dates of the national electoral commissioners; with Alhaji Wali expected to exit statutorily by August 11th  2015, and Alhaja Zakari  by July 21st 2015, Jega handed over to Ambassador Wali. A very sensible and logical decision, considering the ample time the government may require to appoint a new substantive chairman and national commissioners that must be taken to National Council of state and Senate screening, confirmation and approval for such appointments under section 154 of the constitution.

Jega handed-over to the national Commissioner with a longer exit date. But the decision to overrule an independent electoral institution over a delegation of task, that has been a routine practice of handing over to any national commissioner whenever Prof.Jega travels out, was upturned  within hours, without thought for the wider ramifications of this action for the independence of INEC, public impression of the ruling party and other stakeholders in the country.

Beyond the suspicion and condemnation that has trailed this action of the government is the fact that anyone who is selected to head INEC after Prof.Jega, must be one who can command public confidence and must attract close scrutiny because any action taken by such an individual may have skewed elections long before actual election date.

That is why it is important to question why our respected president Buhari would direct Alhaja Amina Zakari with  a long standing family  ties and from the same north west to take-over the headship of INEC ? What would have been the fate of the 2015 election if President Jonathan had appointed a south south person as INEC chair ? A search light beamed into the public track record of Alhaja Zakari, has revealed  that she has a long history of having worked closely under Governor El-Rufai between 2004-2007 within the health and welfare units of the Federal Capital Territory,she has also worked closely with a consortuim -Afri Project- closely and strongly associated with President Buhari under the Petroleum Trust Fund as a pharmaceutical personnel. Those who know her closely have revealed that the working relationship was so cordial that she fondly calls the president  “uncle” having lived with her father and some point in time.

This clear conflict of interest is a danger signal for electoral management where professional empathy must supersede the convivial sympathy that this conflictual interest is bound to attract to the job schedule of an autonomous electoral management body. Are we going to be disappointed with this new dawn as Pa Awo’s timeless prediction seem to suggest? Surely, we in the South West are not ready for a regression to the era of Prof.lwu where instructions would be given to the INEC chairman and the whole of South West taken over except Lagos in the 2003 elections.

We must therefore say NO! to Amina Zakari even as Acting chairman. lnterestingly, Alhaja Amina Zakari was one of the leading proponents of the 30,000 polling Units, an irredentist and biased but failed decision to carry out electoral gerrymandering that allocated Ibadan one of the most populated cities in Africa  less polling units far below insurgent ravaged states of Yobe,  FCT more new polling units than the entire South East on comparative voter numbers.

This latter show of irredentism further dents the decision of President Buhari in choosing Alhaja Zakari. Irredentism was a sticking Achilles heels of President Buhari that we all appealed to Nigerians to forgive during the election, an accusation that was corroborated during the electoral campaigns by citations of quotations of his public positions on national matters which had strong regional biases, a matter that is strengthened by his previous advocacies as a former ACF president. All these were airbrushed by the strong and relentless efforts of the South West media axis alluded to by Senator Sani recently as responsible for the loss of President Jonathan at the election.

It was leveraged on by APC media machinery for victory. Is the emerging scenario a case of  the leopard that has not changed its spots ? The current situation in INEC if not reversed quickly will certainly damage the credibility of INEC and  erode completely public confidence because that institution is expected to be a neutral and detached body that must be federal in all actions. Even at his worst moments of regression, Professor Jega exceeded himself to portray INEC as an unbiased, impartial, professional body. The early signs from the recent reflexive actions of the President negates all the actions that Jega sacrificed so much to build.

It reflects nepotism, favoritism, and possibly preparing ground for an obsequious management of INEC, in the same way the Obasanjo government appointed Professor Iwu to serve the ruling regime rather than the Nigerian nation, a very dangerous development for free and fair elections in 2019 and beyond. You may not give the South West positions in the government and we do not mind, but to tamper with INEC in the manner of a pre-written script as being played out now, is totally unacceptable and rejected by our people. We cannot have an INEC chair who calls Mr.president “uncle” and would take instructions from the presidency.

This is a matter of serious concern and worry for all who desire a sustainable electoral process  in this country. We voted for you and we call on you to relieve Amina of that position for the sake of a system that you are now a beneficiary. Above all, It is disturbing that president Buhari would make such an early grave mistake with a sensitive body like the Independent National Electoral Commission  headed by a credible Nigerian who just exited and bringing in a controversial character with a huge baggage of controversies.

This unfortunate and regrettable decision seems to  follow a disturbing trend of reflexive decisions not well thought out in recent times such as the decision to bar some electronic media before recanting; dismantling of all military check-points but reversed after council of state meeting; decision on DSS later reversed, decision to call a meeting of party leaders and legislators on the day of inauguration and now a controversial decision of  directing  a national commissioner who has less than three weeks of statutory appointment who is from the same North West with Mr. President as acting chairman of INEC.

Clearly, the string of appoitments about eleven made so far all from the North except Mr. femi Adesina for the purpose of taking care of the media from the South West axis is not the kind of change we voted for and expected from Mr President and certainly our son femi knows he cannot manage south west if this decision is not reversed just as Abati could not for president Jonathan. Prevention is better than cure.

There is urgent need for appreciation of our diversities in order to avoid anomalies like the current one at INEC, a body the independence of which the democracy we all enjoy resides. We the people of south west and all Nigerians that crave for a credible electoral process managed by an independent electoral body under the headship of a Nigerian with high integrity,non controversial and who can command public confidence reject Amina Zakari in totality for all the baggages associated, including conflict of interest ties with Mr President and filial relations  with a National officer of the ruling party, because we view her as unfit to head INEC even in an acting capacity.

Again, how would the conduct of 2015 elections have been if President Jonathan had appointed an individual with a long standing family ties from the south or south south as the chair of INEC ? Those who have been well served and benefited from a fair system publicly applauded should not destroy it. No to Amina Zakari as acting chair of INEC.

Dr.Olufemi Olusola, Secretary, South West Susutainable Electoral Study Group, wrote from Ibadan.


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