By Tonnie Iredia
For the first time in Nigeria’s recent political history, the Senate of the Federal Republic appears to have placed commensurate premium on the importance of screening nominees of the President for certain positions. The assignment is indeed crucial because it is a constitutional requirement which is designed to ensure that any such nominee is a fit and proper person to occupy the office for which he/she has been nominated.
Last week, the Senate committee on INEC was busy screening the former chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu who has been re-nominated for another term as INEC chair. From media coverage of the screening, it is observed that some of the issues bothering the general public about free and fair elections were interrogated.
The benefits derivable from the screening are many. To start with, if the nominee scales through the exercise, the issues he had to explain would to a large extent serve as a veritable guide to his conduct in office.
Secondly, the exercise would also sensitize all other nominees in future on the need to be conscious of the essence of accountability in office. One can therefore conclude that if Yakubu is given another term of office, one of the things he would guard jealousy would be postponement of elections.
The high level of remorse he exhibited during the screening over the postponement of the 2019 general elections by one week depicted a man who learnt a major lesson. We hope he would extend that to all elections irrespective of their nature, scope or level.
Bearing in mind that there were cases where election postponement was foisted on INEC, like the 2016 Edo governorship, Yakubu will have no option than to acquire greater strength and foresight to be up and against big men in the corridors of power who can use their connections with security agencies to contrive postponements. It is also hoped that INEC would no longer be pressurized into indulging in the game of plotting inconclusive elections.
Against this backdrop, we commend the Senate for presenting an ending signal to its obnoxious ‘bow and go’ approach which it normally invokes when the person concerned is well known to many senators. As we have always argued here; that approach is more or less an abuse of office because a constitutional assignment is not expected to be subjected to a discretion that cannot stand the test of time.
For example, to excuse a particular nominee from screening on the ground that he or she was once a legislator makes little sense because the new office necessitating a screening exercise, is different from lawmaking. An outstanding former legislator may not be a good minister or chairman of a sensitive agency. Therefore, every nominee ought to be thoroughly screened and found to be satisfactory before approval.
It is only under such circumstance that the senate can acquit itself creditably as working in harmony with the executive for the public good. Whenever it acts otherwise, the senate is usually seen as a mere stooge to the executive. But, if the senate establishes empirical criteria for screening nominees, the idea of a group of lobbyists often in the form of ‘rent a crowd’ as we saw last week purporting to be canvassing the successful screening of Prof Mahmood Yakubu as INEC chair would become superfluous.
There are many Nigerians who are opposed to the continuation of Prof Yakubu as INEC chair. Many of them may have strong reasons for their position. But it would be wrong to assume that the man does not have his own strong points. One of the things Yakubu did admirably in his first tenure was his ability to resist pressures from the ruling party on the fake party primaries which she claimed to have held in Zamfara in preparations for the 2019 elections.
Many politicians and their political parties must have realized from the tough stance of the INEC chair that election rules and guidelines are not meant to be experimented upon. Thus, this writer and other Nigerians who are neither for nor against Yakubu’s reappointment, should commend him on that and call on him to endeavour to remain so and in ALL cases.
In other words, our position is to be positive at all times and expect Yakubu to surprise those against him by putting forward a superlative performance if reappointed. With a previous 5-year tenure, the learned professor would come into office for the second term with a quantum of experience to turn around our electoral fortune.
What we have said so far suggests that he has to be quite innovative as he cannot afford to do the same things he did before and expect different results. For instance, it is not enough to recruit vice chancellors and university professors as returning officers and assume that all will be well. As events have shown, our desperate politicians can tempt angels and make them falsify election results.
This is why all efforts must be made to fortify the system with modern methods of election management. Hence, the most enduring pledge Yakubu made during his screening was his determination to meticulously follow the incremental introduction of technology to the conduct of elections during his tenure. We have no doubt whatsoever that Nigeria is overdue for that.
Already, we have seen how the introduction of the election viewing portal transformed INEC performance in the recent governorship elections in Edo and Ondo states. The numerous experts in election rigging sent packing by that piece of technology is a pointer to the fact that INEC needs to progressively discard the old analogue election monitoring system of gathering thousands of security operatives who often further complicate our election process.
Accordingly, in the next set of elections well before 2023, INEC must embrace the use of Z-pad and never again allow anybody including legislators to distort her well-organized template
Such a template must no doubt include a greater assertive attempt at dealing with the issue of election offences. While we recognize that INEC may not have gotten all the support, she requires from the law enforcement agencies and the judiciary, we are not convinced that she has on her own evolved a uniform robust platform for the subject.
This is the only way to interpret the trend whereby the only place where some work appears to be going on now is Akwa Ibom where the indefatigable Mike Igini is in charge. What about other areas where many election officials were found to have colluded with politicians to obstruct free and fair process? If the prosecution of election offenders going on now in Uyo is also happening elsewhere, it needs to be publicized for effect.
If not, INEC officials in all the states must rise up and adopt a zero-tolerance approach to election offences to dissuade those who believe in winning elections through rigging. As more and more people continue to point accusing fingers at our politicians for leading those frustrating free and fair elections in Nigeria, we join Prof Mahmood Yakubu to appeal to our legislators to without further delay, give INEC a better Electoral Act to operate with.