…As officials urge President to sign Electoral Act Amendment Bill
By: Johnbosco Agbakwuru
THERE is palpable tension in the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, and serious concerns by Nigerians over the possible replacement of six national commissioners by President Muhammadu Buhari.
It was gathered that by the first week of December, five INEC national commissioners would retire from the service. Already there has been a vacuum created as a result of the resignation of one of the national commissioners, Engr. Abu Bakar Nahuche who resigned after the 2019 general elections.
While officials of INEC have expressed optimism that the President will sign into law the Electoral Act Amendment Bill which has been transmitted to him by the National Assembly, they are however worried that appointment of people with partisan inclination may scuttle ongoing work of the Commission.
Sources at the INEC headquarters had hinted that as from the first week of December, only five national commissioners will be left after five of them must have bowed out from service instead of 12 members board.
Though, many insiders have commended President Buhari for his determination to ensure that the 2023 general elections will be credible, but concerned that the efforts of the President would amount to nothing if men of proven integrity are not appointed into the commission to replace the retiring ones.
According to the sources, “The President has promised that the 2023 elections will be credible, free, and fair and there is no doubt that he means what he has said.
“You can see that the Edo and Anambra States off-season elections have been applauded by Nigerians and the international community as being credible.
“We hope that the trajectory would continue but everything will depend on the type and quality of people he will appoint as national commissioners to fill the vacant positions.
“The efforts of the President in strengthening the institution was nearly rubbished by the nomination of one of his aide’s Ms. Lauretta Onochie, but the situation was redeemed by the National Assembly that rejected the nomination as a result of national outcry.
“The promise by the President to bequeath the country a legacy of transparent, free, fair, and credible election will be dependent on the type of people he appoints into the INEC management board.”
President Buhari, who was first elected into office in 2015, will exit on May 29, 2023, after he must have completed two terms of four years each, but there are still fears on whether he would live up to his promises of ensuring a credible electoral process.
The sources in INEC said, “Despite fears already being expressed by critics of the Buhari government on the possibility of the President providing a free space for credible elections considering that he is also a member of the All Progressives Congress (APC), there is an assurance for no cause to worry.
“For doubting Thomases, the President may have proven them wrong judging from the conduct and outcomes of the Edo and Anambra governorship elections.
“In the two elections, the President directed the Independent National Electoral Commission and the security agencies to ensure that the process was hitch-free without interference from any quarter.”
The sources further said that the recent signing of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) to Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) was a clear testimony to the possibility that President Buhari’s biggest and most enduring legacy may be institution-building rather than the physical infrastructures that his aides have belabored.
“Many Nigerians have their different views on the PIA owing to their stakes, but few argue against the potential utility of the PIA and the broad impacts it will have on the Nigerian economy, yet, it took President Buhari’s boldness and willingness to take a decisive step rather than vacillating interminably to deliver the PIA which has an extensive effect on the most consequential sector of the Nigerian economy.
“In the same way, Nigerians are expecting that president Buhari will take a similar and decisive courageous step to solidify the emerging success of his tenure in the Electoral arena by bequeathing to the country a legacy of appointment of persons with proven integrity into the independent National Electoral Commission.
“The just concluded off-season election in Anambra state has been applauded by Nigerians as a reflection of the wishes of voters. The Anambra election defied the expectations of most neutral observers, forcing some of Buhari’s staunchest critics to congratulate him for insisting on supporting INEC to provide an enabling environment that allowed voters in Anambra State to express their electoral voice.
“However, the gains of the giant stride would vanish if people of proven integrity and impeccable character are not appointed into the management board of the commission to ensure the realization of the President’s assurance to conduct the best election in 2023.
“Already about six National Commissioners at INEC will be retiring by first week of December, this will create a big vacuum especially as the national commissioners have been discharging their responsibilities creditably.
“Most Nigerians expect that just like former President Goodluck Jonathan did that earned him a place of pride in the nation’s electoral history, President Buhari may want to earn his place in the Electoral pantheon.
“To make this possible, there are two critical matters for the attention of the President as a final task that will cement his efforts and contribution to democratic consolidation in Nigeria.The first is to assent to the reformed Electoral Act Amendment Bill that has the prospect of changing the narrative of Nigerian elections in a positive direction given that INEC innovations are safeguarded and protected statutorily.
“The second critical issue, if not the most important given that INEC innovations are themselves not self-implemented or executory, is the need for the president to appoint individuals of high integrity to replace the six National Electoral Commissioners whose tenure will elapse by the first week of December 2021.
“The people to be appointed should be capable, credible, and distinguished Nigerians from the different geopolitical zones where these vacancies have to be filled. If people of questionable character and integrity are appointed into INEC, the public will lose confidence and the gains of innovations will be eroded.
“Such appointees ought to have a lot of public regards that will not tarnish the image of the President and his already established record of integrity while being very competent.
“Recall that there was a wide outcry and condemnation in the last set of appointments at INEC that included Ms. Lauretta Onochie. The appointment had nearly tarnished President Buhari’s local and international image thereby creating the impression before some persons that the President is unethical and disdainful of the Constitutional provision against partisan appointments to INEC.
“It’s expected that the administration should maintain the strong point it has made as regards supervising a credible election people’s the peoples votes count.
“As a legacy, the building of an enduring institution in INEC should be a matter of interest for President Buhari given how he has consistently blamed his previous Electoral losses on a flawed Electoral system, supervised by compromised INEC officials, lacking integrity until the ex-president Jonathan appointed Prof. Attahiru Jega and others with civil society background.
“It is a thing of concern only about one or two such patriotic individuals will remain with the commission if the six national commissioners bow out of service.
“Moreover, In 2007 even the winner of the flawed presidential election, the late President Umaru Yar’adua accepted that the election was flawed and went on to instigate reforms that president Jonathan implemented through the appointment of credible Nigerians that all culminated eventually in Electoral success for President Buhari over and against an incumbent President in 2015. It should be noted that President Jonathan acted in a statement fashion and committed himself so much to the reform of the electoral process, even though he sought a second term.
“Today, President Buhari is on his second and final term in office and should have no reason whatsoever not to deal with the two critical issues identified as his contributions to the sustainability of democracy in Nigeria. He is a beneficiary of the electronically compiled biometric voters register, the PVC, and the use of the smart card reader in the 2015 election. At the moment and under the enabling environment of President Buhari, there is now an improved elections device with the introduction of the BVAS technology for accreditation and uploading of polling units result in that can no longer be easily manipulated by politicians and this is a credit to the electoral disposition of the administration.
“In addition to the fact that for over 25 years, the creation of new polling units to give more access to voters on election day had been impossible but under this administration, this became a reality. The country with 120,000 units previously now has established an additional 56,872 new polling units thereby bringing the total number of polling units in the country to 176,846 where Nigerians could vote during elections.”
Continuing the sources said, “All these developments in the electoral system under this administration have been well applauded by Nigerians but would amount to nothing if President Buhari fails to sign the Electoral Act Amendment Bill into law and fails to appoint/re-appoint credible individuals within INEC or outside the election management that would ensure the implementation of these innovations.
“As a president who is not participating in person again in the 2023 election, Nigerians expect a very significant departure from the Onochie-type appointment that had most sections of the country and international community upbraiding the President, a disposition that almost did irreparable harm to the Electoral Autonomy and Integrity of INEC and any future elections the PMB may have embarked upon.
“More broadly, elections also impact several layers of development when delivered credibly. Local governments for instance, where President Buhari has tried to promote changes through proclamations to the effect that Local Government’s funds be unfettered by State authorities, can only truly reform such flaws when Elections have consequences for such undesirable actions by State Governors.
“Their proxy Local Government minions will be similarly affected. Assenting to this electoral bill that mandates direct primary that will surely promote mass participation of members of political Parties in the choice of candidates for election with its attendant election uncertainties, will make party leaders more mindful of their activities within and beyond their parties and reassure party members of President Buhari’s commitment to their interest and wellbeing.”
While harping on institutional memory, the sources said, “It is important that in recruiting new national Commissioners that the president should appreciate the fact that an umpire in INEC is not a career that everyone without prior electoral parties experience may effectively embark upon particularly given the huge task of imminent general elections and the short time remaining to organize it.
“It’s an entirely new experience and that motivates the wisdom for screening those within the system who are experienced and have the useful institutional memory that can be effective national commissioners or that may be re-appointed as RECs.
“The short period between now and the February 2023 general elections with the commencement of party primaries and conventions, makes it necessary for the president to carefully and diligently seek people with experience and good records of already delivering credible and acceptable Elections, who have a record that will not rub the President’s name in the mud of ridicule and that Nigerians will not hesitate to vouch for as persons of integrity.
“This is the most important task that will be used to judge his genuine efforts and commitment to promoting credible elections in the future which is one of the legacies he has severally promised Nigerians.
“Any appointment made by the president that has a semblance of the widely rejected Ms. Onochie type of nominee will destroy INEC, dissuade public participation and so shall the president is remembered in history.”
While advising the President to ensure that he puts squear peg in squear hole, they also told him to place integrity and credibility above any other consideration in the appointment of National Commissioners.
It was gathered that by the first week of December, the INEC national commissioners representing the Southeast, South-South, Northeast, North central, and South West will retire from service.