President Muhammadu Buhari

PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari’s repeated pledges not to “interfere” in the 2023 elections have been well received, especially if he will keep his word. In advanced democracies such as the USA, UK, India, Pakistan, Israel, Ghana and others, the direct involvement of the government in determining the outcomes of elections in which incumbent leaders are involved is unthinkable.

This is because the electoral umpire has been constitutionally insulated from government control. Their independence is truly guaranteed and proved to be so.

But in Nigeria, the “independence” of our electoral umpire is a travesty of the word.

The word: “Independent” is attached to certain statutory institutions such as the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC; Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, ICPC, and others, as a lie to deceive the unwary from the truth of their proneness to the president’s influence of their operations.

The INEC remains a military legacy. All agitations for our successive leaders to reform it to guarantee its independence and bequeath a genuine democracy to Nigerians have fallen on deaf ears simply because every president and ruling party want to benefit from the “powers of incumbency”.

A Nigerian president has the constitutional power to appoint the Chairman and Board of INEC. He is instrumental to the funding of the Commission’s activities. He is also in control of other institutions which INEC depends upon to deliver elections, such as the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN; the police, army and security forces.

Since the Judiciary also plays a role in our elections, the president has the power to appoint and force out judicial heads.

 It is the choice of a Nigerian president if he would allow an election to be free and fair.

The electoral umpire operating under such a framework is not free, the dubious tag of “Independent” notwithstanding.

True independence can only come when the power of appointment of the head and commissioners of INEC is taken away from the president.

In football, players never appoint the referee. He who pays the piper dictates the tune. INEC must also enjoy full financial autonomy.

We must implement the Justice Mohammed Uwais Report which suggested that the National Judicial Commission, NJC, a non-player in our elections, should appoint the electoral umpire, subject to the Senate’s approval.

Meanwhile, we must work with what we have. We hope President Buhari will keep his word.

He is now a statesman and no longer a politician. He benefited from a free and fair election in 2015. Let him maintain that hallowed legacy.

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