Since he reluctantly assented to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, which allows the transmission of election results from the polling units after intense pressure, President Muhammadu Buhari has been assuring us of his willingness to allow the 2023 general elections to be free and fair.
However, his habit of taking measures to tamper with the independence and integrity of the National Electoral Commission, INEC, right from the inception of his government in 2015, runs contrary to this pledge. In June 2015, he appointed his relative, Amina Zakari, an INEC Commissioner, as the Acting Chairman.
Also, in October 2020, the president raised dust when he nominated his controversial social media aide, Lauretta Onochie, as a Resident Electoral Commissioner. Nigerians fought the nomination to a standstill until Buhari was forced to drop her.
With just five months to the 2023 general elections, the president has again proposed 19 candidates for approval by the Senate as RECs. Nine civil society organisations, after tooth-combing the list, identified four names as politically-exposed persons who are unsuitable for appointment as RECs of the Electoral Umpire.
These are Muhammad Bashir, an All Progressives Congress, APC, Sokoto State governorship candidate in 2015; Sylvia Uchenna, a direct relation of the APC Deputy National Chairman (South-East) from Enugu State; Pauline Ugochi, a former Head of ICT of INEC in Imo State who was once alleged to have connived with politicians to undermine the integrity of elections; and Elizabeth Agwu, a former Accountant-General of Ebonyi State suspended for alleged incompetence and misconduct in 2016.
The CSOs want the Senate to drop these nominees because their appointment will run contrary to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (As Amended). Section 156(1)(a) stresses that such an appointee shall not belong to a political party, while the Third Schedule, Part 1, Item F, paragraph 14(2), in addition to the non-partisan requirement, insists that such a person shall be of “unquestionable integrity”.
Some of Buhari’s supporters claim that the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, did the same during their time in power, while others claim the president may not know the candidates’ antecedents. We disagree with these. If what PDP did was right, why did the APC call for change in 2015? Secondly, is it not the duty of the president’s office to scrutinise the records of names forwarded to him for appointment into sensitive public offices? This is political corruption.
President Buhari is not a stranger to the appointment of his personal loyalists and relations into the INEC. We call on the Senate to drop the four names. The National Assembly exists to check the Executive’s excesses and defend the people’s power to elect their leaders. The people’s faith in our elections is at a very high level, which is why the rush for voter registration was unprecedented.
The Constitution must be upheld.