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—Tells aggrieved persons to take their case to Senate

By Johnbosco Agbakwuru

The Federal Government on Wednesday told those challenging the nomination of four Resident Electoral Commissioners, REC, over their alleged membership of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, that President Muhammadu Buhari cannot immediately throw out the nominees based on allegations that have not been proven.

The Federal Government directed those, especially members of the Civil Society Organizations, CSO, and a cross-section of Nigerians kicking against the nomination of the RECs, over their membership of political parties contrary to the provision of the Electoral Law to take their case to the Senate.

This is as the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed has restated the commitment of President Muhammadu Buhari to free, fair and credible polls in the 2023 General Elections.

Recall that some CSOs have raised the alarm over President Buhari’s nomination of card-carrying members of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC and also persons of questionable characters for the position of Resident Electoral Commissioner.

Critics have alleged that the assurances of the President to ensure a free, fair and credible elections in 2023 may not be possible with some members of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, being partisan because they were nominated by some Chieftains of political parties.

According to the critics, while the President may have been determined to ensure that Nigerians choose their leaders in the forthcoming elections freely without any form of manipulations or intimidation, the people supervising the elections, the electoral umpire may frustrate him because of their personal interest.

But fielding questions from State House correspondents after the weekly Federal Executive Council, FEC, meeting presided over by President Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja on whether the rejection of four or the nominees does not worry the government, Alhaji Mohammed directed those opposing the nominees should take their case to the Senate that has the constitutional power to screen the nominees.

He said that President Buhari was committed to ensuring credible and transparent elections.

According to him, ““I think you are going to be very fair to Mr. President. Over the last couple of years, you had very transparent, free and fair elections. We all know what used to obtain before we came.

“Before we came, it was quite almost impossible for a ruling party to lose election in any state maybe governorship. But that has changed under President Muhammadu Buhari. This is because the President has insisted on free, fair and credible elections in Nigeria.

“So there are no basis for anyone to express doubt that the 2023 General Elections will not be free, fair and credible. Mr. President has been clear on this and that will not change in 2023 General Elections”, Mohammed posited.

“And these could be seen in the governorship elections in Edo Anambra, Ekiti states and recently in Osun state where the incumbent Governor lost the election. Mr. President has lived up to his commitment to free and fair elections and I’m sure the same will apply come 2023.

“As to the nominees that are being challenged by social media warriors and by some critics, I don’t think it is the business of the President to immediately throw out the nominees, based on allegations which have not been proven.

“I think the whole idea is that these people will go for confirmation in the National Assembly, the same questions that are being raised in the public domain will be asked there.

“I think this media trial is quite worrisome because even when these people are cleared of any wrongdoings, nobody comes back to apologise to them. So, my advice is, yes, there’ll be allegations against anybody. It does not mean that that fellow is guilty. Let’s wait for the process to be completed.”

Recall that a coalition of CSOs has been kicking against some of the nominees of the President and has failed the constitutional test of non-partisanship and unquestionable integrity.

They argued that evidence abounds that some of the nominees are either partisan, politically aligned, or previously indicted for corruption.

“To mention a few, Prof. Muhammad Lawal Bashir from Sokoto was a Governorship aspirant under the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the 2015 elections cycle. Mrs. Sylvia Uchenna Agu, the nominee for Enugu state, is believed to be the younger sister of the APC Deputy National Chairman, Southeast.

“The nominee for Imo State, Mrs Pauline Onyeka Ugochi, a former Head of ICT at INEC in Imo state, gained notoriety for alleged corruption and connivance with politicians to undermine elections. Mrs Queen Elizabeth Agwu, a former Accountant-General of the Ebonyi, was suspended allegedly on the grounds of incompetence and corruption in 2016.

“We contend that the appointment of these individuals as RECs will significantly undermine the neutrality and impartiality of the Independent National Electoral Commission, and it will increase mistrust in INEC and Nigeria’s electoral process. By the combined effect of Section 156 (1)(a) and Third Schedule, Part 1, Item F, paragraph 14 (1), these individuals are constitutionally prohibited from any appointment as members of INEC.

“It will be against the sacred spirit of the Constitution to accept their nomination. Given their antecedent and close affinity with political parties, it is improbable that they will remain neutral and objective if successfully screened as INEC Resident Electoral Commissioners (REC)”.

“Additionally, we are constrained to observe that the appointments did not reflect the principles of non-discrimination and inclusivity that the Civil Society Community has and continues to advocate, particularly, in this instant case, with regard to Persons with Disability (PWDs) who represent about 15% of Nigeria’s population and have been completely left out of the process”, the CSOs submitted.

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