Acting chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Mrs Amina Bala Zakari, has come under severe attack by those who say her appointment as acting chairman is irregular. Some accuse her of close affinity to both President Buhari and the ruling APC. OLUGBENGA SALAMI looks at how the woman is battling amidst these views to still keep her job
Major question on the lips of many Nigerians long before the expiration of the tenure former chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Professor Attahiru Jega, especially after the 2015 general elections, was “how do we get another credible, upright and fearless person to lead INEC after Jega?”
It is a known fact and acclaimed all over the world that the former INEC boss whose tenure ended on June 30, laid a new foundation for credible election in Nigeria, and the belief of many Nigerians was that he has left behind big shoes, which may take a long time to find the appropriate person to fill.
Jega would for a long time be remembered for the successful conduct of the 2015 elections with the introduction of card readers and permanent voters’ cards. According to former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, the former INEC chairman’s achievements have boosted his reputation and earned him the respect of Nigerians and the international community.
However, upon the exit of Jega, who many regarded as one of the heroes of democracy, President Muhammadu Buhari appointed Mrs. Amina Bala Zakari as the new acting chairman of INEC.
Though many Nigerians, including the President had wanted Jega to continue in office for another term, he declined, insisting on only one term and be allowed to return to the classroom to continue from where he took leave of absence as a university lecturer.
Jega, a Professor of Political Science, who assumed chairmanship of INEC on June 30, 2010 at the behest of former President Goodluck Jonathan, was a former chairman of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU and Vice Chancellor of Bayero University, Kano, BUK. He had handed over the leadership of INEC to, Ahmed Wali, a national commissioner in the Commission before he was over ruled by the president and replaced with Zakari, another national commissioner.
Following her appointment on June 30, 2015 as the new INEC boss, Zakari has begun to prove that she has the capacity to lead the Commission and even surpass the records of Jega if given the opportunity through confirmation by the Senate.
Besides, the INEC boss has been the only woman to be appointed into key such position by President Buhari since sworn in May this year. This is the reason why many Nigerians, especially different women groups and non-governmental organisations, NGOs have endorsed the president’s appointment of a woman at the helm of affairs of one of the most important agencies in the political structure of the country.
They affirmed that for a nation seeking for greater female involvement in politics, this is by all means a good motivation. According to them, Zakari’s appointment by President Buhari, is for the sustenance and improvement of credible elections in the country, based on her track record of excellence in public service over the years. They also believe that it would help in promoting commitment and dedication among staff members of INEC.
Also, the Coalition of Progressive Political Parties, the umbrella organisation for 13 registered political parties in Nigeria, hailed Zakari’s appointment even as it condemned what it calls “the dangerous, irresponsible and inciting statement issued by the opposition Peoples Democratic Party on the appointment of Zakari.
In a statement issued in Abuja and signed by the chairman of the Coalition and national chairman of Peoples Democratic Movement, Mallam Bashir Ibrahim, he decried what he described as “the dangerous precedent, whereby a political party is trying to decide for the country who becomes the INEC chairman.”
The coalition warned that “any interference by political parties in the appointment of INEC officials is tantamount to politicising the process and the Commission itself, which is capable of creating dangerous schism in the Commission and generating unnecessary tension in the country”.
Despite the criticisms, the INEC boss has said that she was capable of handling the activities of the Commission, especially as she is not oblivious of its challenges and successes. She said that aside being an INEC staff for long, working closely with the former chairman, she has given her much exposure about the job, adding that what was needed at the moment was the will to build on the achievements made so far.
In her words, “There shouldn’t be any problem. I have been part of the process. I know the problems, challenges and have equally seen the successes. What is remaining is to build on the success and to try and tackle the outstanding challenges”.
Though Zakari noted that the bulk of the work has been done by her former boss as regards election management, she believes that there was still much to be done, and improve on.
She, however, added that the work can only be done successfully with the support of Nigerians. “Basically, with the co-operation of all, the support of staff and the people of Nigeria, we should be able to do the job, pending when a new Commission would be put in place”, she said.
As part of efforts to further make INEC more successful in future elections, Zakari has since after her appointment reconstituted all standing committees of the Commission, which lends credence to her readiness for the job. She has also pledged to continue with the reform programmes of her former boss, Professor Jega which will result in free, fair, peaceful and successful 2019 general elections and those scheduled to hold before then.
Zakari, at a recent meeting with journalists, said she did not lobby for the job. “I did not lobby for it. I had packed all my things out of INEC and wanted to take a leave for the remaining three weeks. I felt that as the Commission was being depleted, I had a responsibility to sit out my three weeks.
“Then I was called on my way home after the chairman (Jega) had handed over to Ambassador Wali. I was told that the Head of Service was looking for me, and I said what for? I just continued driving. I was almost home when they said, ‘come back, you have a letter to be the acting chairman.’ I said, ‘but somebody was appointed in the morning, take the letter to INEC.’
“But they said, ‘It is in your name. You have to come and receive it. Just turn round. While I was still arguing, my driver decided to turn round. I called the Ambassador and told him, and he said, ‘go pick (the letter)”, she explained.
However, Zakari would have her first litmus test as the INEC boss during the forthcoming governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states. This, she is expected to use in proving some Nigerians, especially those in the opposition political parties wrong that she was appointed to influence the governorship elections in favour of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC.
Also, it was believed in some quarters that her appointment was a move by the current administration to influence the decisions of various elections tribunals holding across the country.
She is rumoured to have strong personal relationship with both President Buhari and Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State, both of whom she had worked under prior to her appointment as a national commissioner.