With the sudden departure of some National Commissioners and Resident Electoral Commissioners, RECs, from the Independent National Electoral commission, INEC, OKECHUKWU JOMBO, writes that the Commission needs urgent attention.
It is no longer news that the ranks of the independent National Electoral commission INEC is currently depleted and needs urgent replacements.
What will be news is who the replacements will be and there pedigree since the country’s political awareness is in its highest crescendo and anybody who comes there must be someone who has very acceptable credentials someone who is above board.
Maybe that was why when the Acting National Chairman of INEC Amina Bala Zakari was appointed some sections of the country raised eyebrows and called for her removal.
It will be recalled that INEC, witnessed a change in leadership when Professor Attahiru Jega bowed out of office after his five-year tenure and handed over to Ambassador Mohammed Wali but was replaced by Zakari that same night by President Muhammedu Buhari.
The leading opposition party in the country, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, strongly objected to her emergence and even alleged that the president that she is her ‘daughter’.
Addressing a press conference the National Publicity Secretary of PDP, Chief Olisa Metuh, said the party was disturbed by the development in INEC where President Buhari, who knew all along that the immediate past INEC chairman would be leaving office by June 30, had to wait for him to hand over to one of the national commissioners only to reverse it immediately, thereby injecting bad blood in the commission.
PDP argued that because of the very close affinity between President Buhari and Hajia Zakari, the independence of the electoral body would be eroded if she is allowed to superintend over the affairs of the commission.
“The situation in INEC since the PDP government reformed and granted it operational autonomy has been peaceful, but the untidy overruling of Prof. Jega and appointing of Mrs. Amina Zakari as acting chairman which, we gathered was influenced by personal relationship with the Presidency and one of the new governors of the North West, ostensibly to pave the way for the APC at the electoral tribunals, has completely eroded public trust in the commission.
“Whereas the PDP recognizes the right and powers of the President to appoint the Chairman… the PDP states in unequivocal terms that we cannot, as critical stakeholders fold our hands and watch while the Presidency perpetuate actions that diminish the independence of the electoral commission.
“The PDP has declared the appointment of Mrs. Amina Zakari as unacceptable and demand that President Buhari changes her immediately.
“Our reasons include the fact that due process was not observed in the appointment and that Mrs. Zakari has shown in the last elections that she is manifestly bias in favour of the APC. Finally, her appointment is a clear case of nepotism.
“We ask, if they trusted Prof. Jega and commended him for conducting free and fair elections, why would they not trust him on who to hold forth in the commission until a substantive Chairman is appointed, rather than appointing someone who is retiring from the commission in the next three weeks?”
Those against her appointment led by the opposition PDP, had argued that she cannot be trusted to be fair to all parties, especially during elections, because of her link to partisan politicians.
Obviously worried by the opposition against her stay in office beyond late July when she is due to retire, some 13 small political parties were said to have been mobilised on penultimate Thursday to shore up support for her.
Hajia Zakari’s appointment as Acting chairman of INEC is believed to have been influenced by her previous employment by the Afri-Projects Consortium, which was the principal consultant to the Petroleum Trust Fund, PTF, when President Buhari was chairman of the Fund during the administration of late General Sani Abacha.
Under the controversial Afri-Projects Consortium that handled almost all the PTF projects, she was the Head of Health and Social Sector (1999-2001); acting Head of Sector (1998-1999) and Senior Consultant/Chief Pharmacist (1997-2001) Amina Zakari, a Pharmacist by profession hails from Jigawa State was appointed by Mallam Nasir El-Rufai as Secretary Health and Human Services (equivalent to Commissioner at the state level) in the Federal Capital Territory Administration, FCDA from 2004 to 2006 when El-Rufai was the FCT Minister.
Prior to her appointment as Secretary Health and Human Services, she worked closely with Mallam El-Rufai as Secretary Social Development and Acting Secretary, Agriculture and Rural Development.
Nigerian Pilot Saturday gathered from authoritative sources close to the presidency that President Buhari was taken aback by the protest by PDP to Hajiya Zakari’s appointment and he would want to distance himself from any allegation that he planted his stooge in INEC to manipulate future elections
This call was still on when her tenure as National Commission ended but will continue in office solely on the strength of the letter appointing her in Acting capacity, while Dr Abdulkadir Oniyingi, Kwara State (North Central) who was appointed the same time with her bowed out
Some people for obvious reasons asked questions about the constitutionality of Hajia Zakari’s continued stay in office beyond her constitutionally recognized tenure. In response to this INEC’s Deputy Director of Publicity, Nick Dazang maintained that there is no confusion over the position of Zakari in INEC having been named the acting chairman of the commission by the President.
Dazang said that Zakari would remain at the helm of affairs at INEC pending the appointment of a substantive chairman by the Federal Government.
“There should be no controversy over the appointment of the Acting Chairman by the President because in Section 153 to 159 of the Nigerian Constitution, the President has the power to appoint the INEC Chairman subject to ratification by the Senate.
“There is a letter by the Head of Service appointing Zakari as the Acting Chairman pending the appointment of a substantive chairman and this is already in the public domain,” Dazang said.
Sixteen other Resident Electoral Commissioners REC, apart from the six that bowed with Jega, have also left due to end of tenure.
The affected RECs are Ahmad Makama, Bauchi State; Haliru Tambuwal, Sokoto State; Abdullahi Danyaya, Niger State; Abubakar Wara, Kebbi State; Mr. Mike Igini, Delta State; Prof. Selina Oko, Ebonyi State; Hussaini Ahmed Mahuta, Katsina State; Dr. A.L. Ogunmola, Oyo State; Alh. Ibrahim Zarewa, Kano State; Prof. Tukur Sa’ad, Adamawa State; Dr. Emmanuel Onucheyo, Kogi State; Kassim Gana Gaidam, Yobe State; Mr. Timothy Ibitoye, Osun State; Amb. Rufus Akeju, Lagos State; Prof. C.E. Onukaogu, Abia State and Ibrahim Bagobiri Marafa, Zamfara State.
But even as the commission is being depleted, following the progressive expiration of the tenures of National Commissioners, the commission, nevertheless, said that its work will continue apace and uninterrupted because it can always form a quorum.
Section 159 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) states:
(1.) The quorum for a meeting of any of the bodies established by section 153 of this Constitution shall be not less than one-third of the total number of members of that body at the date of the meeting.
(2.) A member of such a body shall be entitled to one vote, and a decision of the meeting may be taken and any act or thing may be done in the name of that body by a majority of the members present at the meeting.
(3.) Whenever such body is assembled for a meeting, the Chairman or other person presiding shall, in all matters in which a decision is taken by vote (by whatever name such vote may be called) have a casting as well as a deliberative vote.
(4.) Subject to its rules of procedure, any such body may act or take part in any decision notwithstanding any vacancy in its membership or the absence of any member.
In spite of the position of INEC that the depletion of Commissioners will not in any way affect its activities, political observers are worried that INEC may be underrating the enormity of the responsibilities on its shoulders. The commission is expected to conduct governorship elections in Kogi, Bayelsa and Edo States in no distant time. The possibility of the commission delivery credible polls in these states may be hampered by the vacant positions in the electoral body.
As a result of this there is a general consensus across the country that President Buhari must expedite action in the appointment of a substantive INEC chairman and other national officers of the commission that recently vacated office at the end of their tenure.