As Professor Mahmood Yakubu awaits to be screened and confirmed by the Senate as the substantive chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, there are numerous challenges ahead of him. In this piece, DOZIE EMMANUEL looks at those challenges
It was indeed a sigh of relief to many Nigerians as the National Council of State, last Wednesday, ratified the appointment of Prof. Mahmood Yakubu as the new chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC. The appointment of Yakubu, the immediate past Executive Secretary of Tertiary Education Trust Fund, TETFUND, has been applauded by stakeholders in the electoral process as a right step in the right direction.
No doubt, the appointment of Prof. Yakubu, a Professor of Political History and International Studies, has doused the looming tension in the polity ahead of the Kogi and Bayelsa gubernatorial polls.
The appointment of Amina Zakari as the acting INEC chairman on June 30, 2015 by President Muhammadu Buhari threw up some moral and legal questions. In fact, no sooner was she appointed than Nigerians began to question the rationale behind her appointment. They did not only criticise the President for such appointment, but also described Zakari’s appointment as unconstitutional. They argued that since the out-going chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, had already handed over the affairs of the commission to the most senior National Commissioner, Ambassador Wali, there was no point for the President to appoint Zakari, who was due for retirement, in an acting capacity.
Even some Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SAN chided the President over the manner he appointed Zakari to superintend over the electoral body without recourse to the constitution and the Electoral Act.
Moreover, the deluge of criticism, condemnation and bickering that trailed Zakari’s appointment forced President Muhammadu Buhari to shop for a substantive INEC chairman ahead of the Kogi and Bayelsa gubernatorial polls slated for November 21 and December 5 respectively.
However, the appointment of Prof. Yakubu as INEC chairman and some of his national commissioners has somewhat saved the country from an impending crisis and confusion that would have arisen with an ill-constituted electoral commission.
While some have argued that the appointment of the new INEC boss was a ploy by President Buhari to ensure that power does not slip out of the hands of the North and from the ruling APC in the 2019 polls, others insisted that the President has been empowered by the constitution to pick anybody from anywhere so far he or she can do the job.
Explaining the circumstances that led to Prof. Yakubu’s appointment, the Sokoto state governor, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal, while announcing the appointment of the new INEC boss and five other national commissioners, said the Council of State approved the nominations of the new leadership of the electoral body. The former speaker said the President acted in conformity with the provisions of the Constitution by the nomination and approval of the INEC commissioners. The governor also stated that it was in line with the constitution that at least four of the commissioners would form a quorum.
“The 11 previous commissioners served out their tenures and the appointment of the INEC chiefs is staggered because of the prevailing national exigencies. As the first Council of State meeting in the life of this administration, the Council received a memo on the nomination of chairman and five commissioners for INEC.
“This is in conformity with the provisions of the Constitution of Nigeria, particularly Sections 154 (1) and 3 and 156 (3) that confer on the President the powers to appoint a chairman and national commissioners of INEC, in consultation with the Council of State.”
Five of the national commissioners approved by the National Council of States along with the new INEC Chairman are : Mrs. Amina Bala Zakari (North-West); Dr. Antonia Taiye Okoosi-Simbile (North-Central); Alhaji Baba Shettima Arfo (North-East); Dr. Muhammed Mustapha Lekki (South-South) and Prince Soyebi Adedeji Solomon (South-West). The Council however resolved that the only South-East representative, Ambassador Lawrence Nwauruku who has about two years to the end of his tenure, should remain as national commissioner.
Being that INEC is a very sensitive commission, the President must have reposed so much confidence in the INEC boss before appointing him knowing the importance of the Commission in the socio-political history of the country. Even his antecedent as former TeTFund Executive Secretary must have been thoroughly scrutinised before he was eventually picked.
Can Yakubu step into the shoes of his predecessor and possibly continue on Jega’s reforms after he has been confirmed by the Senate? Does he have the mental and physical strength to withstand the rigour and pressure that go with the office? Has he the capacity to come up with reforms and stand by them? Is he liberal minded to work closely with other stakeholders?
Of course, all eyes will definitely be on the new INEC chairman in the coming days and weeks to see how he steers the affairs of the Commission, which fared relatively well under Prof. Jega.
It is instructive to say that the new INEC boss will have to tackle some challenges confronting INEC if he must succeed in taking the Commission to an enviable height.
As he assumes office, Prof. Yakubu is expected to streamline the existing political parties to a manageable number. It is unfortunate that some of the existing political parties in Nigeria today are just there to make up the numbers; they are only visible in Abuja.
Similarly, he should also ensure that the coming gubernatorial polls scheduled to hold in Bayelsa and Kogi states between November and December this year are conducted in a free and fair manner such that the two elections would not be marred in needless controversy. Thus, a comprehensive and early review of the voters register ahead of the 2019 general elections is no doubt pertinent.
Moreover, the first litmus test for the new INEC boss is the Kogi and Bayelsa gubernatorial elections. Nigerians are already waiting anxiously to see how the polls will go. Shortly after that, it will be the governorship elections in Edo, Anambra, Ondo, Ekiti and Osun states expected to hold at different times before the 2019 general elections.
Nevertheless, the issue of card reader and perfection of the permanent voters’ card are among the challenges the new INEC boss may have to contend with. These two instruments designed by the Commission largely contributed to the successful conduct of the 2015 general elections. It is therefore expected that Prof Yakubu would consolidate on them for the success of the 2019 elections and beyond.
Therefore, as the new INEC boss comes to terms with the reality of his new office, all the stakeholders in the electoral process – civil societies, political parties, the media, security outfits as well as the electorates must play their part to ensure that the new INEC chairman and his national commissioners succeed in this national assignment.