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Tasking INEC on fidelity of 2019 poll

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AFP PHOTO / POOL / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS

All is definitely not so well with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), particularly regarding the composition of its personnel, preparations for the 2019 poll and its ability to remain impartial. There is an impression that the present INEC does not inspire enough confidence in its capacity to hold aloof from the shenanigans of powerful political forces during electoral disputations. This is what leaders of the South and Middle Belt have brought to the fore.

True to his pledge not to seek an extension of tenure as chairman of INEC at the end of the 2015 poll, Prof Jega returned to his duty post at Bayero University Kano. His exit, after what was adjudged above average performance, left a vacuum. The outgoing chairman had in keeping with civil rules handed over to Ambassador Ahmed Wali on June 30, 2015, assuring that the commission was in safe hands.

INEC was also depleted by the exit of some retiring commissioners, including Col. M.K. Hammanga (Adamawa), Dr. Ishmael Igbani (Rivers), Prof. Lai Olurode (Osun), Lady Gladys Nwafor (Abia), Mrs Thelma Iremiren (Delta) and Dr. Nuru Yakubu (Yobe).

Jega’s decision to handover to Wali was predicated on the fact that Mrs. Amina Bala Zakari, who was his senior in ranking, was due for retirement on July 31, 2015. But, President Muhammadu Buhari, who had just been sworn into office, overruled the outgoing chairman, saying that Zakari should hold the office, pending the appointment of a substantive chairman.

However, while the President vacillated in appointing a substantive chairman, governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa drew near, warranting public outcry over discoveries that the acting chairman had filial relationship with Buhari. This precipitated strident calls for her replacement.

Hajia Amina Zakari

Nearly four months on the seat, Mrs. Zakari, nee Hussaini Adamu; was succeeded by Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu on October 21, 2015, barely one month to the Kogi State staggered governorship poll. At the time of Mahmood’s appointment, public anxiety over the President’s delay in constituting a new cabinet had begun to creep into the nation’s social fabric.

And to make matters worse, the list of Federal Government appointees and nominees showed a marked disdain for the federal character principle as contained in the 1999 Constitution, as amended. Consequently, a lot of commentators expressed worry that the President did not reflect zonal balance in his appointment of the INEC chairman, such that having come from the northern part of the country; the President should have looked southwards as his predecessor did.

It could therefore be against such cloudy background that Southern and Middle Belt leaders recently initiated calls for the immediate sack of the Inspector General of Police (IGP) Ibrahim Kpotun Idris and INEC chairman, Prof. Yakubu, citing incidences of defiance and disdain for laid down rules and systemic hierarchy.

The forum’s leaders, comprising Chief Edwin Clark, Ayo Adebanjo, Chief John Nnia Nwodo, Air Commodore Dan Suleiman, Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife and Yinka Odumakin, accused the Buhari administration of “extreme intolerance to patriots,” as well as, doubting the ability and capacity of INEC to deliver credible poll in 2019.

Citing continual violation of decency in public affairs, the SMB leaders decried the audacious display of impunity and supercilious indifference to lawful orders, including defying the directives of the Commander-in-Chief, remarking that not only was the polity being overheated, but also that politics continues to overshadow governance in the country.

Leaders argued that the sentimental considerations that informed the appointment of the IGP do not dispose him towards professionalism or respect for constituted authorities, insisting that as a consequence faced with such unconscionable police chief, INEC may not deliver a credible electoral outcome in 2019.

They said: “We have looked at the career record of this IGP and we have not seen any outstanding performance that would make Mr. President to keep such a man in such an esteemed office beyond the fact that he was the Commissioner of Police in Kano in 2015, where controversial polls took place and the Resident Electoral Commissioner, who would have been questioned if there were challenge to the results, was found dead with his wife and two children in a mysterious inferno.”

The Southern and Middle Belt leaders alluded to the possibility that the way he was hired could dispose the IGP to reciprocate his unmerited elevation and appointment, saying: “The then Commissioner of Police was promoted lGP within a year with over 30 Senior officers to him having their career abruptly terminated…

Rekindling Hope Of Impartiality, Dangers Ahead
From the enlightened perspective of the Southern and Middle Belt leaders, the basic suspicions for calling for a review of the composition of the leadership of the Police and INEC are: retention of service chiefs due for retirement and narrowness of the appointment of Prof. Mahmood.

Moreover, the leaders underscored the fact that President Buhari was the only audacious President to choose only people from the same ethnic stock with him to lead INEC, including his relation, Zakari.

The harm, which Mrs. Zakari’s presence holds for INEC is that she is about the oldest serving member of the commission and occupies a very sensitive position, Electoral Operations and Logistics, from which she could proposition the outcome of an election, particularly the Presidential.

As such, apart from the tag of nepotism and sectionalism, which prompted President Buhari’s unusual swiftness to overrule Prof. Jega’s decision to invest on Wali the acting chairmanship, this potential to unduly influence poll outcome must have informed that action.

The President has in the past three years splashed his nepotism bent with a take-it-or-leave-it abandon, apparently to drive home the perception that, with the power available to a Nigerian President, former President Jonathan failed to appropriate such.

In the case of the INEC chairman, Prof. Yakubu, his evasive manouvre during the Kogi governorship poll conveyed the impression of a pliable official incapable of independent action.

From the alarm raised by the Southern and Middle Belt leaders, some danger signals could be deduced: Would the leaders fly the kite of truculent advocacy as a way of moving the Presidential hand to remove Zakari and Prof. Yakub and rekindle hope of impartiality on the commission?

Analogous to the foregoing is the earlier insistence of the leaders on restructuring as the minimum conditionality for the 2019 general election. As such, what could be the possible implications on democracy and in the polity should Southern and Middle Belt leaders decide to stonewall against the 2019 poll in response to the wanton killings and unrestrained bloodshed in the country?

However, in defence of Prof. Yakub, the Senator representing Kaduna Central, Shehu Sani, said it was not necessary to call for his removal, stressing that the INEC chairman has not manifested any “inclination or proclivity to unfairness or injustice” in piloting the affairs of the commission.

In a statement he sent to journalists in response to the demand of the Southern and Middle Belt Forum leaders, the outspoken but embattled Senator maintained that the INEC chairman had so far set credible standards of transparency in some lections he had conducted, especially Edo and Anambra governorship polls.

While remarking that Nigerians are awake and conscious of their electoral rights now more than ever before, Senator Sani argued that although the leaders “have the fundamental rights to raise issues and observations on the activities of INEC and demand redress, the track records of Prof. Yakub and his pedigree are enough assurance and guarantee to give him the benefit of the doubt” to deliver on the next elections.

Indeed prof. Mahmoud Yakubu could be said to be interested in acquitting his commission creditably in the diligent prosecution of the 2019 poll, but what nobody could say of a certainty is how his sincere intentions would pan out in the midst of overzealous and recalcitrant agents of the coercive powers of the state.


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