Partisanship concerns and selection of INEC commissioners
President Muhammadu Buhari recently sent the names of six nominees to the National Assemblyfor screening and confirmation as Commissioners in the Independent National Electoral Commission (). Electoral reforms are one area where the anti-corruption stance of the Buhari administration does not show strong presence or forceful agitation.
Right from the early days of the administration, the president was taken to task over his decision to elevate Mrs. Amina Bala-Zakari as the acting national chairman of the electoral body. Controversy trailed that sudden change, because it came few hours after the outgoing national chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega, acting on existing internal succession format, had handed over to Ambassador Mohammad Wali, who was on line to be the acting chairman.
Jega’s tenure had expired on June 29, 2015 exactly one month after Buhari was sworn into office. Coming at a time Nigerians had a positive rating for Jega, some of the complaints against Bala-Zakari’s elevation were premised against her capacity to replicate Jega’s courage, competence and innovativeness.
But over and above those considerations, some partisan observers noted that Mrs. Bala-Zakari, whose term as INEC commission was coming to a close; was related to the president. Added to that, some people feared that granting her an acting capacity could be a stepping stone to confirming her as the substantive chairman and expectedly to achieve a gender balance, since no woman had ever occupied the post.
Hadjia Bala-Zakari’s appointment came at a time appointments by the new president were believed to be heavily tilted to the north, especially against the background that occupants of such strategic agencies like army, NSA, EFCC, Defence, Airforce, Police, NSCDC, DSS, NIS, NIP, Fire Service, NEMA and Customs are occupied by persons from the northern part of the country.
Again, despite the fact that INEC chairmen are usually sourced from outside the commission, it became obvious that the appointment of Mrs. Bala-Zakari by the President as acting chairman did not do violence to the constitution. In Section 153 (2), under the Third Schedule, Part I, column F, paragraph 14 (1), the 1999 Constitution, as amended, provides that “INEC shall comprise the following members: (a) a chairman, who shall be the Chief Electoral Commissioner; and (b) twelve other members to be known as National Electoral Commissioners….”
Not long after the dust over the appointment of acting chairman of the electoral commission appeared to settle, the tenure of six national commissioners in the commission expired. The commissioners involved included, Col. M.K. Hammanga (retd), Adamawa State (North East); Dr Ishmael Jikiri Igbani, Rivers State (South South); Prof Lai Olurode, Osun State (South West); Mrs. Gladys Nne Nwafor, Abia State (Southeast); Mrs. Thelma Amata Iremiren, Delta State (South South), and Dr Nuru Yakubu, Yobe State (North-East).The vacuum that ensued threw up new concerns about the qualification of the commission to take binding decisions, particularly as staggered elections in Kogi and Bayelsa States drew near.
The vacuum continued, even as the elections in Kogi held amidst constitutional controversies over the issue of cancellation of election and suspension of collation. The situation became so worrisome that the Senate, penultimate week, decided to note its reservations about the rate at which the little gains made in reforming the electoral system were being lost due to inconclusive elections.
Apart from urging INEC to do all in its power to round off action regarding some outstanding rerun elections, the Senate enjoined the president to nominate suitably qualified persons to fill the vacant positions at INEC without further delays.
Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, who opened debate on the motion, noted with dismay that more than 20 states have no Resident Electoral Commissioners (REC), contrary to section 14 (2) of the Third Schedule of the 1999 constitution (as amended).
However, either in response to the senate outcry or perhaps it had been putting the names together; the presidency sent a list of national commissioner-nominees to the Red Chamber. Among the six names could be found a balance between political exigencies and practical knowledge.
Essentially, the six nominees could be subdivided into two groups of appetizers and stabilizers. The stabilizers include, Dr. Adekunle Ladipo Ogunmola, Prof. Okechukwu Ibeanu and Mrs. May Agbamuche-Mbu, while AVM Adamu Tijani Mu’Azu, Abubakar Ahmed Nahuche and Mohammed Kudu Haruna, make up the appetizers. The nominees come from different backgrounds and experience.
THE only woman among the six nominees is a legal practitioner and former Editor of ThisDay Lawyer. May Agbamuche-Mbu could be said to be a citizen of two administrations, having worked in the infrastructure committee or Project Assessment Committee set up by the Jonathan administration to assess and make recommendations on all Federal Government Projects in the country.
In the life of the present administration, Agbamuche-Mbu was enlisted into the committee set up by the former Ekiti State governor and minister of Solid Minerals, Dr. John Kayode Fayemi, to prepare a road map for the development of Nigeria’s solid minerals sector.
Despite the Fayemi connection, there is no doubt that May would bring her wealth of experience in law and dispute resolution to bear on INEC, especially against the background of unforeseen electoral disputes that may not have a legal precedent. In Kogi, INEC’s capacity to meet the challenges of emergency was tried. Be it the question of whether to substitute or not, or on the arithmetic of vote disparity between winner and runner-up in an inconclusive setting, negotiating skills and practical knowledge would be required.
Mrs. Agbamuche-Mbu’s presence on the electoral commission is also expected to infuse some stability at critical moments of INEC’s operations. Having written much about the need to move from change to reform, her nomination offers her a great opportunity to demonstrate that her ideas are doable.
PROF. Okechukwu Obinna Ibeanu
Prof. Ibeanu is an egghead that has empirical knowledge about elections and human rights in the continent. He has postulated a lot of theories about how to make Nigeria’s democracy conform to its ideals. Together with Prof. Attahiru Jega, Ibeanu authored two far-reaching research-based reports that have continued to serve as guide to electoral managers in Africa: “Introduction: Elections and paroxysmal future of Democracy in Nigeria” and “Conclusions: A Troubled path to democratic consolidation.”
Perhaps it was based on the recommendations in the publication, “Regulating Nigerian political parties: role of the Independent National Electoral Commission,” which he authored alongside three others, that he was penciled.
With theories aplenty, Prof. Ibeanu would without doubt enrich INEC with various perspectives that could throw light on the management of elections and its aftermath, particularly from the standpoint of respect for human rights.
Dr. Adekunle Ladipo Ogunmola
DR. Ogunmola is not new to INEC. He was at one time the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) for Lagos and Osun States. And as a former provost of Oyo State College of Education, Dr. Ogunmola is about the only one among the commissioner-nominees that is blessed with head knowledge and experience. Having been a REC, Ogunmola has much to do if INEC would solve the puzzle of what usually happens when a re-run election holds and officers are sent from the national headquarters. His new position would afford him the opportunity to set up a fair organogram concerning who takes charge when a staggered election, say a governorship election holds.
AVM Ahmed Tijani Mu’Azu
THE former Air Officer Inspector retired from the Nigeria Air Force (NAF) in 2012, albeit prematurely, after his course mate, Alex Badeh, was appointed the Chief of Air Staff. Those who know AVM Mu’Azu say he was a highly principled, but self-opinionated officer. Apart from geopolitical considerations, the appointment of his course mate, in spite of him, could be said to have prepared him for this moment of recognition.
Abubakar Ahmed Nahuche
SHORTLY after leaving public service, the Zamfara State born Engineer had a stint in the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), on which platform he contested for the state Assembly seat. His electoral victory was put into rigorous test through a prolonged election petition that went through to the Court of Appeal.
Perhaps, that experience, in addition to being a legislator would help Nahuche to contribute to the new INEC. It is possible that his knowledge of electronic engineering would also come in handy in fashioning a better internetworking of INEC operations and at times of procurement and award of contracts. But can he be divorced from the biases of his political past? That is an issue better left for NASS to decided.
Mohammed Kudu Haruna
Mohammed Haruna is a well-known journalist.
IN addition to his hands on experience in journalism, Malam Haruna studied Political Science and Government. But having grown up the journalism ladder as a reporter and circulating around the ancient Northern capital of Kaduna, Haruna’s nomination may not be restricted to his rich knowledge and analytical powers. He is close to most Nigeria’s political actors, including the old generation players that designed the 1999 constitution. It is for that closeness that he could be groupped among the appetizers.
Balance Of Power
THE nature of nominations of the six commissioners indicates a thin balance between those who would do the job and those that would do the politics. The job of INEC commissioners does not begin and end with the technicalities involved in organising and management of elections. There is the politics, which involves intricate art of balancing various interests.
Decision making within the commission does not come easy. It is in the process of taking critical decisions that the two tendencies usually clash. Sources within the appointing institution explained that while the stabilizers may be coming with energy to change things, they would discover in moments of taking crucial decision that the appetizers would always have their way.
It is said that the appetizers are those that would bring in the political flavour to the inside workings of the commission. They are those that would most likely protect and preserve the interest of the party in power, All Progressives Congress (APC).
When PDP was in power, the likes of Ambassador Lawrence Nwuruku, belonged to the appetizers. Though at the point of his nomination, Nwuruku was a card-carrying member of the ruling party, it was argued that what the constitution stipulated was the character of the commissioners and not their political preferences.
During the debates for the amendment of Electoral Act 2010, the case was made for political parties to nominate their members to the electoral commission. It is debatable if the presence of party faithful in INEC would help to achieve greater transparency and credibility in the electoral process, but the pattern has remained that party stalwart recommend only candidates they trust to protect the interest of the party in power.
Unlike in advanced democracies where party affiliations or voting pattern of citizens are known, even some of those appointed from the academia could nurse sympathy for different political parties. It is not clear however, to what extent party sympathy could influence the judgments of INEC commissioners. But it is a matter that the proposed reforms should take into account.
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