INEC in the last three years
Following an emergency meeting it held on September 9 at the Ekiti State Governor’s Lodge, Abuja, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Governors’ Forum issued a statement in which it passed a vote of no confidence in the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). According to a report of the meeting in the Vanguard of September 11, the PDP governors said INEC “needs to re-invent itself as a truly independent umpire of the electoral process in the country. For now we have no confidence in INEC. The Commission has conducted itself as a tool of the APC-led Federal Government, especially with the roles of the chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu and a National Commissioner, Mrs. Amina Zakari.” Three days later the same newspaper seemed to agree with the PDP governors in its editorial of September 14. There were, the newspaper said, widespread concern for a couple of reasons about INEC’s neutrality as an umpire in the Osun governorship then scheduled for September 22. “The more insidious factor” the newspaper said, “is that for the first time in the political history of Nigeria the electoral umpire has individuals intimately connected to the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari occupying powerful and sensitive positions. Buhari appointed them shortly after he assumed power in May 2015. The tradition hitherto had always been for the chairman to come from a region other than those of the appointing President.”
Since then PDP, as the nation’s main opposition party, has seized every opportunity it has had to denigrate the two INEC members and the Commission itself as, in its opinion, an appendage of the ruling APC. Both the PDP Governors’ Forum and the Vanguard were entitled to their opinions, as we all are. But then whereas opinion, as it is often said, is free, facts must always remain sacred. And although free, any opinion not based on facts is, at best, dubious, at times even downright malicious. As we shall see shortly, the opinions of both the governors’ forum on September 9 and that of the Vanguard’s editorial on September 14, were not based on facts. Let’s begin with the Vanguard. The newspaper said the public’s concern about INEC’s neutrality as an umpire was partly because President Buhari’s appointment over three years ago of Professor Yakubu as the Commission’s chair and Mrs. Zakari as a National Commissioner “occupying a powerful and sensitive position” violated a “tradition” of presidents appointing persons from regions other than theirs as chairmen of INEC and to “sensitive” positions in the Commission.
Since Independence in 1960 the Commission has had 12 chairmen, seven of them appointed by the military leaders between 1976 and 1999. All seven military-appointed chairmen were Southerners. All the military leaders, except General Olusegun Obasanjo as military leader between 1976 and 1979, were Northerners. It would then seem that the popular notion articulated by Vanguard of INEC’s chair coming from a region other than that of the serving president is correct. In reality it is not. It is 23 years between 1976 and 1999 which, in certain contexts, is a long time. It is, however, debatable that a 23-year practice, being just about a generation, is long enough to be considered a tradition in the true sense of the word. But even if it is, it was military tradition and the appointment of Professor Yakubu as INEC Chairman was not the first to break with that “tradition”. What broke with it was the appointment in 2000 of Dr. Abel Goubadia, a Southerner, as INEC’s Chairman by President Olusegun Obasanjo, a fellow Southerner, followed by that of Professor Maurice Iwu, another Southerner, by the same president in 2005. Indeed, as military head of state back in the late seventies, Obasanjo appointed a fellow Southerner, Chief Michael Ani, as the chair of the Commission which conducted the 1979 election that ushered in the Second Republic.
Second, a president’s power to appoint members of the Commission is not absolute; it is subject to approval by the Senate. Besides, presidents do not share out portfolios in the Commission to their appointees. This is strictly its internal affairs. Mrs. Zakari, therefore, does not owe what Vanguard called her “powerful and sensitive” position in the Commission to the President. Besides, Mrs. Zakari was first appointed a member of the Commission, not by President Buhari, but by President Goodluck Jonathan. Third, Mrs. Zakari would not be the only national commissioner to have been given a second term. There have been three others at least, namely, Chiefs Lawrence Nwuruku, Ishmael Igbani and Prince Adedeji Solomon Soyebi, serving his second term like Mrs. Zakari.
Last but no means the least, the lady, contrary to widespread belief, is not a blood relation of Buhari. Her mother was from Daura, alright, but she was not Buhari’s sister. It’s also true that Buhari’s sister was once married to Zakari’s father. But this was over 60 years ago before Zakari was born. Besides, the marriage was short-lived and did not produce a child. Alhaji Tanko Yakasai, the veteran Kano politician who first made the claim many years ago, has since recanted. Those who continue to repeat it are therefore either unaware of his recantation or they are simply incapable of letting go their prejudices in the face of facts to the contrary. Clearly when Vanguard repeated the widespread notion that both Zakari and Yakubu owed their appointments to their “intimacy” to President Buhari, the newspaper couldn’t have been further from the truth. The claim is even more tenuous in the case of Yakubu who incidentally, comes from Bauchi State, and owed his first prominent public service job as Executive Secretary of then Education Trust Fund (ETF, now Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND)) to late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, General Buhari’s nemesis in the 2007 presidential election. The professor also owed his second prominent public service job as Assistant Secretary (Finance and Administration) of the 2014 National Conference to President Goodluck Jonathan, the general’s nemesis in the 2011 presidential election.
Nepotism and geographical origin in the composition of INEC’s membership, as in the composition of any other organ, should, of course, be of public concern. However, what should be of far greater concern is the character, diligence and competence of the members, not whose relations they are or where they come from. On all three counts no one can accuse either Yakubu or Zakari of failure in the past or in the present. Each of them was the best graduating student of his/her class; the professor as the best overall graduating student of the university with a first class in History from Usman Danfodio University in 1985 and Zakari as the best graduating student of her class with a second class upper in Pharmacy from Ahmadu Bello University in 1980. Before ABU, Zakari had finished her secondary education as one of the best students from the once prestigious Queen’s College, Lagos. Yakubu went on to earn his Masters from Cambridge in 1987 and his PhD from Oxford in 1991, making him a member of that rare breed of Oxbridge graduates. He also earned his professorship in 1998 at a relatively tender age of 36. Their public service careers after graduation have been no less stellar than their academic records. Among other things, the professor was dean of graduate studies at the Nigerian Defence Academy and Executive Secretary of ETF. Zakari was secretary, first of Health and Human Services and then of Social Services. In all the offices they served both left a legacy of character, diligence and competence. Both have since brought these same virtues to bear as members of the Commission.
To be continued tomorrow.
Haruna is national commissioner and a member, Information, Voter Education and Publicity Committee of INEC.