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With nomination of ‘Partisan’ RECs, credibility of 2023 election under threat 

By  Leo Sobechi (Deputy Politics Editor),  John Akubo and Sodiq Omolaoye, Abuja  
04 September 2022   |   4:33 am
Nigerians believe that the 2023 general elections occupy a crucial space in the nation’s socio-political progress and stability.

INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu. Photo; FACBOOK/INECNIGERIA

• Buhari Not Disposed To Conducting Credible Poll – Rafsanjani • Integrity Of Poll At Stake, Says Bwala
• APC Desperate To Rig Through Back Door – NNPP • No REC Can Singlehandedly Rig – Olurode
• Poll At Risk, Ex-INEC Director Insists • Buhari Should Not Repeat Lauretta Onochie’s Mistake – Adebayo

Nigerians believe that the 2023 general elections occupy a crucial space in the nation’s socio-political progress and stability. It is for this reason that everything concerning preparations for the historic poll attracts greater public scrutiny and interest.

   
On July 26, President Muhammadu Buhari sent a list of 19 resident electoral commissioners (RECs) to the Senate, asking the upper legislative chamber to confirm the nominees for appointment as replacements for those whose tenures are about to lapse.
   
Among the 19 persons being recommended for confirmation, five were reappointed, including Ibrahim Abdullahi (Adamawa); Obo Effanga (Cross River); Umar Ibrahim (Taraba); Agboke Olaleke (Ogun), and Samuel Egwu (Kogi).
    
However, among the other 14 nominees, four were alleged to be not only politically exposed persons but also card-carrying members of political parties that would be taking part in the 2023 polls.
   
In his letter to the Senate, President Buhari explained that the request for confirmation of the nominees was per the Provisions of Section 154 (1) of the 1999 Constitution Nigeria (as amended).
  
But, addressing a press conference on August 26, a coalition of civil society organisations (CSOs) led by the Director of International Press Centre, Lanre Arogundade, faulted the nomination of Muhammad Bashir (Sokoto); Sylvia Agu (Enugu); Pauline Onyeka (Imo), and Queen Elizabeth Agwu (Ebonyi).
 
Arogundade pointed out that while Bashir contested the Sokoto State governorship poll in 2015 on the platform of the governing All Progressives Congress (APC), Agu is related by birth to the APC Deputy National Chairman, South East. 

On the nominees from Imo and Ebonyi states, the IPC director alleged that they played ignoble roles. While the nominee from Imo was accused of incompetence and corruption as Head of ICT at INEC, the one from Ebonyi was alleged to have connived with politicians to undermine elections.
    
He contended that if appointed, their membership in INEC would have grave implications for the credibility, independence, and capacity of the commission to deliver credible, transparent, inclusive, and conclusive elections.
  
While stressing that their appointments will significantly undermine the neutrality and impartiality of INEC, and exacerbate mistrust of Nigeria’s electoral process, Arogundade declared: “By the combined effects of Section 156(1(a) and Third Schedule, Part 1, Item F, paragraph 14(1), these individuals are constitutionally prohibited from any appointment as members of INEC.”
  
The issue of membership in INEC has been topical in recent times, particularly given that the impartiality of the electoral umpire is at the root of the credibility of election outcomes.
  
President Buhari is accused of relying on party leaders, especially state governors in making appointments to critical offices, as exemplified by the reprehensible attempt to appoint his Special Assistant on Social Media, Ms. Lauretta Onochie, as INEC Commissioner.
   
During that unfortunate episode, Nigerians expressed divergent opinions about the propriety of saddling partisan political actors with the responsibility of organising elections.
  
In this latest saga, the presidential candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Adewole Adebayo, cautioned President Buhari against repeating the error he made when he nominated Onochie, who was eventually rejected by the Senate.
  
Adebayo said: “Let him not do what he did in the case of Lauretta Onochie who was rejected and he kept sending the name back until it was too late, and he suddenly realised that he could not do it again, and that was after he had already embarrassed the office.

  
“He should not always be in that habit so that we can always have respect for judgments and nominations that the president makes; he should not create room for Nigerians to be crying foul all the time.
  
“The implication of all these is that you are not upholding the constitution if you are sending to an independent commission, partisan people. That is an abuse of your power to nominate. For that reason, we will envisage that the president was wrongly briefed, or he did not do enough security checks,” the SDP chief said.
  
While also cautioning Nigerians against rejecting or moving against the president’s nominees or appointees “just because they are not our favourites,” he lamented that on many occasions, President Buhari has disappointed us by nominating persons that don’t meet the standard. For the INEC it is not for nothing that the name starts with the word independent. It means that the people put there must be independent and not aligned to one political party or the other.
   
“INEC being a commission also means that it is a body of commissioners and if a substantial number of them are dependent, or partisan, then the independence of the commission has been defeated hence it is not primed to carry out its mandate. So, for that reason it is the duty of every Nigerian who knows of any factor that may affect the independence and integrity of appointees to the commission, to protest and bring out the reason, that is the second sphere.
    
“It is a patriotic duty for Nigerians to come out and say A, B or C has this, or that affiliation, so they are not fit and proper to act as independent commissioners. The third sphere is the National Assembly, because the people who elected the senators elected them for occasions like this, that is when they (senators) need to protect the interest of the people,” he added.
    
Disturbed by the controversy that has trailed the list of 19 RECs, the spokesman of Atiku Abubakar Presidential Campaign Organisation, Daniel Bwala, warned the Senate against the dangers of confirming nominees that are known to be partisan, politically aligned, or previously indicted for corruption. 
   
A member of a political party, or anyone who has ever contested an election under a party, he stated, does not have any business being in INEC. 
  
While contending that his principal and the PDP have confidence in INEC’s ability to conduct a credible election, Bwala, however, maintained that certain happenings in the commission recently should be a cause for concern to Nigerians. 
  
“At INEC, the head of ICT has been transferred to Enugu, so why transfer the head of ICT who would be most useful in ensuring that electronic transmission of results would be given credence? Secondly, there are rumours that the head of human resources responsible for transferring people who will conduct elections has a relationship with the APC. 
    
“There are also reports that a cabal has taken over INEC. Even though these are unverifiable reports, the only people that can verify them are the media. But we in political parties have every reason to be worried,” the campaign spokesperson stated adding, “while we have confidence that INEC will conduct elections and we don’t want to question the commission’s credibility, we are also watching. 
 
“Having said that, I think that the concern raised by the CSOs is genuine and INEC must also look into it, but I must reiterate that we have confidence in INEC to conduct free, fair, and credible elections. However, we are watching trends and must ensure that we help them to do the right thing,” he stated.
   
Bwala further declared that “any REC, who is a member of a political party, or who has ever contested an election under a party (even if he is no longer a member of that party), in the spirit of transparency, has no reason to become a REC.”
   
Expressing confidence in the ability of the National Assembly to do the needful by rejecting the nominees, Bwala added: “INEC is expected to be above board in terms of being neutral. There is no reason why anyone that is not neutral should be nominated in the first place. This is because the masses should never be allowed to doubt that the entire process has credibility issues.
   
“Perception is everything. You can be doing the right thing, but if the perception that people have is that you have done it the wrong way, it sends a wrong signal. You don’t need a prophet to tell you that a partisan person appointed as REC would help his political party to rig,” said the legal practitioner.
   
He added that “there are about 22 senators in the APC that want to come to the PDP and these senators are people that worked so hard for the party but were outsmarted by their state governors, who denied them return tickets for some reasons. These senators are aggrieved and would not be in support of this kind of arrangement that the APC is trying to put in place because we have lawmakers that always try to do the right thing irrespective of their political parties.”
   
Also, condemning the attempt to appoint partisan politicians into INEC as RECs, the New Nigeria People’s Party (NNPP) alleged that nominating partisan folks, or people of questionable integrity, was part of the desperate attempt by the APC administration to rig the 2023 elections. 
  
The party’s national publicity secretary, Agbo Major, in an interview with The Guardian, maintained that APC leaders were afraid of innovations that INEC was bringing into the electoral process, hence its attempt to rig the 2023 general elections through the back door. 
  
Major, who also referred to Buhari’s failed attempt to install Onochie’s as a REC, stressed that“this is not the first time that this government is attempting to” commit this kind of blunder as “Lauretta whom everybody knows is a card-carrying member of the APC … Of course, the government then was adamant regarding her nomination, but it was eventually rejected by the Senate. This is a government that does not listen displaying a high level of desperation that would ensure that it wins the next election by all means, but it does know that the Nigerian electorate is very sophisticated, and you cannot defeat it by using the back door again.
   
“Also, the INEC has put in place, measures to ameliorate the chances of anybody manipulating elections, and CSOs working directly with the people have access to information about every Nigerian. So, if these CSOs have rejected those nominations, that is the way that it should be. We expect this government, even when we know that it is not a listening one, to do the right thing. This government is an outgoing one, and the language that it does not want to hear is what it is hearing now since it does not want to do things democratically,” Major said. 
    
The spokesperson urged Nigerians to “ensure that people with questionable characters and people who are card-carrying members of political parties never find their way into such sensitive positions as the whole system could be compromised.” 
 
 
But contending that grounds for demanding the disqualification of nominees were frivolous, a former INEC commissioner, Prof. Lai Olurode, disclosed that no particular REC can singlehandedly rig an election.
   
Olurode, who is a professor of sociology, told The Guardian that the political preferences of a REC were not enough for him/her to interfere, or endanger the electoral process, stressing that Nigerians must do away with the perception that a REC can singlehandedly rig an election.
  
He maintained that partisanship is part of humanity, adding that, “what is important is that the procedure should be followed. I don’t think it would be right for the Senate to reject the REC nominees outright because one was a governorship aspirant, or another is a sibling to a politician. I don’t think that is right. Even the wife of a governor can be appointed an INEC commissioner.
   
“Election is a process because there are procedures to follow, and there are other players like party agents, electoral officials, observers, and security agencies in the mix. It would take a comprise of all of them before the will of the people can be subverted,” the university teacher stated. 
   
“Are you saying that the national commissioners, chairmen, and other RECs have no political leanings? They all have their political preferences, but their physical presence will not be strong enough to interfere with or endanger the process. We are political animals, and I have my political biases,” Olurode said.
   
“When I was in INEC, the chairman had his too, but what one is required to curtail those biases by not introducing his/her preferences into the process. An election is both science and art. It is an art because you are allowed in some instances, especially during emergencies to make decisions using your discretion,” he remarked. 
  
Olurode, who equally maintained that the nation’s electoral process currently gives little room for arbitrariness and little room for human interference, questioned: “So, because I have a sister or brother, who is a member of a political party, how should that affect my rational judgment?
   
“Elections are about rational judgments. So, I will urge the Senate to go ahead to confirm the REC nominees because the grounds given for their rejection by the CSOs are frivolous. When I was nominated as national commissioner, some people raised the same issues about me, but they didn’t have their proof, and even if they had proof, how can they also prove that my membership of a political party would affect my rationale judgment?”He questioned. 
   
Olurode also enjoined the National Assembly not to reject nominees, who have been previously indicted for corruption, saying there should be room for repentance. 
   
But, countering Olurode, a former INEC Director of Voter Education and Publicity, Oluwole Osaze-Uzzi, said the constitution requires that the REC and other INEC commissioners must be non-partisan. 
  
Arguing that there is the likelihood that a partisan official would jeopardise the integrity and credibility of an election, Osaze-Uzzi, however, said that family relationships shouldn’t be a criterion for disqualification. 
  
“If there is any evidence of partisanship, especially in a consistent manner, then the appointment would be highly jeopardised and the Senate ought to look closely into that person’s activities and antecedents. 
   
“We need to look at each individual on their merit. Before 2008 or so, the requirement to be a member of the commission was the same as that of the House of Representatives, which requires you to be a member of a political party, but since that time, things have changed,” he said, adding that, “partisan people can affect the outcome of elections. They are likely to jeopardise the integrity and credibility of elections. You cannot have a referee in a football match who is a supporter of one of the teams that are on the field. 
    
“Even if the person is trying not to be partisan, the impression people will have is that you are likely to go towards the people you have sympathy for. So, it is not a good thing that partisan people should work in the commission,” he stated. 
   
The Chairman of the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG), and Executive Director of the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, (CISLAC), Auwal Rafsanjani, said President Muhammadu Buhari’s nomination of people with a history of partisanship shows impunity, lack of respect for rule of law, and an attempt to create confidence crisis for the 2023 elections.
 
 
He said that INEC commissioners should be people of integrity, those who are not into electoral politics, and who have no corruption baggage, even as he alleged that the president is not disposed to leaving a legacy of free, fair, and credible elections.  
  
His words: “We are against electoral commissioners who have partisan affiliations with political parties. We believe that INEC commissioners should be people with integrity; people who are not into electoral politics and must also not have corruption baggage. There is an inherent danger in appointing such people into offices. We have told the president constantly that the fight against corruption is not about lamentations, but about putting in place a system to prevent corruption. Appointing card-carrying members of a political party into INEC erodes the confidence that citizens have in the whole electoral process.
    
“We rejected Lauretta, because of her role as a card-carrying member of the APC, but repeating the nomination of such kind of people shows impunity, lack of respect for the rule of law, and an attempt to create a confidence crisis for the 2023 elections. Therefore, we urge the National Assembly not to consider these nominees. We can make progress if we have a transparent process, and when INEC is not populated with established bias. 
   
“There is no good faith in the statement made by the president that he is going to ensure a free and fair election in 2023 because if there is any good faith, he won’t try to appoint those with known political affiliation. We have a lot of credible Nigerians that are not involved in partisan politics who can be appointed. The president shouldn’t compensate his party members with such sensitive positions. “