in­side Ap­point­ment of elec­toral um­pire: The in­trigues, pol­i­tics

Business Day (Nigeria) - - FRONT PAGE - JOSEPH MAU­RICE OGU

The In­de­pen­dent Na­tional Elec­toral Com­mis­sion (INEC) is Nige­ria’s elec­toral um­pire in charge of or­gan­is­ing elec­tions into var­i­ous state and na­tional po­lit­i­cal of­fices. From the pro­vi­sions of the lawest­ab­lishin­git,in­ecisanin­de­pen­dent body man­dated to de­liver free and fair elec­tions by pro­vid­ing level play­ing grounds for all the po­lit­i­cal par­ties and can­di­dates vy­ing for dif­fer­ent posts.

In this re­port, Busi­ness­day looks at the his­tory of the elec­toral body and its past chair­men.

In­prepa­ra­tionthep­repa­ra­tions­for an in­de­pen­dent Nige­ria, the gov­ern­ment then es­tab­lished the Elec­toral Com­mis­sion of Nige­ria (ECN) to con­duct the 1959 elec­tions prepara­tory the 1960 in­de­pen­dence takeover. In 1960, the Fed­eral Elec­toral Com­mis­sion (FEC) was es­tab­lished. Its pri­mary duty was to con­duct postin­de­pen­dence fed­eral and re­gional elec­tions of 1964 and 1965. That com­mis­sion was sus­pended fol­low­ing the mil­i­tary coup of 1966.

How­ever, the FEC was re­sus­ci­tated in 1978 by the then head of state, Gen­eral Oluse­gun Obasanjo, with the acro­nym FEC rechris­tened FEDECO. FEDECO con­ducted both 1979 and 1983 na­tional elec­tions that brought late Al­haji Shehu Sha­gari to power, and his re­elec­tion af­ter­wards.

Dur­ing the Gen­eral Ibrahim Ba­bangida’s tran­si­tion pro­gramme, he in­sti­tuted Na­tional Elec­toral Com­mis­sion(nec)and­sad­dled­itwith­the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of ush­er­ing Nige­rian into the fourth repub­lic. NEC was said to have con­ducted the fairest, freest and most cred­i­ble elec­tions in the his­tory of Nige­ria. Un­for­tu­nately, the elec­tions were nul­li­fied by the then mil­i­tary head of state, Gen. Ba­bangida.

When Gen­eral Sani Abacha took over as the na­tion’s head of state, he dis­banded NEC and es­tab­lished Na­tional Elec­toral Com­mis­sion of Nige­ria (NECON). Like oth­ers who came be­fore it, NECON too was man­dated to con­duct free and fair elec­tions.

With the sud­den death of Abacha June 8, 1998, and with the emer­gence­gen­er­al­ab­dul­salam­abubakar, NECON died a nat­u­ral. In his ef­fort to make elec­toral com­mis­sion to be to­tally in­de­pen­dent, Abubakar es­tab­lished In­de­pen­dent Na­tional Elec­toral Com­mis­sion (INEC). The guar­an­tee of the in­de­pen­dence of the elec­toral body was im­por­tant for Nige­ri­ans to build trust in the Abubakar-led junta that it was pre­pared to con­duct free, fair and cred­i­ble elec­tions that would tran­sit Nige­ria into demo­cratic rule. So, the in­clu­sion of ‘in­de­pen­dent’ to the elec­toral body’s name by Abubakar was highly sig­nif­i­cant.

Since its birth in 1998, INEC has suc­cess­fully con­ducted pres­i­den­tial elec­tions in 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015, mak­ing it the long­est sur­viv­ing elec­toral body in Nige­ria with five pres­i­den­tial elec­tions con­ducted to its credit. The 2019 gen­eral elec­tions slated for Fe­bru­ary 16 brings the num­ber to six.

Since the ap­point­ment of the cur­rent INEC chair­man, Prof Mah­mood Yakubu, the op­po­si­tion has ac­cused Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari of be­ing trib­al­is­tic in his de­ci­sion to ap­point some­one from his tribe as the head of the elec­toral body. The op­po­si­tion also al­leges that it could be a plot by the pres­i­dent and the rul­ing All Pro­gres­sive Con­gress (APC) to rig the 2019 elec­tions in favour of the pres­i­dent. There have also been sug­ges­tions that, to guar­an­tee free, fair and cred­i­ble elec­tions, the chair­man of the elec­toral body should not come from the same tribe as the sit­ting pres­i­dent.

Its cur­rent chair­man, Yakubu has promised to de­liver free, fair and cred­i­ble elec­tions in Fe­bru­ary, 2019. Crit­ics of the present gov­ern­ment, how­ever, say Pres­i­dent Buhari is not pre­pared to de­liver cred­i­ble elec­tions to Nige­ri­ans, cit­ing the rea­son the pres­i­dent ap­pointed Yakubu to head the com­mis­sion. Yakubu is from Bauchi state while the pres­i­dent is from Katsina state. Both states fall within the same north­ern ex­trac­tion, the move crit­ics think is against the sta­tus quo of ap­point­ing elec­toral chair­man from a dif­fer­ent re­gion from the sit­ting pres­i­dent, which in this case, is a prepara­tory ground for elec­toral ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties, they ar­gue.

From the ta­ble, it shows that Buhari is the only pres­i­dent/head of state who had ap­pointed two elec­toral heads who are both from his tribe.

On the ex­pi­ra­tion of At­tahiru Jega’s ten­ure in 2015, the pres­i­dent ap­pointed Amina Bala-zakari as the act­ing chair­man of the com­mis­sion. Out­raged by this ap­point­ment, as Zakari is said to be Buhari’s niece, some Nige­ri­ans moved against her ap­point­ment and con­fir­ma­tion.

In a sim­i­lar protest, some Nige- ri­ans have kicked against Zakari’s re­cent ap­point­ment as the chair­man of the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion col­la­tion cen­ter com­mit­tee. Kola Olog­bondiyan, di­rec­tor, me­dia and pub­lic­ity of the PDP pres­i­den­tial cam­paign or­gan­i­sa­tion said “we have been rais­ing the flag on how the Buhari pres­i­dency, the All Pro­gres­sives Con­gress (APC) and some in­di­vid­u­als at the ech­e­lon of INEC (In­de­pen­dent Na­tional Elec­toral Com­mis­sion) have been seek­ing ways to com­pro­mise our elec­toral pro­cesses and open the way for the al­lo­ca­tion of fic­ti­tious votes to Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari, hav­ing re­al­ized that he can­not win in a cred­i­ble, free and fair polls.

“We have been in­formed that the Chair­man of INEC, Prof Mah­mood Yakubu, ap­par­ently in fur­ther­ance of the plots to rig the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, has ap­pointed Mrs. Amina Zakari, a blood re­la­tion (niece) of the APC can­di­date, Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari, as the Chair­per­son of INEC Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee and Pres­i­den­tial elec­tion Col­la­tion Cen­ter Com­mit­tee.”

Speak­ing on Chan­nels Tele­vi­sion, Mon­day Jan­uary 8, Yinka Odu­makin, spokesper­son, Afenifere, a so­cio-po­lit­i­cal or­gan­i­sa­tion, said Zakari should not head the col­la­tion cen­tre be­cause of her blood tie with Buhari and her affin­ity to Mal­lam Nasir el Ru­fai, the Kaduna state gover­nor. Ac­cus­ing Zakari of be­ing a con­tro­ver­sial INEC of­fi­cer be­cause of her al­leged con­tro­ver­sial roles in Ek­iti elec­tions, Odu­makin stressed that for INEC to con­duct free and fair elec­tions, Zakari needs to re­sign be­cause of her “be­ing the pres­i­dent’s niece and by be­ing nom­i­nated by el Ru­fai.

“Check records, look at all the elec­tions where she has been al­leged to have played some roles, you al­ways see el Ru­fai be­ing some­where in the loop around the cor­ner. So, we can’t have this woman. In fact, if there’s hon­our, the best thing for her is to re­sign,” said Odun­makin, adding that Zakari “has be­come so con­tro­ver­sial that to guar­an­tee the cred­i­bil­ity of INEC, she should not par­tic­i­pate in the elec­tions.”

Ir­re­spec­tive of her blood tie with Buhari, will her new role en­tail count­ing of bal­lots as be­ing cir­cu­lated by the op­po­si­tion? Her role has been likened to the foot­ball field man­ager who pre­pares the field for foot­ball game but does not of­fi­ci­ate the game. Her role as thechair­manofthecol­la­tion­cen­ter has noth­ing to do with count­ing of votes or an­nounc­ing re­sults. Her job is ba­si­cally to set up the stage for col­la­tion, count­ing and an­nounc­ing of re­sults.

But does ap­point­ing elec­toral com­mis­sion chair­man from any po­lit­i­cal zone or tribe have a le­gal back­ing? Re­spond­ing to this ques­tion, Bar John Chuk­wudi, an Ogun state-based le­gal prac­ti­tioner and Sec­re­tary Gen­eral of Ohaneze-ndi-igbo, Ogun state chap­ter, said the pres­i­dent has the le­gal right to ap­point any­one he likes from any tribe to head the com­mis­sion, even if the per­son is from the same state with the sit­ting pres­i­dent. He how­ever said it is on the ba­sis of moral­ity and eq­uity that the pres­i­dent should ap­point an elec­toral com­mis­sion chair­man from a tribe dif­fer­ent from the sit­ting pres­i­dent’s.

“It is only the ap­point­ment of the elec­toral com­mis­sion­ers that should re­flect the fed­eral char­ac­ter of the coun­try but the chair­man can come from any part of the coun­try,” Chuk­wudi said. He was quick to add, “Look, let me tell you. In the his­tory of this coun­try, Buhari is the only pres­i­dent who has cho­sen the elec­toral chair­man from his tribe. By that ac­tion, what does he want to tell Nige­ri­ans?”

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