inside Appointment of electoral umpire: The intrigues, politics
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?”