By Ochereome Nnanna
IT is none of our business whom the president of Nigeria appoints as his personal aides. If he likes, let him put his children there, or crowd himself with people from his hometown. We get interested when he picks people to act as Ministers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. At this point, we are concerned with issues of personal track record: qualification, competence and integrity. We want to know if the appointment follows due process. We check if the cabinet reflects the constitutional principle of federal character and national spread.
But when it comes to certain federal institutions that require the reinforcement of the principles of “independence” to enable them serve the country and not just the government, we must not just be keen, we must be vigilant. Of all such federal bodies, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is pre-eminent. The INEC underpins our democracy. If the independence of that body is compromised our country as a whole is in danger.
During the President Olusegun Obasanjo years, the INEC was not independent. It more or less, worked for the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). We had a dominant one party dictatorship. The opposition could not muster the strength to create alliances that could compete. Buhari contested presidential elections three times and failed woefully. He became so frustrated that he wept openly before his supporters who came to tell him to run again in 2015. That was when he threatened that if the 2015 election was “rigged” the dog and baboon will “soak in blood”. During the general elections, Buhari’s al majiri mujahedin across the North were massed for an orgy of killings. They were only stopped because former President Goodluck Jonathan, the father of Nigeria’s modern democracy, conceded victory to Buhari.
Jonathan’s patriotic action was the culmination of a well-calculated agenda to upgrade our democracy and put it among the world’s best. It was under Jonathan that the PDP decided to hands off their tampering of the independence of the INEC. It started with the appointment of Prof. Attahiru Jega, a man widely acclaimed by Nigerians as an independent-minded activist. Jonathan never knew, let alone met Jega in person, yet he bowed to public opinion and appointed him. He could have given the job to a fellow Ijaw man or a crony from elsewhere.
In the end, the same Jega conducted an election that stopped Jonathan’s re-election. Today, GEJ has returned to Otuoke. Buhari is in power. Nigeria, rather than exploding in a paroxysm of genocides and national disintegrated as predicted by America, has moved forward to the applause of the entire world. That is the dividend of the independence of our INEC.
Is it not an infuriating irony that Buhari, the man who suffered under a compromised INEC, is now taking the electoral body back to the dark days of Obasanjo? This man has forgotten his serial defeats and profuse weeping. Or, maybe he wants to inflict the same pains on others?
How else would you describe the shoddy change of guards we witnessed at the INEC last week? On 30th June 2015, Jega’s tenure ended and he handed over the mantle to a National Commissioner, Ambassador Ahmed Wali to hold the forte until the president appointed a new Chairman. Eight hours later, Buhari meddled in the affairs of the Commission by reversing Jega and appointing Hajiya Amina Zakari as Acting Chairman.
This move smacks of a sinister political footwork. Why would the president dabble into routine internal affairs of the Commission when he should be submitting the name of the substantive INEC Chair to the Senate? Why did he ignore Jega’s letter reminding him of the imminent end of his tenure? Why did he wait for Jega to hand over to Wali before intervening? Did someone whisper into his ear the need to key Zakari in as a prelude for further action? What will happen on or before July 21st, the day Zakari’s tenure will ends, which is also the day the National Assembly will reconvene? Will Buhari take the clumsy step of looking for another Acting Chairman pending the Senate’s approval of his nominee for Chairman? It does not make sense at all.
It is, therefore, safe to speculate that Buhari is probably poised to submit Hajiya Amina Zakari’s name to the Senate as the next INEC Chairman! The implications are grave for the survival of our democracy.
It will signal the return of the electoral body to the dark days of being tied to the apron strings of (a) the ruling party and (b) the president. Amina Zakari is one of the Northern hawks at the INEC. She is strongly linked to the APC, and she is a known close ally of the party’s top hats such as Nasir el Rufai and President Buhari whom she calls “Uncle”.
Along with el Rufai, she was part of the Afri-Projects Consult, which carried out contracts for the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) which Buhari headed under General Sani Abacha. As the head of hiring in INEC she has been reported to have favoured the North with staffing during the Commission’s major programmes. More importantly, she is an ardent proponent of the discredited 30,000 extra polling units that nearly tore the North and South apart before the 2015 general elections.
Such an officer, if appointed as substantive INEC Chair, can be used to entrench the APC against the wishes of Nigerians. We may see an end to the trend of losers congratulating winners which was beginning to take root under Jonathan. We may see an upsurge of violence and vicious ligations watered by corruption at electoral tribunals.