By Jide Ajani
There were dangerous indications of an air of palpable intimidation, last Wednesday, at the first meeting of Resident Electoral Commissioners, RECs, presided over by Mrs Amina Zakari, as the contentious issue of the harassment of RECs by the Department of State Service, DSS, could not be discussed.
Mrs Zakari is the controversial ‘Acting Chairman’ of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.
Sunday Vanguard was reliably informed that the meeting with the RECs, held at the headquarters of the Commission, the first of its kind with the Acting Chairman, was “devoid of the rigour which normally characterised such meetings with the immediate past National Chairman of INEC, Professor Attahiru Jega”.
A few of the RECs in attendance told Sunday Vanguard that even the vexatious issue of the harassment of the Rivers State REC, Mrs. Gesila Khan, by the DSS, was not discussed.
It was understood that in the days of Jega, such an issue would have been robustly debated by all in attendance.
“The way we operated under Jega was that such a sensitive issue would have been discussed and a strongly worded statement issued at the end of the meeting””, one of the RECs present at the party told Sunday Vanguard.
“Although the Acting Chairman said some RECs were being investigated, the issue of Rivers State is peculiar. Firstly, the REC needed to have been condemned for not obeying the tribunal hearing the All Progressives Congress, APC, governorship election petition, which ordered her to make materials available to the APC for inspection. The tribunal could have charged her for contempt, using the police.
“Strangely, it is the DSS that has taken it upon itself to arrest her as alleged. That is also not proper.
“Would you believe that the matter was not discussed throughout the meeting and the only reason one can adduce is that the RECs, conscious of her closeness to President Muhammadu Buhari, may have been too careful to sincerely engage her. That is not good for our electoral system”, a usually dependable source privy to the meeting told Sunday Vanguard (see pages 32 to 34 for more reports).
Sunday Vanguard learnt that “the “Acting Chairman”, in her opening address to the RECs only referred to what she called “challenges at the tribunals” without specifying the nature of the challenges and without mentioning the issue of alleged detention of a commissioner who is a woman with children”.
There are already fears that if the present air of suspicion, fear and insincerity continues, the needed ambience of independence, transparency and commitment by every stakeholder in the election management process may be eroded.