Key Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) recently took up an unusual task. They elected to weigh in for the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mamood Yakubu whose job was recently called to question by Southern, Middle Belt Leaders Forum.
In fact the leaders in their parley in Abuja asked President Muhammadu Buhari to relieve him and the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris of their appointments. Among those who attended the conference were Chief Edwin Clark, representing the south-south; Chief Ayo Adebanjo, south-west; Chukwuemeka Ezeife, south-east; Retired Air Commodore Dan Suleiman, Middle Belt; and Nkanga Idongesit, South South. Yinka Odumakin was the spokesman.
The leaders accused INEC under Yakubu of not being in a shape to deliver free and fair elections in 2019. They claimed that “the bug of nepotism and sectionalism which they alleged this administration is renowned for has also eaten up the leadership of the commission.”
Idongesit, the chairman of the Pan Niger Delta forum, who delivered the group’s position, argued that retaining the service chiefs who ought to have retired and keeping Yakubu as INEC chairman were suspicious.
He contended that, what is playing out was in tandem with the narrative that the INEC leadership and the Service Chiefs would play partisan roles in favour of the president.
“From 1960 till date, only President Muhammadu Buhari has been audacious to pick only people who are either his relations or of the same ethnic stock with him to lead the electoral body,” he said.
“The Balewa government headed by a northerner appointed Eyo Ita-Esua from the south, who was in charge of the federal electoral commission from 1960-66; Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, a Yoruba, set up the federal electoral commission under Michael Ani from 1976-1979.
”When Dr Goodluck Jonathan came in from the south-south, he appointed Prof. Attahiru Jega from the north-west from June 2010-Oct. 2015,” the group noted, insisting that it was only Buhari who appointed his re- lation from the north-west, Amina Zakari, as the acting INEC chairman when he became president in 2015.
Certainly the Forum’s call has irritated not just the INEC staff but some democratic circles. Surprisingly, there has not been any formal reaction from the commission. But a counterpoise to the elders’ demand recently came from CSOs and human rights activists.
Senator Shehu Sani representing Kaduna Central was the first to fire a salvo. A respected human rights activist and a nonconformist, Sani, disagreed with the Forum that Yakubu has committed grievous sins that should attract a sack.
He said, “The recent call for the removal of INEC Chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, made by the Middle Belt and Southern Leaders is unnecessary and uncalled for. The incumbent INEC chairman has not in any way demonstrated inclination or proclivity to unfairness or injustice in his conduct and his leadership of the electoral umpire. The INEC chairman has kept to the credible standards of transparency in Edo and Anambra governorship elections, and subsequent by-elections. “
He continued “The leaders have the fundamental right to raise issues and observations in any of the activities of INEC and demand redress. Nigerians are now more awakened and conscious of their electoral rights.
“The track record of the chairman and his pedigree is enough assurance and guarantee to give him the benefit of the doubt to lead INEC through the next elections.
“It is impossible for the INEC chairman to bow to any form of pressure from any quarters to undermine the 2019 polls. And President Buhari, I believe, will not tamper with the duties of INEC. The President that openly called on Nigerians to vote for whoever they want has raised the bar of assurance in the credibility of the electoral process.
“In 2019, Nigerians will vote for the vehicle to take them to the future, either by trucks, tractors, trains or ambulances.”
Sani was not alone in this line of thought. A coterie of CSOs equally stepped out to tackle leaders of Southern, Middle Belt Forum over their demand. They insisted that the call was not backed with cogent and verifiable reasons. The groups advised that rather than seek the removal of Yakubu, Nigerians should pay more attention to the activities of Resident Electoral Commissioners in various states to ensure that they discharge their duties diligently and constitutionally.
The groups that spoke at a news conference include Independent Service Delivery Monitoring Group (ISDG), Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP);Network of Police Reform in Nigeria; National Democratic Alliance; Yoruba Revolutionary Assembly, Public Interests Lawyers and Centre for Peace and Environmental Justice .
They were represented by Mr. ledum Mitee, former President of MOSOP; Okechukwu Nwanguma, of the Network of Police Reform in Nigeria; Ezenwa Nwuagwu of Partners for Electoral Reforms; Faith Nwadishi, Director, Contact Mobilization, ISDMG, and MacDonand Ekemezie of Kyenum Immllah Foundation. Others include Mr. Aminu, Public Interests Lawyers, Akin Lawson, National Democratic Alliance; Yoruba Revolutionary Assembly and Comrade Sherri Mulade of Centre for Peace and Environmental Justice Dismissing the call as misplaced and uncalled for, Executive Director, ISDMG ,Dr. Chima Amadi, who was first to speak contended that the demand of the elders as it affects the INEC chairman had no basis.
Although he agreed that no stone should be left unturned in ensuring a free and fair election in 2019, he insisted that the preoccupation of all Nigerians at the moment should be monitoring and supporting INEC to succeed in conducting an acceptable election.
The ISDMG boss charged President Muhammadu Buhari to ignore the call which he further described as way out of line. He drew attention of those calling for Yakubu’s removal to the elections the commission under Mahmood had conducted, insisting that those elections were credible and transparent.
He argued “INEC is a creation of Section 153(1) (f) and 154 (1) of the 1999 Constitution, while the qualification for appointment is set out in Section 14(1), Part 1 of the Third to the Constitution.”
Amadi stressed that the same group of elders who made the call for Yakubu’s sack were also the same faces who raised a similar alarm against the former INEC Chairman, Attahiru Jega, adding that the fact that Yakubu comes from the same ethnic group like President Buhari does not make him less qualified and incapable of discharging his responsibilities.
He contended that those calling for INEC Chairman’s sack at this time were seeking to endanger democracy adding that many election observer groups have condemned the call for Yakubu’s sack.
Amadi further explained that though the Coalition does not hold fort for the INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, they are compelled to respond by stating the facts as they are.
He said: “For us, the claim suggesting that the INEC Chairman will rig the 2019 elections in favour of President Muhammadu Buhari is not only stupid but silly. If there are accumulated indications, they point to those successful governorship elections conducted in Bayelsa and Rivers States respectively by the same Professor Mahmood Yakubu and won by the opposition parties.
“Will these elders tell us that they are oblivious of the numerous elections conducted by the current INEC which produced different outcomes for different political parties irrespective of incumbency at both the federal and state level?
“The latest is the Ibarapa East state Constituency by-election in Oyo State in which the opposition party in the state won the seat. This is significant against the background of the Local Government election in the State three weeks earlier in which the ruling party in the State won every Chairmanship and Councillorship constituency.
“Of course, the Anambra State governorship election is still fresh on our minds in which the candidate of the ruling party lost in every Local Government Area to the extent that even the Ohanaeze commended INEC for its transparency in conducting the elections? Two months later, the same INEC successfully concluded the Anambra Central Senatorial election after staying the course in a protracted legal battle.
“The Ondo governorship election was also a watershed. For the first time, the outcome of the election was not challenged in court because of its transparency, although the three leading candidates were senior lawyers. This is significant given the fact that a number of previous governorship elections in the state were in fact determined by the courts.”
He queried the claim that INEC Chairman was working for Buhari, adding that the man would have simply handed the states recently won by opposition parties to the APC if that were to be true.
He said that the fact the INEC Chairman was presiding over a clean process ensured that the ruling party did not secure victories in the by-elections held in Dukku North constituency in Gombe State, Ardo Kola in Taraba and Osun West Senatorial Zone won by the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Outspoken politician, Dr Ezekiel Izuogu, also does not see the merit in the call for the removal of the INEC boss.
However, he disagreed with those pelting the Forum leaders with stone on account of their demand. He insisted that everybody, in a democracy is free to express his opinion on any issue.
To a large extent, those picking hole in the sack call are not wholly wrong. Elections conducted under the leadership of the current INEC have not attracted much tirades or legal challenges. In fact INEC’s handling of Anambra governorship election and the recall moves against Sen. Dino Melaye elicited some accolades too.
President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nina Nwodo after the Anambra election said “the security personnel deserve congratulations for the secure atmosphere in which the election was held. INEC, so far, appeared transparent and must be given a pat on the back”.
Although Nwodo can always change his position and tackle the commission if it is observed that it has begun taking maladroit decisions that are hurting the electoral process, Izuogu and Amadi believe that the INEC chairman has not derailed yet.