In this report, MUYIWA OYINLOLA writes that recent calls for the sack of INEC boss, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, is becoming a recurring concatenation against whoever occupies that office, whenever the nation is close to an election year, citing the need for objectivity on issues that have national consequences.
About a fortnight ago, a group under the aegis of Southern and Middle-Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF) called for sack of national chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) before the forthcoming general elections.
Their reason for making such demand on President Muhammadu Buhari is, according to them, because both Buhari and Yakubu come from the same part of the country and they fear he may sway the result of the 2019 Presidential election in favour of Buhari and his ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
Members of the group present at the Abuja press conference where the demand was made included Chief Edwin Clark (South-South), Chief Ayo Adebanjo (South-West), Chief Chukwuemeka Ezeife (South-East); Air Commodore Dan Suleiman (retd.), Middle Belt; and Air Commodore Nkanga Idongesit (South-South), among others.
According to Chairman of the Pan Niger Delta Forum, Idongesit, who delivered the group’s position, retaining Yakubu as INEC boss, and the service chiefs who they said ought to have retired were suspicious.
He said this was an indication they would be partisan during the forthcoming polls, and in favour of Buhari, in particular.
His words: “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.
“The Balewa Government headed by a Northerner appointed Prof. 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 (1976-1979). When Dr Goodluck Jonathan came in from the South-South, he appointed Prof. Attahiru Jega from the North-West (June 2010-Oct. 2015).”
The group contended that it was only President Buhari who allegedly appointed his relation from the North-West, Mrs Amina Zakari, as the acting INEC Chairman when he became President in 2015 before he appointed Yakubu from the North-East as a substantive chairman.
“The relationship between the powerful Amina Zakari and the INEC chairman is so strong that it has the tendency to influence the outcome of the elections in favour of the appointee”.
Shortly thereafter, another group, Good Governance Initiative (GGI), joined in the call for the sack of the INEC boss. During a press conference in Abuja, last week, chairman of the group, Anosike Nwosu, raised the fear that Yakubu may be compromised and thus may not give the nation credible elections next year.
In a similar manner, he said his fear stemmed out of the fact that both Buhari and Yakubu are from Northern part of the country.
“Our fear stems from his relationship with the president, both of whom are from the Northeast, with same religion. This makes us fear that despite series of assurances by the commission of free and fair elections, we are still not convinced of a free exercise,” the group said.
But LEADERSHIP check reveals that whereas Yakubu is from Bauchi State in Northeast, as Nwosu claimed, Daura, where Buhari hails from is in Katsina, a state in in the Northwest.
However, reacting to the development, especially as it regards that of his principal, the Chief Press Secretary to Yakubu, Rotimi Lawrence Oyekanmi, said the Commission would not be distracted but would rather remain focused on its mandate to continually deliver free, fair and credible elections.
In the same vein, a civil society organisation, Independent Service Delivery Monitoring Group (ISDMG) has described the call for Yakubu’s removal as an attempt to undermine the electoral process. Its Executive Director of the Civil Society Organisation, Dr Chima Amadi, made this known while briefing newsmen on the development last week in Abuja.
He described the position of the SMBLF as “growing attempts by ethnic entrepreneurs to undermine the integrity of the electoral process. We also see it as an attempt to diminish the democratic gains our country has made since the return to civil rule in 1999”.
While stating that Yakubu, since his appointment, has being discharging his assignment dutifully, he noted that accumulated indications point to “those successful governorship elections conducted in Bayelsa and Rivers by the selfsame Professor Mahmoud Yakubu and won by the opposition parties.”
He also referred to the Anambra governorship election where the candidate of the ruling party lost in every Local Government Area “to the extent that even the Ohaneze commended INEC for its transparency in conducting the election”.
He added that the Commission, also two weeks after, successfully concluded the Anambra Central Senatorial District election after a protracted legal battle.
Similarly, he noted that the fact that Yakubu is of the same ethnic stock with Buhari did not make him any less qualified or incapable of discharging the electoral and constitutional functions of his office.
He said the call gladdened their hearts on one hand since it was not based on competence, adding that they did not say he had committed an infraction against the electoral law and laws of our land. “Neither did they say he was not qualified to be the chairman of INEC but that he comes from the region of the country that is the same region with the president”, he stressed.
Also speaking at the event, President, Public Interest Lawyers League, Mr Aminu Mahmud described the call for Yakubu’s sack as ‘intriguingly worrying’, stressing that “For these leaders to come out and pose ethnicity, I think they are posing flash points for an election where the first ballot has not been cast,” he said.
In the same vein, Ezenwa Nwagwu of Partners for Electoral Reforms, noted that the country has been moving forward and Nigerians have come to have confidence in the electoral process since Yakubu assumed leadership of the Commission, hence, he should be allowed to continue with the assignment given to him, he stressed
He said the call was meaningless because it could not be acted upon. “INEC has closed the opportunity for gatekeepers and there is a reaction. “I have continued to say that elections have gotten better and better, let’s not make that mistake. Things are getting better; violence in our elections is reducing; the process is getting more and more transparent,” Nwagwu said.
He said that the introduction of Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) and the Card Readers was the game changer.
How Jega, Iwu Also Suffered Sack Threat
Political watchers would remember that there was a call for the sack and arrest of the immediate past INEC boss, Prof. Attahiru Jega, in February 2015, just a few days to that historic general elections.
Recall that the call for his removal and arrest at that critical period was proposed by some Southern Nigerian elders under the aegis of Southern Nigerian Peoples Assembly (SNPA).
They also, at that time, called for a shift in the date of the then general elections, which they achieved.
Those who called for Jega’s sack and arrest in 2015 under the aegis of SNPA are those also calling for Yakubu’s sack, now under the umbrella of SMBLF. The list then included Chief Edwin Clark, Chief Chukwuemeka Ezeife, a member of the pan-Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, Femi Okunrounmu; and a former Information Minister, Walter Ofonagoro and several others.
It was alleged that the group was rooting for the re-election of the then President Goodluck Jonathan, and had to issue the threat against Jega when they noticed their candidate was going to lose the election. At the end of the day, Jonathan still lost to Buhari.
In calling for Jega’s sack and arrest, the then spokesperson of the group, Okurounmu stated: “We authoritatively gathered with unassailable and incontrovertible evidence that the INEC Chairman, who was away in Lagos for an official engagement, through one of his National Commissioners that represented him, met with select leaders of the Northern Elders Forum, led by Prof. Ango Abdullahi, on the 20th August 2014, where strategies and modalities for enthroning a President otf Northern extraction through vote rigging were discussed and agreed upon.”
The group then called for the re-constitution and repositioning of INEC and that the postponement of the elections would allow the Commission conduct credible and acceptable elections.
Recall also that Jega’s predecessor, Prof. Maurice Iwu, in 2010, also suffered threat of removal from office.
But in his own case, the plot against him was muted among some political parties and interest groups that felt he was working for the interest of the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
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