Nine Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) have raised the alarm that the forthcoming 2023 general election is under threat over the appointment of partisan and indicted persons as Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The CSOs also rubbished the screening exercise conducted by the Senate on the appointed RECs, saying that the lawmakers ought to have known that some of the nominees were either partisan or indicted for corruption.
Recall that on July 26, 2022, the Senate read President Muhammadu Buhari’s letter conveying the nominations of 19 persons as RECs following the expiration of the tenure of the outgone RECs in 19 States. Of the 19 nominees, 14 were new appointments, while five were reappointed.
Speaking at a press conference in Abuja on Friday, the CSOs said they will ensure the monitoring of the INEC officials ahead of the 2023 general elections.
The CSOs are Yiaga Africa; International Press Center; Center for Media and Society; The Albino Foundation; Elect Her, and Nigerian Women Trust Fund (NWTF).
Others are Partners for Electoral Reform; Inclusive Friends Association, and The Kukah Centre.
Speaking at the press conference on behalf of the CSOs, the Executive Director of Yiaga Africa, Mr Samson Itodo, said the outgone RECs deserve commendation for their hard work and meritorious service to the nation, adding that their stewardship as heads of INEC in the States they served contributed to the marked improvement in electoral governance in Nigeria.
“The new nominees include Pauline Onyeka Ugochi (Imo); Muhammad Lawal Bashir (Sokoto); Prof. Ayobami Salami (Oyo); Zango Abdu (Katsina); Queen Elizabeth Agwu (Ebonyi); Agundu Tersoo (Benue), Yomere Oritsemlebi (Delta); Prof. Yahaya Ibrahim, (Kaduna); Dr. Nura Ali (Kano); Agu Uchenna Sylvia (Enugu); Ahmed Garki (FCT); Hudu Yunusa (Bauchi); Prof. Uzochukwu Chijioke, (Anambra); and Mohammed Nura (Yobe). The reappointed nominees include Ibrahim Abdullahi (Adamawa); Obo Effanga (Cross River); Umar Ibrahim (Taraba); Agboke Olaleke (Ogun); and Prof. Samuel Egwu (Kogi).
“Appointments into the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) have grave implications for the credibility, independence and capacity of the Commission to deliver credible, transparent, inclusive and conclusive elections. It is for this reason that the Constitution prescribes the criteria and procedure for appointments into INEC to protect the Commission’s neutrality, objectivity and non-partisanship.
“Section 156(1)(a) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria clearly prohibits the appointment of any person who is a member of a political party as a member of INEC. To further ensure the neutrality of the members of INEC, the Constitution clearly mandates in the Third Schedule, Part 1, Item F, paragraph 14 (1) that Commissioners shall be non-partisan and persons of unquestionable integrity.
“In his letter to the Senate, President Buhari asserts the request for the confirmation of the nominees was in accordance with the provisions of Section 154 (1) of the Nigerian Constitution. Our investigation and analysis prove the contrary. Some of the nominees of the President fail the constitutional test of non-partisanship and unquestionable integrity. Evidence abounds that some of the nominees are either partisan, politically aligned, or previously indicted for corruption,” they said.
He cited the case of Prof. Muhammad Lawal Bashir from Sokoto State, who was a governorship aspirant under the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the 2015 elections cycle.
“Mrs. Sylvia Uchenna Agu, the nominee for Enugu state, is believed to be the younger sister of the APC Deputy National Chairman, South-East. The nominee for Imo State, Mrs Pauline Onyeka Ugochi, a former Head of ICT at INEC in Imo State, gained notoriety for alleged corruption and connivance with politicians to undermine elections. Mrs. Queen Elizabeth Agwu, a former Accountant-General of the Ebonyi, was suspended allegedly on the grounds of incompetence and corruption in 2016.
“We contend that the appointment of these individuals as RECs will significantly undermine the neutrality and impartiality of the Independent National Electoral Commission, and it will increase mistrust in INEC and Nigeria’s electoral process. By the combined effect of Section 156 (1)(a) and Third Schedule, Part 1, Item F, paragraph 14 (1), these individuals are constitutionally prohibited from any appointment as members of INEC. It will be against the sacred spirit of the Constitution to accept their nomination. Given their antecedent and close affinity with political parties, it is improbable that they will remain neutral and objective if successfully screened as INEC Resident Electoral Commissioners (REC),” the CSOs said.
The CSOs noted that they were constrained to observe that the appointments did not reflect the principles of non-discrimination and inclusivity that the Civil Society Community has and continues to advocate, particularly, in the instant case, with regard to Persons with Disability (PWDs) who represent about 15% of Nigeria’s population and have been completely left out of the process.
“We submit that it is critical that as we strive to make the electoral process more inclusive, representative, and qualitative, the appointment of PWDS would provide the pulse required to give effect to the provisions of the Discrimination Against Persons Living with Disabilities Act, 2018, and other legislations and guiding principles in that regard.
“To this end, we, the undersigned, reject their appointment as RECs entirely and urge President Buhari to withdraw their nomination in the public interest and in furtherance of his commitment to leave a legacy of a truly independent electoral institution that enjoys the trust and confidence of citizens and electoral stakeholders.
“Also, we call for a thorough examination and background checks of the credentials of the nominees. The Senate is urged to reject these nominees that fall short of the threshold of non-partisanship and impeccable character. Electoral commissioners must be individuals with impeccable character, unquestionable neutral inclinations, dispositions, and competence. The nominations and process of confirmation must be inclusive and representative of all segments of the society.
“It is critical for the legitimacy and success of the 2023 general election that the appointment of the RECs is concluded expeditiously in a transparent, non-partisan, and professional manner, especially now that the 2023 election is in 183 days. To this end, we, the undersigned, make the following call;
“President Buhari should withdraw the nomination of these individuals in the public interest and in furtherance of his commitment to leave a legacy of a truly independent electoral institution that enjoys the trust and confidence of citizens and electoral stakeholders.
“In making nominations into INEC, President Buhari should be guided by the judgment of the Federal High Court on affirmative action wherein the court directed that all appointments must comply with the 35% affirmative action for women. In the same vein, the President should ensure the representation of Persons with disability (PWDs) and young people in the appointments.
“The Senate should completely reject the nominees as INEC Resident Electoral Commissioners.
“The Senate should accelerate the process of screening nominees without compromising due diligence and comprehensive scrutiny of nominations forwarded by the President,” the groups added.