There seems to be uncertainty in the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) over the possible replacement of six national commissioners by President Muhammadu Buhari.
It was gathered that by the first week of December, five INEC national commissioners would retire from the service. They are national commissioners representing the South East, South-South, North East, North Central, and South West, and if replacements are not appointed, the regions would be unrepresented in the Commission.
Already there had been a vacuum created as a result of the absence of one of the national commissioners, Engr. Abu Bakar Nahuche , who resigned after the 2019 general elections.
While officials of INEC have expressed optimism that the President will sign into law the Electoral Act Amendment Bill which has been transmitted to him by the National Assembly, they are however worried that the appointment of people with partisan inclination may scuttle ongoing work at the Commission.
Sources at INEC headquarters had hinted that as from the first week of December, only five national commissioners will be left after five of them must have bowed out from service instead of a 12-member board.
Though, many insiders have commended President Buhari for his determination to ensure that the 2023 general elections is credible but they are concerned that the efforts of the President would amount to nothing if men of proven integrity are not appointed into the commission to replace the retiring ones.
According to the sources, “The President has promised that the 2023 elections will be credible, free, and fair and there is no doubt that he means what he has said.
“You can see that the Edo and Anambra states off-season elections have been applauded by Nigerians and the international community as being credible.
“We hope that the trajectory will continue but everything will depend on the type and quality of people he will appoint as national commissioners to fill the vacant positions.
“The efforts of the president in strengthening the institution was nearly rubbished by the nomination of one of his aide’s Ms. Lauretta Onochie, but the situation was redeemed by the National Assembly that rejected the nomination as a result of national outcry.
“The promise by the president to bequeath the country a legacy of transparent, free, fair, and credible election will be dependent on the type of people he appoints into the INEC management board.”
The sources in INEC said, “Despite fears already being expressed by critics of the Buhari government on the possibility of the president providing a free space for credible elections considering that he is also a member of the All Progressives Congress (APC), there is assurance that there is no cause for worry.
“For doubting Thomases, the president may have proven them wrong judging from the conduct and outcomes of the Edo and Anambra governorship elections.
“In the two elections, the president directed INEC and the security agencies to ensure that the process was hitch-free without interference from any quarter.”
The sources further said that the recent signing of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) to Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) was a clear testimony to the possibility that President Buhari’s biggest and most enduring legacy may be institution-building rather than the physical infrastructure that his aides have been belabouring.
“Many Nigerians have their different views on the PIA owing to their stakes, but few argue against the potential utility of the PIA and the broad impacts it will have on the Nigerian economy, yet it took President Buhari’s boldness and willingness to take a decisive step rather than vacillating interminably to deliver the PIA, which has an extensive effect on the most consequential sector of the Nigerian economy.
“In the same way, Nigerians are expecting that president Buhari will take a similar and decisively courageous step to solidify the emerging success of his tenure in the electoral arena by bequeathing to the country a legacy of appointing persons with proven integrity into INEC.
They noted that the just-concluded off-season election in Anambra state had been applauded by Nigerians as a reflection of the wishes of voters. “The Anambra election defied the expectations of most neutral observers, forcing some of Buhari’s staunchest critics to congratulate him for insisting on supporting INEC to provide an enabling environment that allowed voters in Anambra State to express their electoral voice.
“However, the gains of the giant strides would vanish if people of proven integrity and impeccable character are not appointed into the management board of the commission to ensure the realisation of the president’s assurance to conduct the best election in 2023.
“Already about six national commissioners at INEC will be retiring by the first week of December. This will create a big vacuum especially as the national commissioners have been discharging their responsibilities creditably.
“Most Nigerians expect that just like former President Goodluck Jonathan did that earned him a place of pride in the nation’s electoral history, President Buhari may want to earn his place in the electoral pantheon.
They urged the president to take two critical actions that will cement his efforts and contribution to democratic consolidation in Nigeria: assent to the reformed Electoral Act Amendment Bill and appoint the right people into INEC.
“The second critical issue, if not the most important given that INEC innovations are themselves not self-implemented or executory, is the need for the president to appoint individuals of high integrity to replace the six national electoral commissioners whose tenure will elapse by the first week of December 2021.
“The people to be appointed should be capable, credible, and distinguished Nigerians from the different geopolitical zones where these vacancies have to be filled. If people of questionable character and integrity are appointed into INEC, the public will lose confidence and the gains of innovations will be eroded,” they said, as they recalled the wide outcry and condemnation in the last set of appointments at INEC that included Ms. Lauretta Onochie, whose appointment nearly tarnished President Buhari’s local and international image.
According to them, the building of an enduring institution in INEC should be a matter of interest for the president given how he had consistently blamed his previous electoral losses on a flawed electoral system, supervised by compromised INEC officials until ex-president Goodluck Jonathan appointed Prof. Attahiru Jega and others with civil society background.
The sources went on: “It is a matter of concern that only about one or two such patriotic individuals will remain with the commission if the six national commissioners bow out of service.
“Moreover, in 2007 even the winner of the flawed presidential election, the late President Umaru Yar’adua accepted that the election was flawed and went on to instigate reforms that President Jonathan implemented through the appointment of credible Nigerians that all culminated eventually in electoral success for President Buhari over and against an incumbent president in 2015. It should be noted that President Jonathan acted in a statement fashion and committed himself so much to the reform of the electoral process, even though he sought a second term.
“Today, President Buhari is in his second and final term in office and should have no reason whatsoever not to deal with the two critical issues identified as his contributions to the sustainability of democracy in Nigeria. He is a beneficiary of the electronically compiled biometric voters register, the PVC, and the use of the smart card reader in the 2015 election. At the moment and under the enabling environment of President Buhari, there is now an improved elections device with the introduction of the BVAS technology for accreditation and uploading of polling units that can no longer be easily manipulated by politicians and this is a credit to the electoral disposition of the administration.”
Continuing, the sources said all these developments in the electoral system under this administration have been well applauded by Nigerians but would amount to nothing if President Buhari fails to sign the Electoral Act Amendment Bill into law and fails to appoint/re-appoint credible persons that would ensure the implementation of these innovations.
While advising the president to ensure that he puts a square peg in a square hole, they also told him to place integrity and credibility above every other consideration in the appointment of national commissioners.
However, the national commissioner and chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Festus Okoye, while speaking to LEADERSHIP yesterday, confirmed that the commission is set to welcome new national commissioners that will be appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari but said there is no need to panic over the matter.
He confirmed that the tenure of five commissioners would elapse on December 6, 2021 and they would have to be replaced.
According to him, “The fact is that two different sets of national commissioners were appointed by the president. The first set bowed out of service and they were replaced. Now the tenure of the second set of national commissioners will elapse on 6th December and new ones will be appointed by the president.”
Okoye also assured that the President will maintain national spread in his appointment as two national commissioners emerge from each geopolitical zone in the country.