INEC: Tension mounts over replacement as 5 nat’l commissioners retire next week

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•As officials urge President to sign Electoral Act Amendment Bill

There is palpable tension in the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, over a possible replacement of six national commissioners by President Muhammadu Buhari, next week.

The tenure of five national commissioners will end by the first week of December. Already, a vacuum has been created by the resignation of one of the national commissioners, Engr. Abu Bakar Nahuche, who resigned after the 2019 general elections.

Out-going commissioners

Next week, the tenure of INEC national commissioners representing the South-East, South-South, North-East, North-Central, and South-West will lapse. The affected national commissioners are AVM Ahmed (North-East), Professor Okechukwu Ibeanu (South-East), Mrs May Agbamuche-Mbu (South-South), Mohammed Kudu Haruna (North-Central), and Dr Adekunle Ogunmola (South-West).

Currently, there are 11 national commissioners on the board. The remaining six are Festus Okoye (South-East), Dr Baba Bila (North-East), Professor Abdullahi Abdu (North-West), Muhammed Kallah (North-West), Kunle Ajayi (South-West) and Professor Sani Adam.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 to replace the out-going officers may scuttle ongoing work of the commission.

Sources at the INEC headquarters had hinted that as from next week, only five national commissioners will be left after five of them must have bowed out from service. The board is expected to have 12 members- two par geo-political zone.

Why tension reigns

Although, the affected officers are in their first term of five years and could be re-appointed for another final term of five years, there are fears that they may not be re-appointed. Reason: Some stakeholders are locked in underground moves to get their candidates appointed.

A top INEC official yesterday said, that the commission has no hand in how Resident Electoral Commissioners, RECs, and national commissioners are appointed. Everything depends on the government but ”we will be happy if the commissioners are reappointed. Most of them are serving the commission very well and have a much more to offer.”

Though, many insiders have commended President Buhari for his determination to ensure that the 2023 general elections are credible, 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.

One of the sources said: “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 would 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.”

President Buhari, who was first elected into office in 2015, will exit on May 29, 2023, after he must have completed two terms of four years each.

Sources in INEC said: “Despite fears already being expressed by critics of the Buhari government on the possibility of the President providing an environment for credible elections and favour his party,   the All Progressives Congress, APC.”

However, supporters of the government said there is no cause for worry judging from the conduct and outcomes of the Edo and Anambra governorship elections as  in the two elections, the President directed the INEC and the security agencies to ensure that the process was hitch-free without interference from any quarter.

They further said that the recent signing of the  Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB,  to Petroleum Industry Act, PIA, was a clear sign that President Buhari’s biggest plan is institution-building.

Another source said: “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 decisive courageous step to solidify the emerging success of his tenure in the Electoral arena by bequeathing to the country a legacy of appointment of persons with proven integrity into the independent National Electoral Commission.

“The just concluded off-season election in Anambra State has 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 stride would vanish if people of proven integrity and impeccable character are not appointed into the management board of the commission to ensure the realization of the President’s assurance to conduct the best election in 2023.

Already about six National Commissioners at INEC will be retiring by 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.

“To make this possible, there are two critical matters for the attention of the President as a final task that will cement his efforts and contribution to democratic consolidation in Nigeria. The first is to assent to the reformed Electoral Act Amendment Bill that has the prospect of changing the narrative of Nigerian elections in a positive direction given that INEC innovations are safeguarded and protected statutorily.

“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.

“Such appointees ought to have a lot of public regards that will not tarnish the image of the President and his already established record of integrity while being very competent.

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