The fate of the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, is hanging in the balance following the exclusion of his name in President Muhammadu Buhari’s request to the Senate for confirmation of commissioners of the electoral body.
Yakubu’s name was conspicuously missing on the president’s letter to the Senate seeking the confirmation of four persons as national commissioners of the commission.
The letter, dated October 12, 2020, was read during plenary by Senate President Ahmad Lawan on Tuesday.
By explicitly excluding his name, analysts believed that President Buhari had sent a strong signal of likely dropping Yakubu as INEC chairman.
- The letter
The letter to the Senate reads: “Pursuant to Paragraph 14 of Part I (F) of the Third Schedule to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, as amended, I hereby forward for confirmation by the Senate, the appointment of the following four (4) Commissioners for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The nominees listed by the President are: Prof. Muhammad Sani Kallah (commissioner), Katsina; Lauretta Onochie, presidential aide on social media (commissioner), Delta; Prof. Kunle Cornelius Ajayi (commissioner), Ekiti; and Saidu Babura Ahmad (Resident Electoral Commissioner), Jigawa.
The president’s nomination came five days after Daily Trust published an exclusive story on the looming vacuum at the commission.
The five- year tenure of Yakubu and five national commissioners would lapse on November 9, and could get a second term if the president so wish.
Daily Trust recalled that Professor Yakubu was sworn-in alongside five national commissioners; Mrs Amina Bala Zakari (Jigawa) North West; Dr. Antonia Taiye Okoosi-Simbile (Kogi), North Central; Alhaji Baba Shettima Arfo (Borno), North East; Dr. Mohammed Mustafa Lecky (Edo), South-South and Prince Adedeji Solomon Soyebi (Ogun), South West.
- ‘There is serious confusion’
A top INEC source told Daily Trust there was an apparent confusion in the names forwarded to the Senate by President Buhari.
The source, who does not want to be named, said: “There appears to be some confusion here.
“Only one national commissioner is going for now from the North West, Hajiya Amina, but apparently two names were submitted from there.
“One should also be going from North Central but none was submitted from there,” he said.
He also said Buhari’s silence on Prof. Yakubu had left people in the dark.
“My understanding is if you are giving a member an extension, his name would still need to go through the same process as the first time.”
- ‘Onochie can’t be INEC commissioner’
The Senate minority caucus kicked against the nomination of Onochie as INEC national commissioner.
Senate Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe, said by nominating his aide, President Buhari has “wilfully gone against the constitution” and urged the president to withdraw the nomination.
“Item F, Paragraph 14 of the Third Schedule of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) forbids a card-carrying member of a political party to be a member of INEC.
“The minority caucus of the Senate is against this nomination and calls on Mr President to withdraw it,” he said.
However, Senator Kabir Barkiya (APC, Katsina), said there was nothing wrong in Buhari’s nominations.
He said: “The nominations were in order except if the constitution says otherwise.
“If the constitution allows the president to nominate his aide for INEC job, then the outcry is not necessary.
“But if it is against the constitution, we will reject the nomination.”
On his part, a three-time member of the National Assembly, Senator Dino Melaye asked Buhari to rescind the nomination of Onochie.
Melaye, who lost his bid to return to the Senate in 2019, described the nomination as unconstitutional, an affront on the patience of Nigerians and an insult to the institution of INEC.
“She is biased as a member of the APC, hence this is an affront on the patience of Nigerians and insult to the electoral umpire as an institution,” he said.
- Assault on democracy
Reacting, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) described Onochie’s nomination as a highly provocative assault on the nation’s constitution and democratic process.
Addressing a press conference on Tuesday in Abuja, the PDP National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, alleged that Onochie is a card-carrying member of the ruling APC.
The PDP said it would deploy every legitimate means possible in a democracy to stop the approval of the nomination of Onochie as INEC national commissioner.
“Indeed, from Mr. President’s public promises, one would have thought that he was desirous of leaving a legacy of credible elections, having failed in all ramifications of governance
“However, this nomination of his personal staff, Lauretta Onochie, as INEC national commissioner, supports the position of the PDP that his statements were mere glib talks on electoral sanctity and clearly demonstrates that he has no plans whatsoever to leave a legacy of credible polls,” the opposition party said.
“This ugly development is another shameful attempt to plant unscrupulous elements in INEC to corrupt and further desecrate the sanctity of the commission, undermine our electoral system and destabilise our democratic process ahead of the 2023 general elections,” it added.
- APC reacts
Reacting, the APC Deputy National Publicity Secretary, Yekini Nabena asked PDP leaders to tell Nigerians whether the INEC spokesman was not a member of the PDP.
“What is the PDP talking about? Is the INEC spokesman not a member of the PDP?
“Has Lauretta Onochie contested any election on the platform of the APC?” he queried.
- 70 CSOs kick
Also lending its voice to the controversy, the Nigerian Civil Society Situation Room on Tuesday kicked against the nomination of Onochie as national commissioner.
The Situation Room, which is a coalition of 70 Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in Nigeria, maintained that the 1999 Constitution, as amended, forbade the appointment of a partisan politician as a member of INEC.
In a statement signed by its Convener, Mr Clement Nwankwo, the Situation Room called for an immediate withdrawal of her nomination.
“Her nomination amounts to a major attempt at undermining efforts to build credibility for an improved electoral process in the country.
“Situation Room calls on President Muhammadu Buhari to immediately withdraw her nomination.
“Should the President fail to withdraw this nomination the Nigerian Senate is hereby called upon to disregard her nomination without any consideration whatsoever.
“Situation Room is also calling on the Nigerian Senate to investigate all of the other nominations by the President especially as there are concerns that some of these nominations may have been by self-serving interests.
“It is important for Nigeria that the composition of INEC is transparently non-partisan and independent of partisan political manipulation”, the statement said.
- Lawyers speak
Speaking on the nomination of Onochie, Obioma Ezenwobodo said: “As an APC member, Lauretta Onochie is not qualified to be an INEC commissioner.
“This is against Section 156(1)(a) of 1999 Constitution (as amended) that bars a card-carrying member of a political party from being an INEC member. INEC neutrality and non-partisanship are sacrosanct,” he said.
On his part, Hameed Ajibola Jimoh, said, “I cannot speculate at this stage without evidence that her membership with the APC would hinder her official functions in her new appointment as INEC’s national commissioner.”
One of our correspondents report that Onochie, a diehard supporter of Buhari and one of the key drivers of the Buhari Support Organisations (BSO) in Delta State, recently donated a building to the APC in her hometown of Onicha-Olona as the LGA APC Secretariat