The recent appointment of Mrs. Amina Zakari, as the acting chairperson of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), by President Muhammadu Buhari, has remained a subject of controversy that may not end soon. The controversy is fueled by the allegation that the new INEC boss is closely related to the President. This development has continued to elicit reactions especially from the opposition camp.
Ekiti State Governor, Mr. Ayodele Fayose, in his reaction insisted that Mrs. Zakari’s appointment poses a great danger to democracy in the country. He added that the position is unknown to the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended). The governor, who called on all lovers of democracy in the country to rise in defence of the impartiality of INEC, which he described as the only factor that can sustain democracy, added that; “the most honourable thing for President Buhari to do is to rescind the unlawful appointment of Mrs. Zakari as INEC Acting Chairperson.”
In a recent statement issued by his Special Assistant on Public Communications and New Media, Lere Olayinka, Governor Fayose said, “since Mrs. Zakari’s tenure as INEC National Electoral Commissioner has expired, she cannot continue to preside legally on INEC affairs, except if duly appointed as substantive Chairman of the commission as provided in Section 154 (1) and (3) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
“One of the major legacies bequeathed to Nigeria by the immediate past Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) government was free, fair and credible electoral process and President Buhari, who is a beneficiary of this legacy must sustain this legacy by ensuring that the impartiality of the electoral umpire is unblemished by suspicions of partisanship and illegal appointments. “Two weeks ago, respected former lawmaker and former top civil servant, Alhaji Tanko Yakassai, revealed that he knew Mrs. Zakari since childhood, and that her late father, the former Emir of Kazaure, was married to President Buhari’s elder sister.
“Alhaji Yakassai, went on to reveal that President Buhari lived with and spent a significant part of his early years in the home of Amina Zakari’s father. “This is enough establishment of conviviality between Mrs. Zakari and President Buhari, whose party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) will be standing elections with other political parties this year and this will, no doubt, cast credibility aspersion on any election conducted by INEC headed by Mrs. Zakari.”
He said Section 153 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), which established INEC and other Federal Executive Bodies, did not make any provision for the appointment of Acting Chairman. Declaring the appointment as illegal, Governor Fayose said; “Section 154 (3) provided that the President shall consult the Council of State in exercising his powers to appoint a person as the chairman of INEC and there is no record of such consultation before the appointment of Mrs. Zakari as INEC ‘Acting Chairperson.’
“The only requisite condition for Mrs. Zakari to be acting as the chairman of INEC is that she must be a National Electoral Commissioner and her tenure as National Electoral Commissioner ended on July 21, 2015. “As at today, there are four National Electoral Commissioners in INEC instead of 12.
They are Abdukadir Sulaimanu Oniyangi, Mohammad Ahmad Wali, Chris Iyimoga and Lawrence Nwuruku. If anyone should act as INEC chairman, it should be any of the remaining four National Electoral Commissioners, not someone whose tenure has expired. “The danger in this is also that any action taken by INEC with Mrs. Zakari as its head will amount to illegality and it is hoped that President Buhari will avoid plunging Nigeria into an avoidable legal quagmire by rescinding immediately, the illegal appointment of Mrs. Zakari as INEC Acting Chairperson, a position that is not known to the Constitution of Nigeria.
“Therefore, ignoring facts suggesting that the INEC Acting Chairperson and President Buhari are in-laws is dangerous to democracy in the country, and lovers of democracy in the country must rise in defence of the impartiality of INEC now.” Similarly, a Lagos-based lawyer, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, has taken a step further to challenge the president to rescind the appointment. In fact, he has dragged Mrs. Zakari, to the Federal High Court in Lagos State, seeking her immediate removal. Among several other reliefs, Adegboruwa wants the court to bar Zakari from parading herself as the INEC boss.
Explaining his reasons for the court action, the plaintiff said “on July 21, 2015, the statutory tenure of Mrs. Amina Bala Zakari, as a member or commissioner of INEC, came to an end. She has not been re-appointed by the President upon due consultation with the Council of State and her re-appointment has not been communicated to the Senate for confirmation. Consequently therefore, the presence of Mrs. Zakari in INEC, is a constitutional aberration that must not be allowed to continue.
“I have today, July 22, 2015, filed an action, at the Federal High Court, Ikoyi, Lagos, to declare her appointment as acting chairman of INEC as illegal and unconstitutional, for her to vacate office immediately and for the court to restrain her from presiding over the conduct of any election in Nigeria, including the governorship elections of Kogi and Bayelsa States. “In the originating summons, I am seeking the following orders: “A declaration that the 1st respondent is not entitled to appoint the 4th respondent as acting chairman of the 3rd respondent, such appointment being illegal, unconstitutional, null and void. “A declaration that the appointment of the 4th respondent as acting chairman of the 3rd respondent is unconstitutional, null and void and of no effect whatsoever.
“A declaration that effective July 21, 2015, the 4th respondent has ceased to be a national commissioner or a member of the 3rd Respondent cannot be appointed as chairman or acting chairman of the 3rd Respondent. “An order nullifying the appointment of the 4th respondent, by the 1st respondent, as the acting chairman of the 3rd respondent, being in flagrant violation of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999. “An order, directing the 4th respondent, to forthwith vacates office as acting chairman of the 3rd respondent.
“A perpetual injunction restraining the 4th respondent and the 4th respondent from proceeding with the organization or conduct or supervision of any election in Nigeria, under the leadership of the 4th respondent as its acting chairman, in violation of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999. “An injunction restraining the 4th respondent from further parading herself or holding herself out or functioning as the chairman or acting chairman of the 4th respondent, in violation of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.”
He added that, “long with this case, I also filed an application for an order of interlocutory injunction to restrain Mrs. Zakari from parading herself as acting chairman or member of INEC and also to restrain her from presiding over or organizing any election in Nigeria, including the governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa States. These are the orders that I am seeking in the application: “An order of interlocutory injunction restraining the 4th respondent from presiding over affairs of the 3rd respondent or from supervising, organising or conducting any election in Nigeria, in her capacity as acting chairman of the 3rd respondent, pending the hearing and final determination of this suit.
“An order of interlocutory injunction restraining the 4th respondent from presiding over, organising or conducting the governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa States of Nigeria, in her capacity as acting chairman of the 3rd respondent, pending the hearing and final determination of this suit. “Such further or other orders that this Honourable Court may deem fit to make in the circumstances.”
In a 36-paragraph affidavit in support of the application, the plaintiff maintained that, “Mrs. Zakari is not qualified to claim to be acting chairman of INEC as she was not appointed in line with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution. “In particular, it is being contended that her stay in INEC expired on July 21, 2015 and same cannot renewed by the President via a letter, without consultations with the Council of States and without confirmation of the Senate. Furthermore, it is also being contended that Mrs. Zakari cannot properly exercise an independent mind or judgment, given her affinity with the President and the Governor of Kaduna State, both of whom she had worked closely and shared very intimate relations, to the extent that they could influence her decisions”.
On its part, the PDP has alleged that the President was plotting to use Zakari to manipulate the process of the forthcoming governorship elections in favour of APC. At the end of its 43rd National Working Committee (NWC) meeting in Abuja recently, the party said, “Mrs. Zakari who has a strong relationship with President Muhammadu Buhari and a very prominent All Progressives Congress (APC) North-West governor is collaborating with the ruling party to post Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) of its choice to Kogi and Bayelsa ahead of the forthcoming governorship elections in those states.”
PDP in a statement by its publicity secretary, Olisa Metuh further said, “President Buhari, in appointing Mrs. Zakari, failed to take into cognizance the moral call to detach himself from the op¬erations of the electoral body, thereby completely eroding the independence of the commission. “We want Nigerians to know that with this appointment, INEC has been stripped of its independence and can no longer command the confidence and respect of the citizens and all other critical stakeholders in the nation’s electoral process.”
However, the INEC boss has pleaded for understanding from Nigerians, saying it is not humanly possible for her to detach herself completely from all her former acquaintances. She spoke against the backdrop of increasing uproar over her past working relationship with President Buhari, former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan, among other public officers. Speaking during INEC Half Hour recently monitored on African Independent Television, Hajia Zakari, said it was unfair for anyone to insinuate that she would be bias in the discharge of her duties because she once worked closely with some members of the ruling APC. According to her, she was appointed by two former PDP Presidents, Chief Obasanjo and Dr. Jonathan, into various positions but noted that it did not influence the discharge of her duties.
While assuring Nigerians of her determination to discharge her duties as the head of the electoral body, Hajia Zakari pleaded with Nigerians to take her on her personal merit and what she could do as an independent person. She allayed the fears of those kicking against her appointment, saying even when she was appointed into INEC, she did not allow that to affect her duties as INEC Commissioner. Hajia Zakari worked with Buhari as a staff of Afri-Projects Consult when the President was the Chairman of the Petroleum Trust Fund, PTF, during the administration of late General Sani Abacha. She also worked under Obasanjo administration and the Federal Capital Territory Administration when El-Rufai was the FCT Minister. Regardless of the strident calls for her immediate removal, the president has remained tightlipped in the face of very clear constitutional breach, a development keen political observers say poses a great threat to Nigeria’s democracy.
-Peterclaver Egbochue writes on the controversy trailing the appointment of Mrs. Amina Zakari, as the acting Chairperson of the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC).