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INEC: PDP Battles FG Over Zakari’s Appointment

With respect to the appointment of the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the constitution provides that the president shall make such appointment in consultation with the council of state and subject to the confirmation of the senate. Apparently, the recent appointment of Mrs. Amina Zakari as the new INEC chairman did not follow the constitutional provisions.

It is perhaps against this backdrop that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) said it would not accept elections conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) under her. The party had followed-up its protest against the new appointment at INEC by drawing the attention of the international community to what it termed the gradual slide to authoritarian rule in the country under the presidency of Muhammadu Buhari, and the All Progressives Congress (APC).

The National Publicity Secretary of PDP, Olisa Metuh, who led a delegation on separate visits to the National Democratic Institute (NDI), and International Republican Institute (IRI), said the opposition party   would find it difficult to accept the outcome of any election conducted by INEC under Zakari. “It will be difficult for the PDP to accept result of election if we loose under Zakari. That is the area we want the international community to intervene. He is showing that he is president of only his political party. He has shown his preference in travelling with only members of his party.

We want the international community to help him realise and practice democratic tenets,” he added. Metuh stated that democracy in the country is on trial and accused the ruling APC and the presidency of intimidation and harassment of PDP officials and elected leaders. “Democracy is on trial in Nigeria. The APC is engaging in campaign of calumny and witch-hunting of PDP leaders. Government is influencing security agencies to frame elected leaders.

We want President Buhari to be fair and father to all Nigerians irrespective of political parties,” Metuh added. The INEC has however declared November 21 as governorship election in Kogi State and December 5 as governorship election in Bayelsa State.

According to Metuh, PDP was not questioning the capability, qualification or the competence of the INEC acting chairman but her alleged relationship with Buhari. Metuh, who described Zakari as “daughter of the president,” said there was nowhere in the world where the chairman of an electoral commission has a relationship with the president of the country besides other members of the party   He said PDP rejected her appointment “because of her closeness with the president.” The PDP spokesman added that the idea of independence of the electoral commission should be seen to be above board, noting that justice must be seen to be done. “We have come to alert the international community of issues that if not well handled could affect or truncate democracy that we have enjoyed in this country.

Democracy is already on trial in Nigeria. As a major international organisation impress it upon the president to respect the tenets of democracy,” he said. The NDI Resident Country Director, Jasper Veen and his IRI counterpart, Sentell Barnes, who received the PDP spokesperson, stressed the need for the strengthening of democratic institutions in the country. He urged political parties to adhere to internal party democracy and their constitutions.

According to Barnes, the quality of democratic system is a reflection of how political parties deal with the emergence of candidates. He pledged to continue to support democratic structure in the country; noting that being in opposition is not easy. He stressed the need for robust and constructive relationship between the civil society and the political society. He assured the PDP of IRI’s willingness to strengthening relationship with the party, adding that IRI is interested in free and fair elections in Nigeria as seen in the team of observers that came for the last election.

“We look forward to ensure that democratic tenets are upheld even in the midst of transition,” he said. But in a swift reaction, Femi Adesina, Special Adviser to President Buhari on Media and Publicity insisted that Zakari’s appointment followed due process. In a recent statement, Adesina said, “Contrary to Mr. Metuh’s allegations, President Buhari’s appointment of Mrs. Zakari as acting INEC Chairman was based entirely on merit, her vast experience in the internal operations of INEC and the President’s commitment to affirmative action in support of gender equality, because, apart from being fully qualified for the position,   Mrs. Zakari was the only woman among the six Commissioners considered.

“Due Process was certainly followed in Mrs. Zakari’s appointment. Mr. Metuh’s spurious claims of her appointment having been influenced by “personal relationship with the Presidency” and a Governor in the North-West “to pave the way for the APC” at election tribunals should be disregarded by the public.

“The allegations are nothing but falsehoods contrived by Mr. Metuh to unjustly denigrate a President popularly elected by Nigerians to undo the damage done to the nation by years of PDP rule. “His claim that the PDP has rejected Mrs. Zakari’s appointment is also laughable after he had admitted that the right and power of the President to make such appointments cannot be questioned.” Similarly, the United Progressive Party (UPP), has berated the PDP for rejecting Zakari’s appointment.

The UPP’s National Chairman, Chekwas Okorie, in Abuja, described Zakari as a diligent, conscientious and upright personality that was fair and firm in carrying out her responsibilities, when she was INEC’s commissioner in charge of Election and Party Monitoring (EPM) and said she was fit for the job. While congratulating Zakari on being the first woman to head an electoral body in Nigeria, the UPP urged her to commence, without delay, introducing strict discipline among the staff and zero tolerance for corruption. The party said it was aware that most of the poor image of INEC emanated from a certain category of its staff and departments, who played critical roles in the conduct of elections by the Commission and handling of petitions at the Election Petition Tribunals.

Maintaining that one of the weaknesses of INEC was its lack of strong will required to deal with its erring staff, the party said such had encouraged the staff to act with greater impunity in subsequent elections. It, therefore, recommended that all the staff of INEC against whom verifiable and cogent petitions had been raised should be dealt with, administratively, by suspending   them, pending the outcome of investigations, stating that it was not difficult to identify INEC officers and staff who were living above their means and legitimate earnings.

According to the party, the issue of lack of due process would arise if Zakari was confirmed the substantive Chairman of INEC without passing the screening and approval of the Nigerian Senate. It stated that the argument that Buhari reversed the action of Prof. Attahiru Jega, who handed over to Ambassador Mohammad Wali, was illogical and pedestrian was not fair, maintaining that Jega was right to hand over his office to whomsoever he chose in line with the rules guiding INEC. His words, “It is to be known that by so doing he neither foisted a fait accompli on the President of the Federal Republic nor arrogated to himself the power to appoint an Acting Chairman to the Commission. “The President still has the power to renew her appointment for another term of five years as a Commissioner without offending the nation’s laws.

It is cheap blackmail to query the appointment of Mrs. Zakari as Acting Chairman of INEC on the flimsy reason that she is from the same geo-political zone with the President. “Prof. Jega came from the same geopolitical zone with the President and this did not confer on the President any special advantage during the Presidential Election of 2015, in which the PDP lost to the All Progressives Congress (APC) and accepted its defeat.” It would be recalled that INEC is established under section 153 of the constitution. The mode of appointment is contained in Section 154(1) and (2) of the constitution. The duration of office of both National and Resident Commissioners is five years under Section 155(1)(c) of the constitution.

Given the constitutional provision on INEC appointment, political watchers argue that the recent drafting of Mrs. Zakari, as the chairman of INEC in acting capacity via a letter through the Head of Service, is not known to the constitutional President Buhari, swore to uphold and defend. It therefore follows that the tenure of Mrs. Zakari should end on July 21, 2015 and as such she must vacate the office except re-appointed in consultation with Council of State and subject to Senate confirmation. The removal from office, before the expiration of five years, can only be done in accordance with Section 157(1), and not through unconstitutional letter that her tenure ended with Prof. Attahiru Jega, on June 30, 2015, having not been appointed the same time.

From the constitutional provisions, it could be deduced that: • There is no provision for the position of INEC chairmanship in an “acting capacity’’ under the Constitution exercisable by the President, but power to appoint a substantive chairman and members of INEC. • The letter written to the “acting chairman” requesting her to consider her term of office to have come to an end is written in violation of Sections 157(1) of the Constitution; • There is no implied removal from or elongation of term of office under the Constitution.

Therefore, when the term of office of the acting INEC chairman constitutionally lapses on July 21, 2015; she automatically ceases to be a member of the electoral body and as such, ceases to occupy the hitherto unconstitutional office of “acting chairman” because she cannot be acting in that capacity from outside the body; • If the acting chairman is to be reappointed; the constitutionally recognised modes in Section 154(1) should be resorted to all over again; and • The position of the government whereby the acting INEC chairman was asked to consider her tenure ended on June 30, 2015, and yet to hold office as the acting chairman of the body is utterly contradictory and unconstitutional. As the controversy rages, political watchers insist that all elected public officials who swore to defend the constitution must be seen to do so in order to promote democratic tenets.

In a constitutional democracy, the actions of the President, the governors and all other elected representatives are expected to conform to constitutional provisions, writes Peterclaver Egbochue

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