Ezugwu Obinna

The presidency is searching for a new chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, as controversy continues to trail the appointment of Mrs. Amina Zakari as acting chairman of the commission. Zakari’s tenure as national commissioner of INEC has expired while she is still acting as chairman of the INEC, a development that opposition described as illegal.

Opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, also said it would not accept any election conducted under the supervision of the acting INEC chairman especially the forthcoming Kogi and Bayelsa States governorship election.

The constitutional crisis that her appointment is generating might have informed the move by the presidency to look for her replacement before the commencement of the elections in some states of the federation, coupled with the renewed calls by the opposition for her removal which is heating up the polity.

The demand for the appointment of a substantive INEC chairman stems from the argument that Zakari’s tenure as one of the electoral body’s commissioners had expired on July 21st, while the country’s constitution does not provide for the post of acting INEC chairman.

Apart from the above legal angle, however, some of those who have called for the resignation of Mrs. Zakari also base their stance on the allegation that she is said to be related to President Muhammadu Buhari and cannot therefore, be trusted to discharge her duties without being biased.

This follows a recent revelation by a prominent Northern politician and second republic presidential adviser, Alhaji Tanko Yakasai that Mrs. Zakari father, former Emir of Kazaure, was married to President Buhari’s elder sister. Yakasai also said that Buhari spent his early childhood days at the home of Zakari’s father.

The above revelation expectedly drew reactions from the opposition camps, especially the PDP. The party has since insisted that Zakari’s status as Acting Chairman of the electoral body was Illegal and that it would not accept any election held under her as credible.

PDP following its 43rd National Working Committee (NWC) meeting alleged that Buhari is plotting to use Zakari to manipulate the process of the forthcoming governorship elections in favour of APC.

“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 said in a statement by its publicity secretary, Olisa Metuh.

“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,” the party said.

On Sunday, Ekiti State governor,  Ayodele Fayose re-echoed the allegations and called on Buhari to terminate Zakari’s contract since according to him, her tenure expired last month.

“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),” he said.

“One of the major legacies bequeathed to Nigeria by the immediate past Peoples Democratic Party 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 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.”

The ruling party had nonetheless, in a statement dismissed the claims by the PDP as baseless, insisting that Zakari was appointed based on merit.

We have noted with regret, the latest tirade against President Buhari issued by the PDP’s spokesman, Mr. Olisa. Metuh.

“Other than boring reporters at his press conference with a rehash of baseless allegations of inaction against the President, Mr. Metuh clearly had nothing new to say apart from his charge of nepotism and partisanship in the appointment of the Acting INEC Chairman, which also lacks any factual foundation. President Buhari certainly did not “overrule” Prof. Attahiru Jega in appointing Mrs. Zakari as the Acting INEC Chairman, as Metuh alleged.”

The ensuing controversy has also elicited contributions from lawyers, some of whom have also joined the PDP to call on Buhari to appoint a commissioner whose tenure has not expired to head the electoral body pending when he appoints a substantial chairman in line with the provisions of the country’s constitution.

A legal luminary, Barr Ikechukwu Ikeji who spoke with Hallmark on the matter yesterday explained that Mrs. Zakari ought to have vacated her seat as Acting Chairman since her tenure has expired.

“According to the law, an INEC chairman is appointed by the President upon confirmation by the senate, not at the whims and caprices of the President.  Such appointment must be confirmed by the senate.

“Amina Zakari ought to have vacated her job on July 21st when her tenure expired. So that if the President wishes, he can appoint another commissioner whose tenure has not ended to perform on acting capacity until a substantive chairman is appointed,” Ikeji said.

“The law does not provide for the position of Acting Chairman; it only provides for substantive chairman. She should have stepped aside so that another commissioner whose tenure has not expired will take over on acting capacity pending the appointment of a substantial chairman.”

The legal practitioner also argued that on moral grounds, Zakari should not head INEC since she is said to be related to Buhari. “On the moral ground, she is related to Buhari, and it is a conflict of interest. There had been allegations that her father married Buhari’s elder sister.

Another lawyer, Barr Okechukwu Okoroji, who spoke on the matter, insisted that Zakari’s appointment was based on the fact that she has affiliation with Buhari, advising that INEC should be allowed to function independently.

“Her appointment is based on the fact that she has an affiliation with the presidency which shows indeed that he has intention to interfere and influence the process in favour of his party and his own interest. It is unacceptable.

It would be recalled that a Lagos-based lawyer, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa had dragged Mrs. Zakari to the Federal High Court in Lagos State, seeking her immediate removal.

Adegboruwa explained that she had not been re-appointed since her tenure expired. “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.

There are however, other lawyers like Barr Onyekachi Ubani who had at various occasions explained that Zakari’s appointment was in order.

 

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