REC appointments must be above board | TrendyNewsReporters
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REC appointments must be above board

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THE refusal by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), to withdraw his nomination of some persons with verifiable political affiliation into the Independent National Electoral Commission board despite public outrage is provocative. It reflects the detachment from the global best practices and nuances that oil sustainable democracies by Nigeria’s leaders, and could further abrade confidence in the electoral system. He should withdraw the nominations immediately, failing which the Senate should promptly reject them.

There is a prevailing culture of impunity in Nigeria that over the years has eroded the sustenance of a vibrant, inclusive democratic system. Buhari exemplifies that trait. Nigerians should mount considerable pressure on the Senate to reject such nominees. With about six months to the 2023 general elections, Buhari should put the country first and replace tainted nominees with apolitical and upright Nigerians.

Buhari had written to the Senate in July asking it to confirm the appointment of 19 persons to replace the retired Resident Electoral Commissioners and fill the vacancies created in 18 states and the Federal Capital Territory. Alarmingly, however, it was alleged that some nominees had partisan political affiliation; some others had corruption allegations levelled against them in the past. One reportedly contested in the recent primaries for a governorship ticket of the ruling party.

In response to public opposition, the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, said, “These people will go for confirmation in the National Assembly; the same questions that are being raised in the public domain will be asked there. I think this ‘media trial’ is quite worrisome because when these people are cleared of any wrongdoing, nobody comes back to apologise to them. So, my advice is that there will be allegations made against anyone, but it does not mean that that fellow is guilty. Let’s wait for the process to be completed.”

This is a dramatic turnaround from the ruling party and Mohammed: in 2011, as the spokesperson for the defunct opposition Action Congress of Nigeria, he had vociferously demanded that President Goodluck Jonathan withdraw eight out of his 13 nominations as RECs because they were then ruling party members. If it was wrong to pack the electoral umpire with partisan persons then, nothing makes it right today.

Democracy is served not only by laws but also by precedents and conventions. Even if the basic and enabling laws did not expressly forbid card-carrying members of political parties from certain public offices, the constitutional provision that persons appointed should be “of unquestionable integrity” is sufficient to guide the President in choosing apolitical persons if truly, cleaning up Nigeria’s rowdy electoral system is dear to him.

In the matter of electoral affairs, INEC and its officials must not only be independent and fair, they also must be seen to be so. The body should inspire trust in most right-thinking members of the public. The independence and impartiality of INEC should never be compromised.

More importantly, in this matter, Buhari clearly runs afoul of the provisions of Section 156 (1) (a) and the Third Schedule Part 1 of the 1999 Constitution, which provides that a REC shall be a person of unquestionable integrity “and shall not be a member of any political party.” With this, the Senate should promptly reject nominees associated with any registered political party.

By deploying technology, embracing popular buy-in, and learning from previous exercises, INEC has made some appreciable gains in raising confidence in the electoral process. The Electoral Act signed by the President has also boosted public trust, with the recent Ekiti and Osun governorship elections being marked improvements on the atrocious polling of the past. Further sanitising the process and improving future elections should be the priority. INEC’s independence is pivotal in this and its composition is crucial.

It is not the first time Buhari would be courting unnecessary controversy over appointments in INEC. In 2015, after the then INEC Chairman, Attahiru Jega, had handed over to a national commissioner, Mohammed Wali, Buhari blundered by appointing Amina Zakari, another national commissioner, alleged to be his close family associate to act. Zakari’s family later clarified that she was not Buhari’s blood relation but admitted that Buhari’s sister married into Zakari’s family before she was born and that the union was short-lived.

Legally, Buhari had done no wrong. And in mature democracies with strong institutions and vibrant civic participation, it would not have mattered. But Nigeria’s is a wobbly democracy with a terrible history of flawed, compromised elections. Public confidence in INEC’s neutrality is crucial. Again in 2021, Buhari nominated his aide, Lauretta Onochie, as a national commissioner. Despite the anger this generated, it took the Senate to dismiss the nomination, pitiably, on the grounds that Delta, her home state, was already represented in the commission.

The Senate must act responsibly by rejecting any nominee tainted by partisanship, or by past ensnarement in corruption. Nigerians should remain alert, especially given the current Senate leadership’s obsequious deference to Buhari. The 70 CSOs that have asked the President to withdraw the tainted nominations and called on the Senate to reject them if he fails to do so should remain vigilant.

In 2010, Jonathan bowed to public pressure and withdrew the nominations of his party members as INEC commissioners. In March, US President, Joe Biden, withdrew the nomination of Sarah Raskin as vice-chair of the Federal Reserve Bank following opposition due to her membership of the Democratic Party and her known ideological leaning. That is being sensitive to the governed.

Buhari and NASS should rather push for the adoption of the helpful recommendations of the Electoral Reform Committee led by Mohammed Uwais, a retired chief justice of Nigeria in 2008 to reform the electoral system. Compromised appointments into INEC could negate the incremental gains made in the electoral process and dampen the rising enthusiasm and optimism for the 2023 elections. Buhari and NASS should act responsibly.

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