By Ifeanyi Ottah
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) under the leadership of Prof. Attahiru Jega has in the last few months taken many bold steps that showed its determination to not only assert its independence but show that it is truly independent.
Nigeria has made remarkable progress in electoral democracy since 1999. After fifteen years of uninterrupted civilian rule, significant changes have taken place in the country’s electoral environment that have simultaneously drawn attention to the hopes and threats in the electoral process.
The electoral environment of 2015 is a mix bag of factors that could enhance the credibility and integrity of the elections and those that constitute potential threats.
Meanwhile there is this increased public confidence in the electoral process following the outcome of 2011 general elections and the series of governorship elections ever conducted so far by Jega led INEC.
However, the war of attrition between the main political parties in the country waxed stronger last week when the All Progressives Congress (APC) caucus in the Senate alleged that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) led federal government has concluded plans to sack the Chairman of the INEC, Prof. Jega, this week.
The caucus, at a Press Conference addressed by its chairman and senate Minority Leader Senator George Akume, said it had uncovered the plan by the Head of Service, Danladi Kifasi, to issue Jega a letter ordering him to proceed on terminal leave.
Akume who was flanked by other members of the caucus, claimed that the planned removal of Jega was capable of disrupting the forthcoming general elections, adding that only dishonest politicians would seek his removal at such a critical time like this.
The caucus said even though President Goodluck Jonathan has the constitutional powers to remove the INEC chairman, he should follow the laid down procedure for doing so, adding that he must secure the support of two thirds majority of the senate before Jega could be removed.
“We have received information from a very, very informed and credible source that next week, the chairman of INEC will be served a letter by the office of the Head of Civil Service directing him to proceed on terminal leave.
“Whether the letter comes from the head of service or the secretary to the Federal Government does not make sense. What we are saying is, even if you go by the terms of the head of the civil service of the 11th of August, 2010, with Reference No. HCSF/CMO 1772/TI/11, it is not applicable whatsoever to the chairman of INEC.
“This circular was talking about clarification on pre-retirement leave is applicable to tenured officers and career civil servants, which states that you are bound to disengage when you get to 35 years in service or when you get to 60 years of age.
“The provision is not applicable to Jega. Why would the Federal Government controlled by the PDP want to tamper with an arrangement that is so critical to this election.
“Jega was ready to conduct the pre-scheduled elections; the Federal Government controlled by the PDP was not ready,” Akume said.
However, the President had recently refuted reports in the media suggesting that he was planning to send the INEC chairman Attahiru Jega on terminal leave with a view to retire him before the 2015 general polls rescheduled to begging on March 28.
“I appointed the INEC chairman and all the resident electoral commissioners but I also have the constitutional powers to remove but will not do so. I have not told anyone I intend to remove Jega”, he stated.
The President assured Nigerians that he was ready to leave office on May 29 this year if he loses the Presidential contest to the APC Presidential candidate General Muhammed Buhari.
Speaking at a presidential media chat aired live on national television and radio recently, Jonathan who restated his earlier stance that the May 29 hand over date remained sacrosanct said the country will not go to war if he or anybody does not win the 2015 polls.
Noting that if he did not believe in the abilities of Jega, he would not have appointed him, the president said,’ “I want all Nigerians to know that INEC will conduct elections and a government will be inaugurated on May 29.”
He denied being part of the decision to shift the polls. “I was not consulted and I don’t want to be consulted. In 2011, INEC did not consult me. If they had informed me, I wouldn’t have wasted my time and government resources. For every trip I make, I know what federal government paid. For me to move to the village, my advance team will go there with all this road team and so on. So there is no way I would have gone to the village,” he added.
Stating that he never intended to sack the INEC boss, the president said: “It is Mr. President that appoints every commissioner in INEC. The national commissioners and the RECS are my appointee.
“So, if I feel that Jega is not good enough for obvious reasons, there are provisions in the constitution which gives the person who appoints the power to remove, but I have not told anybody that I am going to remove Jega. So you see; I think some of these things are creation by people from one interest or the other. They are just causing confusion. The whole thing about the rescheduling of the election, there are a lot of people who are using that opportunity to misinform Nigerians and create this confusion. On the threat by ex-Niger Delta militants, Asari Dokubo, Tompolo and others that the country would go to war if he loses, president Jonathan insisted that the country will not go to war.
He said, “These statements come from both sides, but I have told you that these are statements that are not health. You as journalists should know more than me. Nobody will go to war.
“Nigeria will remain, Nigeria. And you the Journalists have no role to play. “We have a country. We must protect this country. Statements by ex-militants and others are random statements and nobody should take them seriously.
“We must protect this country. Our supporters must also be responsible. We shall ensure that nobody goes to war.”
He blamed aides and associates of key political actors for the hate speeches and political violence, adding that he would hand over power to whosoever wins the elections.
“If the elections are conducted and I lose, the new president will be sworn in. If I lose the election, I will relinquish power. I never said I would hold on to power as claimed on social media.
“I reassure Nigerians that elections will be conducted and a government inaugurated on May 29. Do not be disturbed by stories that are not real; stories that the president will send INEC chairman on terminal leave; statements that I will not handover if I lose are insinuations that are not true,” the president said.
However, since the postponement of the elctions form February 14 and 28, 2015 to March 28 and April 11, 2015, Jega has been under attack by President Jonathan’s campaign organization known as Goodluck Lagos Grassroots Project.
It would be recalled that few weeks to the dates that had been appointed by INEC, anxiety and tension began to mount over the feasibility of the election given the non distribution of the permanent voter’s cards by INEC and second, the state of insecurity in the North East States, especially Borno, Adamawa and Yobe, where the Islamic sect, Boko Haram, had intensified its six year insurgency.
Jega’s assurances that the electoral body was ready to conduct elections did not douse the tension which culminated with recent consultations with stakeholders and the decision to postpone the elections.
Jega said the shift in election dates was for security reasons following an advisory from the National Security Adviser, Colonel Sambo Dasuki(rtd). The INEC Chairman said the commission decided on the postponement after due consideration over the opinions of stakeholders because, “The conduct of elections in a country like Nigeria is invariably a collective venture that involves not just the Election Management Body (EMB), but also a diverse range of stakeholders, notably security agencies, political parties and their candidates, voters, as well as interest groups, such as the civil society organizations and the media.”
The INEC Chairman talked about his invitation to the meeting of the National council of state to brief the council on INEC’S preparedness for the poll.
“The summary of my presentation to the National council of state meeting is that, for matters under its control, INEC is substantially ready for the general elections as scheduled, despite discernible challenges being encountered with some of it processes like the collection of Permanent Voter Cards by registered members of the public. INEC has been doing everything it can to facilitate the collection of PVCs by registered members of the public. As at 5th February 2015, the total number of PVC collected was 45,829,808, representing 66.58% of the total number of registered voters,” Jega said.
“In the delivery and development of deployment of electoral materials, INEC is also at a comfort level in its readiness for the general elections as scheduled. The commission’s preparations are not yet perfect or fully accomplished. But our level of preparedness, despite a few challenge, is sufficient to conduct free, fair and credible elections as scheduled on February 14th and February 28th. Compared with 2011 when, within a short time, we conducted general elections that were universally adjudged free, fair and credible and the best in Nigeria’s recent electoral history, our processes are today better refined, more robust and therefore capable of delivering even better elections.”
Jega said: “Other variables equally crucial for successful conduct of the 2015 general elections that are outside the control of INEC” had prompted the deferment of the general election.
“Our important variable is security for the elections. While the commission has a very good working relationship with all security agencies, especially on the platform of the Inter-agency Consultative Committee on Election Security(ICCES) since its inception in 2010, it has become pertinent for it to seriously consider the security advisory presented to it by the security and intelligence services,” he said.
According to Jega, “Last Wednesday, which was a day before the council of state meeting, the office of the National Security Adviser wrote a letter to the commission, drawing attention to recent developments in four North-east states of Borno, Yobe, Adamawa and Gombe currently experiencing the challenge of insurgency. The letter stated that security could not be guaranteed during the proposed period in February for the general elections.
“This advisory was reinforced at the council of state meeting where the NSA and all the Armed services and Intelligence Chiefs unanimously reiterated that the safety and security of our operation cannot be guaranteed, and that the security of services needed at least six weeks within which to conclude a major military operation against the insurgency in the North-east; and that during this operation, the military will be concentrating its attention in the theatre of operations such that they may not be able to provide the traditional support they render to the police and other agencies during elections.”
In changing the election dates in line with the adviser of the security chief, Jega stated that INEC relied on section 26(1) of the Electoral 2010 (As Amended), which states, “Where a date has been appointed for holding of an election, and there is reason to believe that a serious breach of the peace is likely to occur if the election is proceeded with on that date or it is impossible to conduct the elections as a result of natural disasters or other emergencies, the commission may postpone the election and shall in respect of the area, or areas concerned, appoint another date for the holding of the postponed election, provided that such reason for the postponement is cogent and verifiable.”
While responding to questions from journalists after his briefing, Jega dismissed the calls in some quarters for his resignation for the earlier insistence on holding the elections as scheduled saying he currently has no reason to consider that option.
“If there are genuine reasons for me to resign, if my conscience so advises, but where it does not, there is no need to resign. I will not resign. I have not met with any group, rather than do that, I will resign. This is the only condition for me to resign. Anyone can conjure theory, but I advise the media to do their investigations before publishing,” Jega said, adding, “my tenure will end June 30, 2015.”
Asked what would be his reaction if he were told to proceed on terminal leave, the INEC chairman responded, “I will cross the bridge when I get there.”
However, The Minister of Culture and Tourism and the Supervising Minister of Information, chief Edem Duke, has debunked the rumour making rounds that President Jonathan has an agenda to sack the chairman of the INEC Prof. Jega illegally.
The Minister spoke during his maiden meeting with information correspondents at Radio House, Abuja, adding however, that “this is not to say that, if it is time for INEC chairman to naturally exit his office, then the natural course of public service rule will not take place when he has reached age of retirement or exhausted his tenure.”
He said: “I align myself with Mr. President that he has no plan to sack the INEC chairman. President Jonathan reaffirmed the confidence reposed on the INEC chairman and reiterated that the administration has no plan whatsoever to send the electoral umpire illegally packing. But nothing would debar the INEC boss from proceeding on retirement when the need arises, in line with the civil service rule and as enshrined in the constitution.”
Although the Minister did not explain further it was gathered that the administration was angry with Jega for introducing the Card Reader as a means of accreditation for the general elections without briefing the Federal Government over the issue.
“Jega wants to try a new system of accreditation without briefing the presidency over the issue. No freedom is absolute section 125 of the constitution forbids electronic voting, it is for checking voters.
“Secondly, the point Jega also missed is that Nigeria is not a place you can introduce that type of system without trial or experiment elections. You can start with council election, beginning with councilors, local government chairmen in that other before you proceed to governorship and presidential elections.
“But Jega is starting his experiment with the presidential election. It is wrong even though people are playing politics with the matter,” the source said.
According to Duke, “With the elections around the corner, it is important for every one of us to apply some sense of decorum, sense of patriotism and sense of Judgmental guide in a manner that whatever we do, especially at this critical time of our nation’s development, we must be guided strictly by spirit of professionalism and love of our country. “Those who are competing for offices in the course of these elections are the ones feeding social media with propaganda because they have no records to back their aspiration; they had spent a lot of resources, time and ingenuity building social media propaganda so that by the time campaign commenced, they were ready with propaganda against government in power.
“They embark on massive publicity campaign, recruit electoral PR companies to sell products that do not exist and these are thrown to the public during election. But we must realize that truth struck a thousand times will always rise again because the eternal age of time belongs to truth.…”
Inspite of the INEC’S early preparations for the 2015 elections and testing its preparedness in a number of gubernatorial elections, obvious challenges facing election commission bothers on autonomy.
A recent presidential directive that ballot papers for the 2015 presidential and governorship elections worth #6 billion be printed by the state-owned printing and minting company instead of foreign firms preferred by INEC has generated a public debate that INEC lacks autonomy. The leading opposition party the All Progressive Congress (APC) has strongly criticized the directive because of what the party describes as a record of abuse of federal institutions by the ruling Peoples Democratic party (PDP) government. APC had questioned the integrity of the minting and printing company on account of previous incidents of fraud including billions printed naira notes that disappeared into the pockets of some of its officials.
Also damaging could be the ethnic and regional campaigns that visited the INEC’s proposal to create additional 30,000 polling units, apparently aimed at solving problems of congestions of polling units experienced since the 2011 elections while at the same time responding to significant populations shifts and demographic changes in many parts of the country.
The electoral body has justified the proposal as an attempt to deal with the arbitrariness that were alleged to have taken place during the creation of the present 120,000plus in 1996 by the then National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (NECON), which failed to take into consideration sensitive political factors in the course of the exercise, among other shortcomings.
Meanwhile politicians from the southern Nigeria Peoples Assembly led by the former Vice President Dr. Alex Ekwueme, former Information Minister Chief Edwin Clark and Bishop Emmanuel Gbonigi have accused Jega of favouring some northern states with 21,165 of the proposed addition against 8,412 for the southern states. At a joint meeting of the Southern Nigeria Peoples Assembly, they called for the immediate resignation of the INEC Chairman Prof. Attahiru Jega.
Opposition to the proposed creation of the new additional polling units are determined including the senate INEC Committee chaired by senator Andy Uba that has asked INEC to shelve the proposal.