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2023 elections: There must be no trifling with INEC leadership

Penultimate Sunday, a group, Arewa Citizens’ Watch for Good Governance, called for the removal of the National Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC),…

Penultimate Sunday, a group, Arewa Citizens’ Watch for Good Governance, called for the removal of the National Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu. They claim that their grouse was over the fear that the INEC chairman and his team were ‘deliberately’ working against the interest of Northern Nigeria by suppressing voters in the region toward the 2023 elections, an allegation that has no basis in fact.

The group’s chairman, Alhaji Mohammed Adamu, even accused the INEC leadership of being “morally compromised,” which, he claims, makes it impossible for it to deliver free, fair and credible polls in 2023. They went further to demand the arrest and prosecution of the INEC chairman “for trying to use his office to effect leadership change in our country in a satanic manner.”

The issue of the removal of Prof. Yakubu first surfaced on September 15, 2022, when the Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP), a body of political parties in Nigeria, said it had uncovered a suit filed against INEC at the Federal High Court, Owerri, in August this year to stop the use of the Bi-modal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) machine for the 2023 general elections. Without mentioning the plaintiff, CUPP spokesperson, Ikenga Ugochinyere, claimed that if the suit failed to stop the use of the BVAS or the chairman also failed to acquiesce to same, the plot to remove him would be effected.

The allegation resurfaced again on October 12, 2022 when CUPP stated that Prof. Yakubu’s removal was to pave way to compromise the BVAS machine or its outright deactivation from INEC server, thereby stopping the transmission of results of the 2023 polls electronically.

More worrisome still, on 13th October, this newspaper reported that “top politicians and persons close to the seat of power in Abuja are said to be firming up the plot” to have the INEC chairman removed as a last ditch attempt should the commission not accede to their demands of interfering with the elections. The plot hatchers, the story said, would like the use of BVAS, incident forms and electronic transmission of election results all expunged from the election process. The story mentioned two governors and a leader in the National Assembly as the arrow-heads of this plot to trifle with the INEC leadership, and by implication, Nigeria’s democracy.

This would not be the first time politicians and their support groups have pushed for the removal of an INEC chairman ahead of elections in the country. Ahead of the 2015 elections, the removal of the then INEC chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, surfaced and President Goodluck Jonathan had to announce that he had no plan to that effect.

And as the 2019 elections drew close, groups, including the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum, then National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Prince Uche Secondus, and the CUPP, bought into the hysteria that President Buhari was plotting to remove the INEC chairman, until the president publicly refuted the claims on February 18, 2019.

We condemn, in the strongest terms, such machinations by politicians and their faceless surrogate groups. These sorts of allegations that are not backed by concrete proof must stop. Any call for the removal of the INEC chairman at this point is a distraction and disservice to the nation, and would simply erode the credibility of the polls. INEC has repeatedly expressed its resolve to conduct free, fair and credible elections in 2023. And its off-season elections have been widely affirmed by all. President Muhammadu Buhari has also consistently restated his resolve to leave a legacy of free and fair elections for the country. This must not be sabotaged under any guise, certainly not by self-interested politicians.

Prof. Yakubu should be left alone to shepherd an electoral process devoid of manipulation, harassment and intimidation of voters, to deliver an election that conforms to global standards of decency. In any case, those calling on the president to sack the INEC boss seem to forget that no president has such powers under our constitution and that such would be a journey to impunity. Sections 157 and 158 of the 1999 Constitution prescribe conditions for the removal of the INEC chairman and national commissioners as well as board members of nine other agencies.

Section 157 says: “(1) Subject to the provisions of subsection (3) of this section, a person holding any of the offices to which this section applies may only be removed from that office by the president acting on an address supported by a two-thirds majority of the Senate, praying that he be so removed for inability to discharge the functions of the office (whether arising from infirmity of mind or body or any other cause) or for misconduct”. For emphasis, INEC is one of the offices listed under this section of the constitution.

If anyone or group has any case of misconduct against the INEC boss, he or she should take the constitutional route as in above and channel their grievance to the investigating agencies, and let the law take its course. Anything short of this is akin to the declaration of war on Nigeria’s democratic process. And that kite cannot fly.