On October 13, 2020, President Muhammadu Buhari nominated one of his aides, Lauretta Onochie and three others as commissioners in the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
While the nominations, especially that of Onochie, generated heated discussions, nothing has been heard on it again, making some commentators to think that those nominated may be replaced.
Apart from the chairman of the commission, Professor Mahmoud Yakubu, there are 12 national commissioners that run the administration of the electoral umpire.
Yakubu, whose first tenure ended on Monday, November 9, 2020, was re-appointed as the chairman of the commission for a record second term in office.
However, five national commissioners whose tenure expired and are not eligible for re-appointment were Mrs Amina Bala Zakari (Jigawa, North West) who had acted as INEC chairman before Yakubu took over Professor Antonia Taiye Okoosi-Simbine (Kogi, North-Central); Alhaji Baba Shettima Arfo (Borno, North-East); Dr Mohammed Mustafa Lecky (Edo, South-South) and Prince Adedeji Solomon Soyebi (Ogun, South-West).
There was also the voluntary retirement of Abubakar Ahmed Nahuche, an engineer, thus leaving the electoral impire with six vacant seats for national commissioners.
Apart from Yakubu as chairman of the commission, the remaining six national commissioners are Air Vice Marshal Ahmed Mu’azu (retd), Malam Mohammed Kudu Haruna, Professor Okechukwu Ibeanu, Mrs May Agbamuche-Mbu, Dr Adekunle Ogunmola; who were sworn in on December 5, 2016, and Festus Okoye, a lawyer, who was sworn in on July 21, 2018.
This may have prompted President Buhari’s nomination of his Special Assistant on Social Media, Lauretta Onochie, for confirmation by the Senate as a national commissioner representing Delta State.
Others nominated are Professor Mohammed Sani (Katsina), Professor Kunle Ajayi (Ekiti) and Seidu Ahmed (Jigawa).
Senate President Ahmad Lawan, on October 13, 2020, while reading the president’s letter of request at plenary in the Senate, said the nomination was pursuant to paragraph 14 of part 1F of the First Schedule of the 1999 Constitution.
Delay dangerous for 2023 elections — CSOs
Members of civil society organisations who spoke with Daily Trust were unanimous that President Buhari should respect the provisions of Nigeria’s constitution and without delay, appoint the right people as national commissioners of the INEC.
Speaking on the development, the executive director, Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education (CHRICED), Dr Ibrahim M. Zikirullahi, told Daily Trust on Sunday that the issue of vacancy at the level of INEC national commissioners is very disturbing.
According to him, if the president is having difficulty in finding the right candidates to fill the vacancies, he could advertise the positions and let qualified people apply.
“To allow a vacuum in an institution very critical to our democracy sends a worrisome signal. On the nomination of his aide, which was roundly condemned, the president appears to imply that he does not know people beyond his narrow circle in government. He should broaden his horizon and ensure that the most competent people are brought in to serve the country,” Zikirullahi said.
On her part, the director of programmes, Yiaga Africa, Cynthia Mbamalu, told Daily Trust that the INEC was yet to be fully constituted since some seats of some national commissioners are vacant.
“The nomination of one of the aides to the president as commissioner in the INEC shows a disregard for the rule of law on the part of the president. In section 14(2) part 1, third schedule, the constitution clearly requires non-partisanship, integrity and independence as fundamental principles for the appointment of commissioners into the electoral body.
“The National Assembly has the power to decline to confirm a nominee who does not meet the required criteria to serve as national commissioner. The lawmakers should have screened other nominees who passed the test of non-partisanship and integrity while waiting for a replacement for those who did not pass the test.
“This delay has a severe impact on the operations of the INEC, with just 21 months away from the 2023 elections. Concluding on this appointment process is essential, considering the different state-level elections to be conducted before 2023 and the roles each national commissioner plays in the eco-system of election administration and operations,” Mbamalu said.
She added that the appointment of the remaining commissioners was crucial for a duly constituted INEC, which will ensure a successful conduct of the 2023 elections.
She said, “It is crucial that the president reconsiders his nomination and increases the number of women as national commissioners, and subsequently, resident electoral commissioners.’’
Commenting on the issue, the executive director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, said Nigerians had noted Onochie’s support for President Buhari and other members of the All Progressives Congress (APC). She is, therefore, generally regarded as partisan, thereby falling short of one of the requirements of the Nigerian constitution for the appointment of commissioners into the INEC.
“As calls for transparency in Nigeria’s electioneering processes deepen, it is important for the president to spare the election umpire from biased appointments. It is even more important for the president to listen to voices of the civil society and the general Nigerian citizenry to rescind the appointment of Onochie as INEC commissioner. Failure to do this would have a negative effect on citizens’ perception of the commission and its composition,” Rafsanjani said.
No cause for alarm — INEC
Speaking on the situation, the chief press secretary to the INEC chairman, Mr Rotimi Oyekanmi, said “The chairman and the six national commissioners in place have ensured that the commission does not suffer any harm in spite of not having the full complement of commissioners. It is not an easy undertaking, but it is not beyond the team.
“Indeed, the commission has, over the years, developed a unique feature of adjusting itself in this kind of situation. This is not the first time the commission is facing this type of scenario, but it has always demonstrated an extraordinary capacity to survive under pressure,” Oyekanmi said.
He, however, said the commission would be glad to have the remaining six commissioners in place as soon as possible.
When contacted, the Presidency kept mum on the decision of the Senate not to confirm the nominees.
Senator Babajide Omoworare, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), neither picked his calls not replied a text message sent to him by our correspondent.
A similar message sent to the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, after phone calls, was not replied at the time of going to press.