INEC and Buhari’s emergent appointments
IT has been repeated in recent times that the problem with President Muhammadu Buhari appointing his supposed sister or sister-in-law, Mrs. Amina Zakari, to head the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), has nothing to do with her qualifications but rather the moral burden of having his sister or sister in-law presiding over elections in which himself or his party would be participating against other parties. Whereas it was not a problem for President Jonathan to appoint her to conduct elections – allegedly as a nominee of Malam El Rufai – with whom Mrs. Zakari had worked as a subordinate at the Federal Capital Territory.
The recommendation by El Rufai is said to have occurred after he returned from self-exile and joined in the support for President Jonathan during the Yar’Adua impasse. However, President Jonathan would have had a similar problem if he had appointed a brother, in-law, sister, friends, party men or kin from the South-South Zone, because Nigerians would have reacted with similar rejection. At any rate, Mrs. Amina Zakari tried unsuccessfully and unconvincingly to mitigate this concern, with a weak denial of her family relation with the President which has since been clearly defined by Alhaji Tanko Yakassai, a story that has remained unchallenged, even by the President himself.
Alhaji Tanko Yakassai informed Nigerians that Mrs. Amina Zakari’s father, the late Emir of Kazaure, married President Buhari’s elder sister, and that President Buhari started his childhood in the late Emir’s house. He further revealed that, the mother of Amina Zakari was either the first or second wife of the Emir. Also, he informed that Buhari stayed with the Emir for some time in Kazaure declaring that he knew all these because the late Emir, was his friend of many years, having worked with him as his Permanent Secretary before becoming an Emir. All these issues bordering on law, morality and personal integrity of the President are already being discussed by Nigerians but have now worsened by the President’s recent patterns of appointments that portend a strong tendency for nepotism and tribalism, particularly in utter negation of the political support he received from the South West Zone during the last elections.
Emerging from the recent patterns of the President’s appointments is the tendency to cherry-pick important appointments for his kith and kin, while reserving arduous tasks and positions for zones such as the South-West. The people of the South West are not a race any individual or group can take for a ride, we have seen clearly the master-slave import of the three appointments given so far to the South West, wherein one of the appointees has to take responsibilities for combating a resilient Boko Haram, the other is burdened with explaining the mistakes or failures of government and its agents, while the third is to become the face of wider tax collections, to generate more revenues to be presided over by those from the North, who have now been put in strategic positions to spend revenues mainly from Southern Nigeria, such as the proposed 10% increase of VAT, wherein Lagos State that generates the highest gets far less in final proportion to what is shared when the shares of states that contribute almost zero are aggregated.
Given these touchy appointments, a vast majority of our people have come to the conclusion that the South West have received nothing but errands, headaches and heartaches for its support for “change”. To worsen this fear, it has been revealed that party leaders, particularly South West leaders of the APC are “not involved” or are only “marginally involved” or consulted regarding appointments. “Marginal” involvement in this sense being a mild and diplomatic expression for being “bypassed”, or even worse, “ignored;” otherwise how could it be explained that Amina Zakari could be made an “acting chairman” in violation of Sections 154, 155 and 157 of the constitution where a renowned professor of law is a sitting Vice President ?
It, therefore, comes as no surprise that this emergent pattern started with an unconstitutional letter from the Head of Service, appointing Mrs. Amina Zakari as “acting chairman” of INEC, a title unknown to the constitution of the country and illegally persisting since the 30th of June, despite public outcry over this constitutional abomination and a total aberration. Amina Zakari occupies that office illegally outside the contemplation of the constitution because she is a sister-in-law to the president. This tragedy has been tamely ignored by most civil rights activists who ought to have spoken out while this country is being led on the part of unconstitutionality. Is this because they are expecting appointments and have decided to maintain a loud silence?
By all accounts, Amina Zakari is an undisputed loyalist of the President. Frankly, the task of election supervision does not require loyalist, it requires a neutral, independent-minded, detached, fair and professionally inclined umpire, not someone who grew up with the appointing President as an elderly relative while he lived with her father. There are many Jobs the president can devote to loyalists, but election management is not one of them. For the South West, it will be an excuse for another conflict in the making, a situation that will decimate political groups in the South West, from suspicions over any political victory by groups allied to the President, as occurred with allies of the defunct Northern People’s Congress in the South West during the First Republic.
The Council of State and the Senate that the President must submit the names of INEC nominees to, must be alive to their role as gate keepers of democratic institutions by heeding the wide public rejection of her appointment across the country. The unity of this country is too fragile and our electoral system cannot afford elections that lack credibility even before they are conducted.
It is against this background of an emerging pattern of appointing only loyal and close family members to sensitive positions that the nation must become very wary of the nature of assignment Mrs. Amina Zakari is being promoted to execute. Why is this assignment so important that the President is willing to squander public goodwill and compromise his hard-earned integrity by threading on this part of appointing an electoral commissioner whose legal mandate expired on July 21, 2015 as the “Acting Chairman” of INEC without “consultation with council of state,” “confirmation by the Senate” as required by Section 154 of the constitution? If this is not the case, what are the legal provisions supporting her present headship of INEC that now lacks the required quorum of five members for valid decisions and how can these be substantiated if any election she presides over unconstitutionally as “acting chairman” such as Kogi and Bayelsa face a legal challenge?
It is indeed a burdensome issue, that a president who is the first major beneficiary of free and fair electoral transition from one political party to another in Nigeria should become the first to undermine INEC’s independence, by making INEC another outpost for regionally biased appointments. The President has not only appointed from his own zone of North-West but in fact from his household, an appointment that he ought to maintain a respectful distance from the appointee, like President Jonathan bequeathed to the nation, in appointing an INEC chairman not only outside his South South zone but entire southern Nigeria.
Even President Buhari’s military colleagues didn’t do what he is doing now; Gen. Babangida appointed Prof. Humphrey Nwosu, from the South East; Gen. Abdulsalami from the North also appointed Justice Akpata from the South-South. Why is it that President Buhari is finding difficult to make a very sensitive appointment of INEC chairman outside the circles of his household, friends and party members? This is a matter of serious concern for people in the South West who are now wondering if the confiscation and control of INEC is not a final nail in the coffin, that will terminate the right of the South West to choose its leaders in future elections, as we did in 2015. This right to freely choose is the most valued and unfettered right in a democracy.
• Dr. Salami Adebisi is of the South West Study Group, Ibadan.