Who is afraid of female INEC chair?
EVEN as an acting chair of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Mrs. Amina B. Zakari has gotten more than her fair share of bashing, particularly from the political party under which she was invited to serve as commissioner for over four years. From the caustic character of the opposition to the current acting chair of INEC, particularly by spokespersons for the PDP and other surrogates, it is clear that the opposition to the Kazaure woman may be a strategy to discourage President Muhammadu Buhari from offering Mrs. Zakari a substantive appointment. In a democracy, citizens are free to express support for or opposition to candidates nominated to sensitive positions in the polity, particularly a position that has to do with management of elections, the immediate source of political power. What is worrisome about the attack of PDP opinion leaders on Mrs. Zakari is its stridency and virulence.
Is it strange that there are many attacks on the acting INEC chair? Not particularly so in a democracy. Members of political parties who are used to being in power are likely to feel uneasy when an opposition political party comes to power and makes new appointments to sensitive positions. Having been in power for 16 straight years, it is natural for the PDP to feel destabilised by the pattern and result of the last national and state elections.
What is surprising is that it was the former president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, who appointed Mrs. Zakari an INEC commissioner. Zakari was a commissioner when Jonathan got elected as president in 2011. While on the Commission for about four years, there was no evidence known to the public that Zakari acted in any untoward manner. INEC’s records indicate that the woman was never cited in any complaint about partiality before and after the 2011 presidential election which Dr. Jonathan won. Yet, the PDP has been virulent in its opposition to the woman even in her capacity as acting chair.
Some of the complaints from PDP have accused President Buhari of nepotism, on the strength of the belief within the opposition that Mrs. Zakari is a relation or ‘kinswoman’ of President Buhari. Some of Zakari’s and Buhari’s detractors have claimed, without any hard or incontrovertible evidence, that the female acting chair is a sister-in-law of President Buhari. In other critiques, the opposition party has also stated that Zakari had been nominated by an APC governor.
Others even identify the woman as a card-carrying member of APC. At the time Mrs. Zakari was appointed INEC commissioner, was she a member of PDP? Since when did PDP party leaders realise that Mrs. Zakari had joined APC and why did the party not blow the whistle then? This accusation sounds like calling a dog a bad name in order to justify hanging it.
Others in the opposition party have even said that it was wrong of President Buhari to have appointed Mrs. Zakari, on the ground that the electoral law frowns on appointing a retired or retiring member of the Commission to an acting position. This is despite the fact that Mr. Soyebi was given a similar appointment while he was a member of the electoral agency and that Mr. Umeadi once acted in an acting capacity after the exit of Prof. Maurice Iwu. Isn’t what is good for the goose also good for the gander anymore?
The constitution is clear on who can appoint the chair of a commission. It is the sitting president that has the power to do so. He or she is also endowed with the power to appoint an acting chair of all commissions when exigency of the moment requires that he/she appoints an acting rather than a substantive chair. Section 318(2) of the 1999 Constitution on the matter of appointment of chairman of commissions affirms that “Whenever it is provided that any authority or person has power to make, recommend, or approve an appointment to an office, such power shall be construed as including the power to make, recommend, or approve a person for such appointment, whether on promotion or otherwise, or to act in any such office.”
An interpretation of the ferocious opposition of PDP supporters to the acting appointment given to Mrs. Zakari is that the PDP and other critics of her appointment chose to make a mountain out of a mole hill as a way of priming PDP senators to stand against the appointment of Zakari as substantive chair of INEC, should President Buhari choose to do so, having had good reasons from Zakari’s performance to give her a substantive appointment.
Given the plan of action announced to the public by Mrs. Zakari, no serious politician should expect PDP partisans to feel happy with her acting position. Mrs. Zakari has promised to strengthen INEC and increase the credibility of the electoral process in two areas of election management that should unsettle members of any party that had gotten to power largely through manipulation of elections. She seems inflexible on keeping and improving the commission’s policy on using technology to enhance transparency of the electoral process. It is not news to citizens that the coming to power of another party after 16 years of the same party in power is traceable more to the use of the electronic card reader than to any other factor. The acting INEC chair has also expressed commitment to the continuous registration of voters.
With a combination of ensuring franchise for every eligible citizen and protecting the vote of each citizen through effective electronic monitoring, there is no doubt that Mrs. Zakari is in a position to make manipulation of election in Nigeria a thing of the past. Are the PDP and other opponents of Mrs. Zakari afraid of letting a woman occupy a post that had been reserved for men since 1959? If there is any party that should applaud President Buhari for choosing a woman as acting chair of INEC, it should be the PDP. It is a party that had been privileged to observe Mrs. Zakari closely as a competent INEC commissioner for years and of which the party should be proud for bringing this woman of integrity to the notice of President Buhari and of the nation in her acting capacity as chair of INEC.
• Ropo Sekoni is a retired Professor of Comparative Literature, and Chair of the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Reporting.