Nigeria: Tinubu, Appointment of Partisan RECs and the Endangering of Nigeria’s Democracy

Tinubu should embrace universal best practices in making these appointments or else, he risks being seen as a leader mired in the morass of deception…

Of the controversies and flip-flops that have trailed President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s numerous appointments since he assumed office barely five months ago, possibly the most dangerous and consequential to Nigeria’s democracy was the recent nomination and then confirmation by the Senate of at least two known political figures as Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

These appointments violate and negate the principles of fairness and impartiality, alongside extant laws that seek to protect the sanctity of Nigeria’s elections and democracy, such as the 1999 Constitution and the Electoral Act.

It is particularly disturbing that the Senate had, starting last Thursday, gone ahead with the confirmation of nominees such as Mr Etekamba Umoren (Akwa Ibom State) and Mr Isah Ehimeakne (Edo State) despite PREMIUM TIMES’ unveiling of these persons as partisans and warning about the risks that appointing them as RECs portend for our democracy. These are persons who have been identified as either allies of President Tinubu, or surrogates of senior members of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).

Equally, there are the two other politically exposed persons, Bunmi Omoseyindemi (Lagos State) and Anugbum Onuoha (Rivers State), noted to be associated with politicians through recent appointments.

Yet, the partisan disposition of the Senate saw the nominees sworn in immediately, in spite of the mentioned violations of the Constitution and the Electoral Act that this act presents, and amidst the protests and petitions of civil society organisations and others against the appointment of these RECs. At issue now is the integrity of INEC and Nigeria’s electoral process.

Mr Etekamba Umoren is a known associate of the Senate President, Mr Godswill Akpabio, who held senior political appointments under him as governor in Akwa Ibom State, on the platform of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and who subsequently decamped to the APC alongside Mr Akpabio in 2018. In a video of his induction into the ruling party, he could be seen accepting a broom, which is an emblem of the APC, from Mr Akpabio on a stage, as he chanted the party’s slogan loudly. Also, Mr Isah Shaka Ehimeakhe of Edo State is a recognised supporter of Mr Tinubu, who campaigned vigorously for him ahead of the election.

There are also Bunmi Omoseyindemi, the REC for Lagos State, who has enjoyed the patronage of President Tinubu and his political associates since 2001, and Onuoha Anugbum, the REC for Rivers, who served under Governor Nyesom Wike (now Minister of the FCT) in the state.

The Third Schedule of the 1999 Constitution, in Item F, paragraph 14, expressly disapproves of the appointment of any partisan, or card-carrying member of a political party into such positions. The law states that: “There shall be for each State of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, a Resident Electoral Commissioner who shall be a person of unquestionable integrity and shall not be a member of any political party.”

Equally, in its protests against the appointments, the Civil Society Groups Working on Governance and Elections pointed out that the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, in section 156(1)(a), clearly prohibits the appointment of any member of a political party as a member of INEC. Hence, non-partisanship is a mandatory requirement in the appointment of RECs.

Also, in the statement put out, the Groups further declared that: “Messrs. Etekamba Umoren and Isah Shaka Ehimeakhe are not only members of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) but have publicly declared their membership and campaigned for the party wearing attires of the party at campaigns and public events.”

In a no less intriguing fashion, the current appointment of Umoren as REC for Akwa Ibom State means having two RECs, as the incumbent, Udo Tom’s tenure will expire on 30 January 2024! This will create confusion and utter embarrassment.

Patently, Tinubu’s action and the approbation of the Senate are in clear breach of the 1999 Constitution, as amended. These pernicious appointments into INEC appear to serve no other purpose than laying a strong foundation for an underhand game plan to compromise the integrity of our electoral process and their future outcomes.

This saga presents a sort of déjà vu. President Muhammadu Buhari had, in 2019, nominated Mr Olalekan Raheem as the Resident Electoral Commissioner for Osun State, until his position as a card-carrying member of the APC was revealed. Hence the Ninth Senate had to withdraw his nomination. We had thought that the 10th Senate would be guided by this antecedent. But we were wrong, with this acquiescent Akpabio-led legislature, whose performance so far is a deficit in altruism and patriotism.

A Senate that rejected Raheem’s nomination on account of his being partisan but approved Tinubu’s nominees with the same debility is an unreliable parliament. Nigeria has had enough of flawed elections since 1999. All right-thinking and objective-minded folks should rise against this obvious shrivel, which imperils the country’s democracy.

It is unthinkable that the Senate approval of these partisans equally came on the heels of its recent retreat in Ikot Ekpene, Akwa Ibom State, with taxpayers money, organised by the National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies (NILDS), during which a former Chairman of INEC, Attahiru Jega observed that, “We have seen, in 2023 elections, the damaging effect of how people in the corridors of power get their client/partisan nominees appointed, without being thoroughly screened, and then they are influenced to compromise the integrity of elections.”

Jega then advocated the stripping of the president’s powers to appoint the Chairman and National Commissioners of the electoral umpire, “in order to free the commission from the damaging negative perception of who pays the piper dictates (calls) the tune.”

At the event, the University don, who spoke on the theme of “Electoral Reforms and Democratic Consolidation in Nigeria: A review of the 2022 Electoral Act,” emphasised that those to be appointed as chairman and commissioners of INEC should be made to undergo critical scrutiny by a joint committee of the two chambers of National Assembly, on their skills set, knowledge, character and non-partisan disposition.

However, PREMIUM TIMES does not believe that legislators, many of whom wangled their way into the parliament, can be entrusted with such a sensitive national assignment. Jega’s advocacy for divesting the president of powers to appoint members of the electoral umpire perhaps stems from his personal experience and his membership of the Justice Mohammed Uwais Committee on Electoral Reforms that came in the wake of the 2007 electoral debacle, which made similar recommendations.

The late President Umaru Yar’Adua, the ultimate beneficiary of that most notorious electoral heist, despite the Supreme Court’s affirmation of his victory, unabashedly admitted that the election that brought him to office was flawed and vowed to remedy the process.

The Uwais Committee recommended that the National Judicial Council (NJC) be saddled with the responsibility for advertising, screening, short-listing and submitting the names of those to be appointed as chairman and national commissioners of INEC to the National Council of State, which, in turn, will make recommendations to the Senate for confirmation.

But no president after Yar’Adua has been forthright, transparent and willing to embrace the Uwais panel’s recommendations because of their selfish political interests. Consequently, INEC continues to operate in every electoral cycle, under the asphyxiating grip of partisan and sundry abuses.

Amid this subterfuge and subversion of national interest by the so-called democrats, it is worthy of note that “Elections are the essential roots of democracy,” as an erstwhile Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, reminded all. To consolidate it, he stressed that “the electoral process be under-girded by two fundamental standards: credibility and integrity.” Regrettably, Tinubu and the National Assembly are purveyors of the opposite with their latest inputs in the INEC leadership.

Without learning from our electoral fits and starts, as the rest of the progressive world is doing, our democratic journey will continue to saunter. In Kenya, partisans are not appointed to its electoral commission. And informed by their 2017 ugly experience, President William Ruto has signed into law in 2023, a statute that overhauls the panel that selects members of the electoral umpire.

The selection process is now participatory and reflective of Kenya’s diversity. Independent associations are now part of the process. It should be so here for INEC to regain public confidence and trust in the country’s elections.

As a matter of utmost urgency, PREMIUM TIMES urges the Tinubu administration to expressly nullify these tainted appointments in the interest of the sanctity of the Nigerian Constitution, coupled with the integrity and credibility of Nigeria’s electoral process and democracy.

Also, the Senate should equally withdraw its confirmation of the persons identified. There is an antecedent in this regard with the earlier mentioned December 2019 standing down of the nomination of Mr Raheem as REC for Osun State when he was proven as an APC member, by the ninth Senate.

Very importantly, the government should seek recourse to the recommendations of the Uwais Committee and quickly embark on a process of reform of extant laws, towards a more credible process for the appointment of INEC officials.

Tinubu should embrace universal best practices in making these appointments or else, he risks being seen as a leader mired in the morass of deception and an undertaker of this democracy, rather than its praetorian guard.


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