A coalition of civil society organisations (CSOs) have raised the alarm over the alleged appointment of politicians and those indicted for corruption as members of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Resident Electoral Commissioners (REC).
Addressing a press conference yesterday in Abuja, the CSOs consisting of Yiaga Africa, International Press Center, Center for Media and Society, The Albino Foundation, Elect Her, Nigerian Women Trust Fund, Partners for Electoral Reform and Inclusive Friends Association said the appointments contravened the constitution.
The joint statement of the CSOs was read by the Executive Director Yiaga Africa, Samson Itodo.
It stated: “Our investigation and analysis prove the contrary. Some of the nominees of the president fail the constitutional test of non-partisanship and unquestionable integrity.
“Evidence abounds that some of the nominees are either partisan, politically aligned, or previously indicted for corruption.
“To mention a few, Prof. Muhammad Lawal Bashir from Sokoto was a Governorship aspirant under the All Progressive Congress (APC) in the 2015 elections cycle. Mrs. Sylvia Uchenna Agu, the nominee for Enugu state, is believed to be the younger sister of the APC Deputy National Chairman, South-east.”
“The nominee for Imo State, Mrs. Pauline Onyeka Ugochi, a former Head of ICT at INEC in Imo state, gained notoriety for alleged corruption and connivance with politicians to undermine elections.
“Mrs. Queen Elizabeth Agwu, a former Accountant-General of the Ebonyi, was suspended allegedly on the grounds of incompetence and corruption in 2016,” the CSOs further alleged.
They claimed that the appointments of the RECs contravened Section 156(1)(a) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which clearly prohibits the appointment of any person who is a member of a political party as a member of INEC.
They further stated: “To further ensure the neutrality of the members of INEC, the constitution clearly mandates in the Third Schedule, Part 1, Item F, paragraph 14 (1) that Commissioners shall be non-partisan and persons of unquestionable integrity.”
The senate president, Ahmad Lawan had in July announced the new nominees include Pauline Onyeka Ugochi (Imo); Muhammad Lawal Bashir (Sokoto); Prof. Ayobami Salami (Oyo); Zango Abdu (Katsina); Queen Elizabeth Agwu (Ebonyi); Agundu Tersoo (Benue), Yomere Oritsemlebi (Delta); Prof. Yahaya Ibrahim, (Kaduna); Dr. Nura Ali (Kano); Agu Uchenna Sylvia (Enugu); Ahmed Garki (FCT); Hudu Yunusa (Bauchi); Prof. Uzochukwu Chijioke, (Anambra); and Mohammed Nura (Yobe).
The reappointed nominees included Ibrahim Abdullahi (Adamawa); Obo Effanga (Cross River); Umar Ibrahim (Taraba); Agboke Olaleke (Ogun); and Prof. Samuel Egwu (Kogi).
The CSOs stressed further, “We contend that the appointment of these individuals as RECs will significantly undermine the neutrality and impartiality of INEC and it will increase mistrust in INEC and Nigeria’s electoral process.
“By the combined effect of Section 156 (1)(a) and Third Schedule, Part 1, Item F, paragraph 14 (1), these individuals are constitutionally prohibited from any appointment as members of INEC. It will be against the sacred spirit of the constitution to accept their nomination. “Given their antecedent and close affinity with political parties, it is improbable that they will remain neutral and objective if successfully screened as INEC Resident Electoral Commissioners (REC).”
The CSOs stressed that their appointments into INEC have grave implications for the credibility, independence and capacity of the Commission to deliver credible, transparent, inclusive and conclusive elections.
Accordingly, they stated that it was for this reason that the constitution prescribes the criteria and procedure for appointments into INEC to protect the Commission’s neutrality, objectivity and non-partisanship. Section 156(1)(a) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria clearly prohibits the appointment of any person who is a member of a political party as a member of INEC.
“To further ensure the neutrality of the members of INEC, the Constitution clearly mandates in the Third Schedule, Part 1, Item F, paragraph 14 (1) that Commissioners shall be non-partisan and persons of unquestionable integrity,” they added.
Also, the CSOs said they observed that the appointments did not reflect the principles of non-discrimination and inclusivity that the civil society community had and continued to advocate, particularly, in this instant case, with regard to Persons with Disability (PWDs) who represent about 15 per cent of Nigeria’s population and have been completely left out of the process.
Accordingly, they said, “We submit that it is critical that as we strive to make the electoral process more inclusive, representative, and qualitative, the appointment of PWDS would provide the pulse required to give effect to the provisions of the Discrimination Against Persons Living with Disabilities Act, 2018, and other legislations and guiding principles in that regard.”
To this end, they stated, “we, the undersigned, reject their appointment as RECs entirely and urge President Buhari to withdraw their nomination in the public interest and in furtherance of his commitment to leave a legacy of a truly independent electoral institution that enjoys the trust and confidence of citizens and electoral stakeholders.
“Also, we call for a thorough examination and background checks of the credentials of the nominees. The Senate is urged to reject these nominees that fall short of the threshold of non-partisanship and impeccable character.
“Electoral commissioners must be individuals with impeccable character, unquestionable neutral inclinations, dispositions, and competence.
“The nominations and process of confirmation must be inclusive and representative of all segments of the society.”, they said.
In the same vein, the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG) has also called on the president to immediately remove names of alleged APC card carrying members from the appointed INEC REC.
Chairman, Transition Monitoring Group( TMG), Auwal Ibrahim Musa (Rafsanjani), in a statement yesterday, expressed concern over the reported development, saying such appointment into the decision making structure of the INEC at all levels was an, “enabling strategy to influence the process and outcome of 2023 general elections.”
He said while the provisions of 1999 constitution were clear on the compositions and major appointments into structure of the electoral body, it was sad to note the “apparent partisanship and favouritism reported through the nominations of the party’s card-carrying members as INEC Commissioners and State RECs.
Auwal noted: “Some Nigerians alleged that the recent unmerited promotions and strategic deployments across the country initiated within the Commission was to upturn votes or create inconclusive situations that will be exploited by unscrupulous politicians in forcing or rigging their way into power.
“We are more concerned by the potential impact of such a major push from the Presidency on the overall credibility, transparency and integrity of the upcoming elections in 2023. Just as we condemn in totality the appointments of card-carrying members of any political party as a controlling strategy that can compromise the competence and objectivity of INEC, under which the independence and integrity of the Commission cannot be guaranteed to deliver free, fair and credible elections.
“TMG on this note call on President Muhammadu Buhari to in the spirit of his administration’s commitment to anti-corruption and transparency, withdraw all names of political party chieftains or card-carrying members contained in the nominations; and consider for immediate replacements, persons of integrity and unquestionable character, to demonstrate non-partisanship in the selections and nominations.
“We call on the National Assembly to reject confirmation of all nominated party chieftains and insist on transparency and non-partisanship in the selections, to uphold democratic value and electoral integrity, while proving respect for the sanity and sanctity of the rule of law.
“We also call on INEC to give detailed and verifiable positions of the nominated persons and rationale for their selections as well as prerequisite for the recent adjustments in the Commission’s structure and compositions at all levels.”