Nigeria: The Renewed Fight Against Yakubu and His BVARS

The alarm on vested interest’s move against the electoral umpire’s boss should be taken seriously.

Going by the saying that there is no smoke without fire, the alarm raised by Ikenga Ugochinyere, the spokesperson of the Coalition of United Political Parties, that there is a thick plot to unseat Mahmood Yakubu, the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, must be taken seriously. The coalition’s chieftain spoke midweek and told the media that the electoral chief’s offence was his insistence on the use of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System for the accreditation of voters as well as the electronic transmission of results of the impending 2023 general election.

Coming from the opposition parties, it is tempting to dismiss the allegations as part of the usual antics of opposition elements, who, not sure of winning the election anyway, will want to discredit the electoral process and heat up the polity. But given the background of the coalition as a whistle-blower of sort of the political process the alarm deserves some consideration.

Sometime in 2019, it was the coalition that raised the alarm over the impending removal of Walter Onnoghen, the chief justice of Nigeria. Not many people thought that could happen given the rigorous process laid down by the 1999 Constitution as altered for the removal of the CJN. But as it turned out, the chief justice was shown the door a couple of months after the coalition’s whistle was blown.

Not known for even a flash of brilliance, the Muhammadu Buhari administration for once showed some creative ability as it hauled Onnoghen before the Code of Conduct Tribunal, an essentially administrative contraption of the executive arm, and on the basis of an exparte proceeding, procured the order of the tribunal directing the government to suspend the CJN from office. It immediately inaugurated Ibrahim Mohammed, its well-known acolyte, as the acting boss of the Supreme Court.

Dissatisfied with his obvious unconstitutional removal from office, Onnoghen turned to the Court of Appeal for redress. Not only was he eventually pressured to resign from his position, but his appeal also was never assigned talk less of being mentioned to date. The best that he could get was a bill seeking to secure the position of the CJN and insulate it from the interference of the executive. That legislation is still struggling to pass in the federal legislature.

So, if that could happen to a person holding the high office of the CJN thought to be insulated from executive harassment, any talk of a move to muscle out the chief electoral umpire should be taken seriously and concrete steps must be taken to forestall it, particularly because of the proven capacity of the Buhari administration for mischief.

Already, there are a couple of lawsuits on the ground that supports the coalition’s claims that there is an intention not only to undermine the use of BVAS in the 2023 general election but also to show Yakubu the door before the electoral contest. The first is the case filed at the Federal High Court in Owerri by one Nwankwere Morale Chinwen, challenging the constitutionality and the legality of the use of the technological device for the contest next year. The suit was not known to the public until the coalition lifted the veil on Wednesday.

Not a few Nigerians will give the coalition the benefit of the doubt given the objection of politicians, particularly those of the ruling party, to the use of technology to make the electoral process more transparent. At inception, they stonewalled the passage of the provision that empowered INEC to transmit election results electronically. It took the mobilisation of public opinion by Civil Society Organisations against the suppression of innovation before the federal lawmakers let go. More mobilisation would have to follow to get President Muhammadu Buhari to sign the Electoral Act 2022.

Forced to include the use of technology at the discretion of the electoral agency in the law, the antagonists turned their attention to the agency, hoping to persuade it to retain the old ways of accreditation and results transmission. Their first opportunity came during the first set of elections that INEC used to test-run the BVAS. As happens during every experiment, there were hitches. The politicians and their allies sought to blow these snags out of proportion, contending that they had been vindicated that the nation was not ready for the use of technology in the electoral process.

But Yakubu clarified that the innovation was at the experimental stage and that the hitches noticed would be corrected at subsequent elections. He would be proved right by the relative successes of the device during the governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun States. Incidentally, rather than give up, the old-order politicians would only dig in hence the pressure on the electoral agency to review its stance.

However, Yakubu has consistently resisted the pressure, using every public engagement to profess his commission’s resolve to bequeath a transparent system that would deliver electoral justice to Nigerians. Every vote, he said, must count, adding that Nigerians would have the opportunity to decide who their leaders would be.

With his obstinacy, it should be of no surprise that electoral infidels would move against him. And they have. The strategy appears to be the populating of the commission with pliable commissioners that will at the appropriate time overwhelm him with their numbers in the decision-making process. This explains the passage of questionable nominees by the Senate despite loud objections from the CSOs.

In the unlikely event that this fails, the second strategy will kick in. That is the dormant lawsuit instituted last year at the Federal High Court in Abuja seeking to compel the Code of Conduct Bureau to release Yakubu’s assets declaration forms. It is not for nothing that the suit filed by one Emmanuel Agonsi that had been in limbo has been revived at this time. In late September, the court agreed to hear the complaint against the refusal by the CCB to release the forms on the ground that the National Assembly is yet to make legislation directing the process for the release of asset forms to third parties.

It remains to be seen the basis upon which the matter would be decided but if the Onnoghen case is a guide, then anything is possible.

Adebiyi is the managing editor of THISDAY Newspapers

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