Complaints surrounding the president’s nomination of Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) are sufficiently potent to deserve careful and dispassionate handling by both the executive and the legislative arms of government.
The basic contention is that some persons nominated by President Muhammadu Buhari for the position of RECs are not deserving of such nominations either by operation of the law or by moral suasion.
Politicising such allegations, rather than treating them on merit, may end up compromising the integrity of the electoral process and by extension, the crucial 2023 election.
Sadly, the Buhari government has been caught in a consistent pattern of flagrant disregard of the provisions of the country’s fundamental laws.
Nigerians, for instance, were greatly taken aback when the President nominated Ms. Lauretta Onochie, a prominent card-carrying member of the All Progressives Congress (APC), as a national commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commission in 2021. But for the prompt and loud protest of members of the public that successfully persuaded the Senate to reject the nomination for contravening the provisions of Section 156(1)(a) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), the nomination could have sailed through with all its bad omen.
Like a recurring decimal, the President’s nonchalance to the rule of law manifested yet again in the recent list of Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) of INEC he forwarded to the Senate.
Four out of the 19 nominees have been described as persons with political affinities and shady reputations. Urging the Senate to completely discountenance the nomination, a coalition of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) stated that 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 partisan, politically aligned, or previously indicted for corruption. For instance, Prof. Muhammad Lawal Bashir from Sokoto State was a governorship aspirant under the APC in the 2015 elections.
Mrs. Sylvia Uchenna Agu, Enugu State nominee, is believed to be the younger sister of the APC Deputy National Chairman, Southeast. Two other nominees have been allegedly indicted for corruption and conniving with politicians to undermine elections respectively.
The coalition contends “that the appointment of these individuals as RECs will significantly undermine the neutrality and impartiality of the Independent National Electoral Commission and it will increase mistrust in INEC and Nigeria’s electoral process.”
Reacting to this development, the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, while urging Nigerians to allow the screening of the REC nominees by the Senate to take its course, categorically maintained that the President will not withdraw the names of the embattled nominees based on “social media trials.” However, it is observed that the Minister failed to debunk the allegations against the said nominees; hence his retort is at best an implied admission.
The argument of the opposition should not be swept under the carpet as insinuated by Mohammed. On the contrary, it is deserving of legislative consideration as it is neither flippant nor predicated on mundane sentiments but touches on the constitutionality or otherwise of the President’s action.
A cursory review of the credentials of the named nominees indicates that they fall short of the requisite constitutional standards. Granted, that the presumption of innocence inures in favour of the nominees allegedly linked with corrupt practices, the fact that such allegations exist at all cast sufficient doubts on their integrity.
Furthermore, the President is saddled with the legal and moral obligations to ensure that the occupiers of the office of REC are persons with utmost integrity, good character, and political neutrality in order to inspire confidence in the country’s electoral process.
Accordingly, the fundamental question is: what is the motive for nominating persons tainted with political bias and character deficiency? Did the Executive observe due diligence in the recruitment process? For the sake of democracy and transparency of the political process, these questions should not be trivialised. As previously stated, the President has been persistent in following more of a crafted path than due process.
The controversial appointment of the former Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Ibrahim Magu, is a good example. Is it then unwise to infer that the controversial nomination is a calculated attempt to swing the electoral pendulum in a particular direction?
Instructively, the onus has been shifted to the legislative arm of government. Nigerians are watching with keen interest whether the legislators will exercise their oversight function and reverse the trend of impunity by the Presidency.
The continued dance on the constitution has to stop, and the president is reminded of his oath of allegiance to preserve, protect and defend the constitution; and not to allow his personal interest to influence his official conduct or decisions.
The Senate should find the courage to reiterate the supremacy of the constitution over and above every authority in Nigeria. Additionally, the Senate should subject the entire nominees to a diligent background check, and anyone under par should be rejected outright. No sentiments attached – the rule of man must submit to the rule of law!
A very hard lesson to be drawn from the EndSARS experience is that Nigerians, particularly the youths, are close to the breaking point. No attempt should be made to manipulate the next general elections with the attendant risk of detonating the time bomb of frustration that the country has been sitting on for a long time.
To prevent the country from completely disintegrating, the political class must refrain from interfering with the 2023 election by positioning their proxies, deliberately or otherwise, in electoral offices or through any other means. It is needful for all stakeholders to tread cautiously in order not to ignite Nigerians’ bottled-up anger.
Nigeria is not a banana republic nor is she the personal enterprise of anyone. Nigeria is a sovereign entity governed by rules and regulations. The laws of the land must be obeyed by all and sundry. Therefore, the Senate should diffuse the current tension surrounding the REC nomination list by clinically separating the wheat from the chaff. The nominees already shut out by the constitution should remain shut out regardless of whose ox is gored!