Uncertainty is trailing the future of Nigeria’s democracy after President Bola Tinubu appointed card-carrying members of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), the President’s party as Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs).
Seven of the 10 new RECs were confirmed by the Senate through a voice vote last week despite petitions by civil society organisations and a broad section of citizens.
However, two or more of the RECs confirmed are found to be long-time allies of prominent politicians serving in the Tinubu administration.
Particularly mentioned are the RECs nominees from Edo and Akwa Ibom State.
This is coming at a time that the credibility of the nation’s electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), is at all-time low due to the shoddy manner the 2023 general election was handled by the commission, despite promises and amendment to the Electoral Act which led to overwhelming public enthusiasm, especially among first time voters.
After the dismal eight years of the Muhmmadu Buhari administration in which there is general agreement that the nation retrogressed significantly, many Nigerians had hoped that the 2023 general election would restore the real hope. For this reason, expectations were high both home and abroad.
The rigging of election, which is the bane of democracy in Nigeria, begins with unconstitutional appointment of partisan officers into INEC and must be resisted in the interest of all citizens.
Part of the reasons why the commission failed in the conduct of the 2023 polls, was corruption and partisanship among its top officials who could not resist the ‘carrot’ offered by politicians.
With the latest development, many Nigerians are worried that appointment of partisan politicians as RECs by the President would not do the commission’s fast-fading credibility any good and only cast doubt on the outcome of future elections.
The ten new RECs are: Etekamba Umoren (AkwaIbom); Isah Ehimeakne (Edo); Oluwatoyin Babalola (Ekiti); Abubakar Ma’aji (Gombe);.Shehu Wahab Kwara); Bunmi Omoseyindemi (Lagos) and Aminu Idris (Nasarawa).
Others are Mohammed Yelwa (Niger), Anugbum Onuoha (Rivers) and Isma’ila Moyi (Zamfara).
In recent days, the President has come under intense pressure from stakeholders, civil society and observers calling on him to rescind the appointment despite their confirmation by the Senate.
Civil society faulted their confirmation by the Nigerian Senate, noting that since there were complaints about some of the nominees the leadership of the upper chamber should have referred them to the INEC standing committee.
Recently, after the 2023 polls, there have been increased calls for the serious reforms in INEC, part of which should be that the sworn-in of the President, elected governors can only come after the conclusion of cases in court.
Last week, Attahiru Jega, former INEC chairman, speaking at an electoral reform roundtable in Abuja, called for the amendment of the Electoral Act to ensure that the power to appoint INEC chairman is stripped from the President to free the commission from partisanship.
Other stakeholders have also said in recent times that until the responsibility of appointing INEC chairman and national commissioners is taken away from the President we should not expect free and fair polls in the country.
Political analysts say the delay in far-reaching reforms in INEC was because of a lack of commitment on the part of the political class, especially those with statutory responsibility to restructure the electoral process and give the commission independence it deserves.
Human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, SAN, warned that INEC can’t conduct credible elections by appointing card-carrying members of political parties as the commission’s RECs.
According to Falana, “Since 1999, we have had this terrible experience of a ruling party trying to populate the electoral body with party loyalists and sympathisers, and that was what led to the amendment of the constitution.
“Successive regimes in Nigeria, Yar’Adua’s regime, Jonathan’s regime, and Buhari’s regime have all set up electoral reform committees or panels to make recommendations that will assist the government to have credible elections.
“In the case of President Tinubu as a leader of the CAN, he set up a committee for electoral reforms to campaign for the implementation of the recommendations of the Uwais Panel, and one of them is that we must have independent umpires in every material particular.
“You can’t have a card-carrying member of a political party or a loyalist of a political party to be a Resident Electoral Commissioner or a national commissioner; you complicate the problem for INEC to have credible elections.”
Similarly, Samson Itodo, the Executive Director of YIAGA Africa, kicked against the confirmation of seven out of the 10 newly RECs by the senate.
Itodo claimed that the politicians were obsessed with securing INEC to give them an advantage at the polls.
“Some of those nominees did not meet the constitutional test of non-partisanship because the constitution is very clear – Section 156 as well as paragraph 14 of the Third Schedule,” he said.
Itodo further stated that the people we appoint into the electoral commission must not have partisan affiliations.
“It is public knowledge that some nominees who were confirmed today are not just party members, but they have been seen, there are videos and images to show that these individuals have also campaigned for political parties.”
‘There was one statement that was made today and that was the fact that politicians are interested in capturing INEC so they can secure electoral victory in subsequent elections.
“How do you expect Nigerians to be confident about the integrity of the electoral commission? if INEC is manned by those with political leanings, “ he added.
Chairman of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in Akwa Ibom State, Aniekan Akpan, and the Secretary, Harrison Ekpo, last week Tuesday sued President Bola Tinubu and the Senate at the Federal High Court, Abuja, over the appointment of Etekamba Umoren as the state’s Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC).
In their originating summons, the plaintiffs are asking the court to, among others, declare that Umoren is not qualified to be appointed as REC, since he is a member of APC.
They attached to their summons coloured photographs of Umoren on campaign grounds adorning APC kits campaigning for the Senate President, Godswill Akpabio.
They are asking the court to declare the appointment of Umoren illegal, null and avoid, they noted that Tinubu failed to consult with the Council of State before making the appointment on October 25, 2023.
Earlier last week, the Coalition of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) had cautioned the Senate against confirming the nominees as RECs over concerns of partisanship.
In a petition jointly signed by 17 CSOs, the coalition specifically asked the upper legislative chamber to reject the Akwa Ibom and Edo States nominees because they are involved in partisan activities.
The petition was sent to the Senate President and the Chairman of the Senate Committee on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
They also urged President Bola Tinubu to withdraw their nomination in the public interest and appoint other persons following the constitution and the Federal Character Act.