Monday, 30 October 2023 04:58

Tinubu appoints associates, APC members as INEC RECs - Premium Times

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At least two new Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) appointed by President Bola Tinubu may be card-carrying members of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), the president’s party.

Two other nominees are also found to be long-term allies of prominent politicians serving in the Tinubu administration.

President Tinubu last Wednesday announced the nomination of 10 Resident Electoral Commissioners (REC).

The nominees are Etekamba Umoren (Akwa Ibom State), 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), Isma’ila Moyi and (Zamfara).

In announcing the nominations, presidential spokesperson Ajuri Ngelale noted that the president exercised the powers granted him by Section 154 (1) of the Nigerian constitution and Section 6 of the Electoral Act (2022).

“Tinubu expects the new appointees to abide by the highest standards of professional and ethical conduct in the discharge of their duties,” Ngelale said.

Initial confusion

However, there was confusion initially over the nomination of the new RECs. Ngelale had earlier in the afternoon issued a statement containing the names of nine nominees.

The nine nominees were Isah Ehimeakne (Edo), Bamidele Agbede (Ekiti), Jani Bello (Gombe), Taiye Ilayasu (Kwara), Bunmi Omoseyindemi (Lagos), Yahaya Bello (Nasarawa), Mohammed Yalwa (Niger), Anugbum Onuoha (Rivers) and Abubakar Dambo (Zamfara).

But by the time the second list of RECs came out, there were 10 names with the inclusion of Umoren from Akwa Ibom.

Also, five nominees that made the initial list were dropped. They are Messrs Agbede (Ekiti), Bello (Gombe), Ilayasu (Kwara), Yahaya Bello (Nasarawa), and Dambo (Zamfara).

No reason was given for the changes.

RECs ties with Tinubu, APC, others

To ensure the neutrality of the electoral umpire, Nigerian law prohibits the appointment of members of political parties as resident electoral commissioners, individuals who coordinate INEC activities in different states.

However, at least four of the RECs nominated by Tinubu are known to have ties with him, the APC or politicians in his government.

They are Umoren, Shaka, Omoseyindemi and Onuoha.

Umoren is a member of the APC and a long-time ally of the Senate President, Godswill Akpabio.

He served as the Chief of Staff at the Akwa Ibom State Government House when Akpabio governed the state between 2007 and 2014.

Akpabio also nominated him to serve as the Secretary to the State Government (SSG) under his successor, Udom Emmanuel, then an ally of Akpabio. Umoren was only sacked in 2018 following a fallout between Akpabio and Emmanuel, which also led to the removal of other key allies in the state executive council.

August 2018, during a welcome rally for Akpabio in Uyo, Umoren and other sacked members of Emmanuel’s state executive council embraced the All Progressives Congress (APC).

In what could best be described as an induction into the party, Umoren accepted a broom, an emblem of the APC, from Akpabio on stage and chanted APC through the speakers.

“Akwa Ibom, you are in safe hands,” he told the audience as he shook the broom vigorously.

Another open supporter of Tinubu and the APC is the nominee for Edo State REC, Isah Shaka.

PREMIUM TIMES reviewed Shaka’s digital footprint and found multiple social media posts before, during and after the 2023 general elections that showed his bias towards Tinubu and his party, the APC.

In one of such posts reviewed by this newspaper, Shaka took to social media to list reasons other Nigerians should support Tinubu just like he was doing.

In another post a few days before the presidential election held on 25 February, Shaka showered praises on Tinubu on his Facebook page.

“He is the issue,” he wrote of Tinubu on 18 February. “He is the subject matter. He is the target. He is the Numero Uno in this game. He is the subject of discussion across the Nation. He is the owner of the game. He that wrestles with him sharpens him and makes him pay attention. He is the Jagaban. He is the President of Nigeria 2023-2032 By his grace Almighty God.”

Again, minutes after INEC declared Tinubu winner of the presidential election around 4 a.m. on 1 March, Shaka took to his page to congratulate the party. “Congratulations to all APC families,” he posted.

Curiously, on Friday shortly after PREMIUM TIMES reviewed Shaka’s Facebook page where he scribbled some of his thoughts, his profile and posts were removed from the social media platform.

The Lagos REC nominee, Bunmi Omoseyindemi, had enjoyed political patronage from Tinubu and his allies since 2001. He was appointed chairman of the Lagos State Traditional Medicine Board in 2001 when Tinubu governed the state, a position he held until 2015.

In 2016, he was appointed an electoral commissioner in the Lagos State Independent Electoral Commission (LASIEC) by the then-governor Akinwunmi Ambode who was also an ally of Tinubu at the time.

Another REC nominee, Onuoha was found to be an ally of a top official of the Tinubu administration. He has been close to the Minister of Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Nyesom Wike.

Onuoha was a Special Adviser on Lands and Surveys to Wike until 2019 when he was crowned as a traditional leader in Rumuepirikom, Obio/Akpor Local Government area in the state – the same community Wike hails from.

However, before he was appointed as a Special Adviser to Wike, he had in 2007, served as the Commissioner, Legal and Political Parties Monitoring at the Rivers State Independent Electoral Commission (RSIEC). He was one of the nine-member RSIEC Electoral Commissioners sworn in by the then-governor, Rotimi Amaechi, in 2007. They were led by the late Nimi Briggs, an emeritus professor.

Ex-INEC staff make list

The president also nominated four former officials of INEC as RECs from Ekiti, Kwara, Nasarawa and Zamfara states.

The Zamfara REC nominee, Isma’ila Moyi, was an official of the commission. He retired as a director of the Stores Directorate at the INEC headquarters in Abuja in 2015. Before then he had served as an administrative secretary for the commission in Zamfara, Sokoto, Adamawa, Katsina, Borno and Kano states.

The REC nominee for Nasarawa State, Aminu Idris, is a former director of Election Planning and Management (EPM) at the INEC headquarters.

While the nominee for Kwara State REC, Wahab, is a former INEC administrative secretary in Benue State, the Ekiti REC nominee, Oluwatoyin Babalola, was INEC’s director of Legal Drafting and Clearance.

What the Law says

The third schedule to the Nigerian 1999 Constitution prohibits the appointment of a partisan person into INEC in Item F, paragraph 14.

“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,” section 14, 3(b) states.

Section 6 of the Electoral Act (2022) added that the appointees “shall be answerable to the Commission” and “shall hold office for a term of five years from the date of his or her appointment which may be renewable for another term of five years and no more.”

The section also said the appointments must be in accordance with the Federal Character Commission Act.

“The Resident Electoral Commissioner appointed under the Constitution may only be removed by the President, acting on an address supported by a two-thirds majority of the Senate praying that the Resident Electoral Commissioner be so removed for inability to perform the functions of the office, whether arising from infirmity of mind or body or any other cause, or for misconduct,” the section states.

Jega’s warning

A few days before Tinubu nominated the new RECs, a former chairperson of Nigeria’s Electoral Commission, INEC, Attahiru Jega, criticised the existing laws that empower politicians to appoint top officials of the commission.

Jega, who headed the electoral commission from 2010 to 2015, said such nominees are usually not thoroughly screened, a situation he said has a ‘damaging effect’ on the integrity of elections.

“The appointment of Resident Electoral Commissioners should be divested from the president and given to the Commission at INEC, with powers to hire and fire,” he said at a retreat for members of the Senate in Akwa Ibom State.

Like Buhari, Like Tinubu

With the new appointments, Tinubu appears to be following the path of his predecessor, former President Muhammadu Buhari.

Buhari had on multiple occasions nominated partisan individuals and persons with integrity issues as INEC RECs, drawing widespread criticism from Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and members of the public.

In 2017, Buhari nominated Olalekan Raheem, a member of his party, the APC as REC from Osun state. The Senate stood down his nomination for being a card-carrying member of the APC, which he established during his screening by the senators. Although he claimed to have ditched party politics, it didn’t change his fate.

In 2021, Buhari’s nomination of Lauretta Onochie, a known member of his party, drew another round of criticisms and condemnations from the public.

Although the Senate rejected her nomination, it was not due to her party affiliation.

The chairperson of the Senate Committee on INEC at the time, Kabiru Gaya, said she was disqualified because there was no vacancy in the Delta State slot where Buhari nominated her to represent.

Onochie was later appointed the chairperson of the board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) by the former president.

Last year, at least four of the 19 REC nominees by Buhari were found to either be members of political parties or have corruption baggage. The Senate, however, went ahead to confirm their appointments.

Gaya, a member of the ruling APC said at the time that the 19 nominees were confirmed because the petitions against them were not enough to stop the Senate from approving them.

The Adamawa scenario

During the last general elections, the sordid effect of the phenomenon Jega criticised, played out in Adamawa when the state’s former REC, Hudu Ari, illegally announced a winner in the governorship elections even though the collation of results was still in progress and when he was not empowered to do so by law.

His action provoked chaos across the state, leading to a mob brutalising a National Commissioner of the commission, Abdullahi Zuru, a professor. Yet, all the Electoral Commission could do was to nullify his pronouncement, which until the latest amendment of the electoral act in 2022, may have been binding.

INEC also suspended him and recommended him for punishment by the then President, Buhari, the only one empowered to sack him.

Screening and Confirmation

It remains to be seen if the Senate will confirm the nominees with partisan interests considering what the law says.

The confirmation of the nominees’ appointments is subject to a two-thirds vote of the members of the Senate who are expected to screen them.

If confirmed, they are to serve a five-year term each, and can only be removed by the president and a two-thirds vote from the National Assembly.

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