2019 General Elections: INEC and the Rest of Us -By Oke Umurhohwo

Filed under: Political Issues |

The stage is set for epic bouts that will determine those who would lead Nigeria for the next four years. Political activities are already picking up waves and gladiators are strategising and mobilising their structures to ensure that their chosen candidates prevail in the various elective contests, and more importantly, for the presidential seat, which is up for tussle in the February 16, 2019 poll.

Expectedly, the two leading political parties, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), have fielded candidates for the available positions, and are locked in a stringent battle to outwit each other and outmanoeuvre the electorate to settle for their candidates when they cast their ballots. The political atmosphere is becoming torrid, in terms of whether the APC will retain power at the centre or the PDP will outdo its setback and reclaim the power it lost four years ago.

Oke Umurhohwo

However, a few weeks into the conduct of the general elections, the integrity of the polls is facing severe questions. The main opposition PDP was the first to raise dust, querying the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)’s readiness to deliver free and fair elections. The party’s doubt may have started from the appointment of a national commissioner of the electoral umpire, Amina Zakari, to head INEC’s Advisory Committee and Presidential Election Collation Centre Committee.

PDP was succinct in pointing out that Amina Zakari shared a blood relationship with President Muhammadu Buhari, who will be on the ballot for the February 16, 2019 presidential election, protesting that having her in such role in the election supported its consistent alarm that INEC may be collaborating with certain interests in the APC and the Presidency to compromise the election and manipulate its outcome to favour Buhari.

In a clear tone that questioned the integrity of the general polls, the Peoples Democratic Party Presidential Campaign Organisation (PPCO) spokesman, Kola Ologbondiyan said “You will recall that we have been raising the flag on how the Buhari Presidency, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and some individuals at the echelon of INEC have been seeking ways to compromise our electoral processes and open the way for the allocation of fictitious votes to President Muhammadu Buhari, having realised that he cannot win in a credible, free and fair polls.”

“Today, we have been informed that Chairman of INEC, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, apparently in furtherance of the plots to rig the presidential election, has appointed Mrs. Amina Zakari, a blood relation (niece) of the APC candidate, President Muhammadu Buhari, as the Chairperson of INEC Advisory Committee and Presidential election Collation Centre Committee,” he added.

This disclosure evoked protests from Nigerians, who wondered why INEC, a supposedly independent umpire, would make such a decision and expect citizens to be assured of its impartiality. Many Nigerians, including the Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP), rejected any role for Amina Zakari in the presidential election, alerting that her involvement may compromise the integrity of the results that may be derived from the electioneering process. There were also trends on social media platforms impressing on INEC to recuse Amina Zakari from having any impact on the 2019 polls, and even more properly, advised her withdrawal from the electoral umpire, to restore confidence in INEC’s neutrality and commitment to free and credible polls.

Obviously lost on an answer to the relationship between Buhari and Amina Zakari, INEC tried to allay fears of the influence of the controversial senior officer of the Commission, in relation to the 2019 presidential poll. While it could not deny that Amina and Buhari are indeed related, INEC, through its director of voter education and publicity, Oluwole Osaze-Uzzi, said on Channels Television’s “Sunrise Daily” that, “The committee is primarily in charge of welfare. She (Zakari) was also very involved in negotiating with ICC management in 2015 for the use of the facility so her duty is to ensure the facility is ready. She has no role whatsoever with the process of collation.”

In another unsuccessful attempt to wave off the opposition that had trailed Amina Zakari’s appointment, the Presidency struggled to dispute linkages between President Buhari and the INEC commissioner. In fact, a statement issued by presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu, gave credence to the controversy, as he noted that “President Buhari and Commissioner Amina Kazaure don’t share a family relationship. An inter-marriage occurred in their extended families, so the imputation of blood relationship between the president and the electoral commissioner is a simple lie.”

How more confusing can the Presidency sound with this lame defence? Inter-marriage is beyond ordinary, especially in Africa, where it has created bonds that have lasted generations. Even in time of war or dispute, inter-marriage is one potent tool that is readily explored to restore peace and stability. So, if the Presidency is trying to pass off “inter-marriage” as a no issue that should not warrant the criticisms that trailed the appointment of Amina Zakari in the presidential election, maybe it could explain how she (Amina Zakari) featured prominently in the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) under Buhari. Or, was it just mere coincidence, as her appointment in INEC is?

As the controversy lingers, there is no denying the fact that Buhari and Amina Zakari share some relationship. Even when the INEC commissioner moved to quash the upsurge of voices against her appointment by telling the BBC that, “I’m not [Buhari’s] niece,” she was swiftly countered by a professor of Communication, Farooq Kperogi, who pointed out that Buhari’s biological sister was once married to Mrs. Amina Zakari’s father. Kperogi stressed that, “At some point in his youth, Buhari, who lost his father at young age, came under the guardianship of Amina’s father, the late Alhaji Hussaini Adamu, who was emir of Kazaure, Daura’s ‘next-door neighbour’”, shedding more light on how deep the connection of the duo is.

The foregoing is a weighty revelation that INEC cannot easily sweep aside, except it wants to reinforce the perception of the opposition on its commitment to free and fair elections. From the available information so far, there is no disputing the linkage between Amina Zakari and Buhari as being strong enough to compromise the upcoming elections. Unless the electoral umpire is creating an impression of oncoming skewed polls, there is no defence strong enough that could sufficiently assure Nigerians on the integrity of INEC when Amina Zakari plays a critical role in the election delivery process.

INEC’s insistence on retaining Amina Zakari casts doubt on its integrity and commitment to credible polls. Or, would it be ideal for a referee with an “inter-marriage” tie to, say, Portugal to be handed the whistle in a football match between the European country and Argentina? What happens to conflict of interest if INEC is ignoring wise counsel on its fatal and indecorous choice of retaining Amina Zakari for the general elections? Her linkage to Buhari is enough motivation for bias and invariably, the distortion of fairness and equity in the discharge of her duty.

The argument that Amina Zakari won’t be able to sway poll results in favour of Buhari and his party, APC, is not tenable. Nigerian democracy is still in a developmental process and allowing such unthinkable anomaly to taint the electoral umpire is something INEC must seriously avoid. This is why Amina Zakari should be excused from the elections, so that INEC can maintain its impartiality. The 2019 general election is another litmus test for our democracy and INEC should not be the albatross to its entrenchment.

Oke Umurhohwo is a political analyst and strategist. He tweets @Stalyf

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