As observed by the man who supervised one of the best elections in Nigeria’s history, Professor Humphrey Nwosu, the success or failure of any electoral commission is dependent on its staff both on the field and in offices.
Nwosu, in Laying the Foundation for Nigeria’s Democracy: My Account of June 12 Presidential Election and its Annulment, identified job insecurity and despair among election handlers as one of the reasons for legitimacy and acceptability questions around election outcomes.
These observations resulted from his four-year stint as Chairman of the defunct National Electoral Commission, NEC, from 1989-1993.
Fast forward to 2010, 17 years after, a certain Donald Duke, who governed Cross Rivers State for eight years, dropped a bombshell concerning INEC’s leadership and electoral outcomes.
At an event convened by Safe Nigeria Group, SNG, he revealed how Resident Electoral Commissioners, RECs, in connivance with subversive elements, influence the outcome of elections.
The extempore speech brings you face-to-face with the role of RECs in engineering controversial election results.
Deal with this: “This is what happens. The Resident Electoral Commissioner is usually from another state. The electoral officers, they move around. They are usually from that state, but for the conduct of elections itself, you would probably move from Cross River to Akwa Ibom or to Abia, but these musical chairs don’t mean anything.
“When the Resident Electoral Commissioner comes before the elections are conducted, of course, when he comes to the state, usually, he has no accommodation.
“Monies have not been released for the running or conduct of the elections and all that because we always start late. He pays a courtesy call to the governor.
“It is usually a televised event you know, and, of course, he says all the right things. ‘Your Excellency, I am here to ensure that we have free and fair elections and I will require your support.’
“Now, at that courtesy call, most governors, at least I did, will invite the Commissioner of Police because he is part of the action and he sits there.
“After the courtesy call, the Resident Electoral Commissioner now moves in for a one-on-one with the governor and says, ‘Your Excellency, since I came, I’ve been staying in this hotel. There is no accommodation for me and even my vehicle is broken down and the last Commissioner didn’t leave the vehicle, so if you could help me settle down quickly;’ and the governor says, ‘Chief of Staff, where is the Chief of Staff here?’ And the Chief of Staff appears. Governor says: ‘Please ensure that the REC is accommodated. Put him in the presidential lodge and allot two cars to him. I give you seven days to get this done. Then the relationship has started.”
These sweeping instances are just but a few of the many linkages between state election managers and disputed polls.
Many years after the observations by two prominent players in the electoral process, Nigeria is still trapped by its history, apologies to Francis Fukuyama who, in the Origins of Political Order, stated that “societies are trapped by their history.”
This historical continuity, irrespective of past electoral reforms, has seen concerns grow over the neutrality and independence of RECs.
With the recent appointment of some RECs, despite public outcry about their political affiliations, anxiety is widespread. And the hope for an improved balloting system in no distant time seems to be hanging in the balance.
The credibility of elections depends on INEC’s neutrality. Only an unbiased commission can deliver an unquestionable exercise. This is a no-brainer.
But the reality may not be visible to those who focus simply on narrow electoral subjects instead of the broader picture.
Notably, Section 156 (1) of the Constitution provides the foundation to understanding the bigger picture in this context.
It says: “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.”
President Bola Tinubu had, in the exercise of powers granted by that Section, appointed 10 new RECs, with four accused of having ties to the All Progressives Congress, APC, the ruling party at the federal level.
The nominees include 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, and Isma’ila Moyi, Zamfara.
Those accused of having affinity with the ruling party include representatives of Rivers, Edo, Akwa Ibom and Lagos on that list.
The nominee from Akwa Ibom, apart from being a former political aide in the administration of Godswill Akpabio, is a member of the ruling party. Umoren defected to APC with Akpabio in 2018. A video of him being welcomed to the party exists. Umoren was the Chief of Staff to Akpabio when he was the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs. Before dumping the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, with Akpabio, he served as Secretary to Akwa Ibom State Government under former Governor Udom Emmanuel. He is the REC in charge of Akwa Ibom State.
Anugbum, who represents Rivers State, was the Special Adviser on Lands and Survey in the administration of former Governor Nysom Wike. Despite hailing from the state and being a close associate of Wike, Anugbum was made the River State REC to the consternation of many.
The new Edo State REC is believed to be deeply involved in politics. Prior to his appointment, Ehimeakne was a prominent supporter of the ruling party. In addition to campaigning for the APC, he had identified himself as a member of the APC. In the build-up to the 2023 polls, he openly campaigned for Tinubu on social media.
Dr. Bunmi Omoseyindemi is the past Chairman of Lagos State Traditional Medicine Board, LSTMB. He was appointed in 2011 when Tinubu was the governor of Lagos State. He was also a member of Lagos State Primary Healthcare Board.
Under former Governor Akinwumi Ambode, the new REC in Lagos State, served as an electoral commissioner in the Lagos State Independent Electoral Commission, LASIEC.
With the profile of these officials in the public domain, many are lost as to why the Senate confirmed their nominations without recourse to the concerned Sections of the Constitution.
Specifically, the Third Schedule of the 1999 Constitution, in Item F, paragraph 14, clearly disapproved of the appointment of any partisan or card-carrying member of a political party into such positions.
However, their appointment and subsequent deployment to states regarded as their strongholds, apart from raising questions about regard for the law, also increased doubts about INEC’s credibility.
Even though former President Muhammadu had also appointed some APC loyalists as INEC officials, it is believed that the current development makes an improved political process in this dispensation unlikely.
Rather, what is likely is the reincarnation of the infamous Adamawa REC, Hudu Ari, whose partisanship confirmed earlier alarm over the neutrality of RECs and National Commissioners in the run-up to 2023 polls.
Ari had declared Aisha Dahiru, popularly known as Binani, governor-elect against the stipulations of the law.
His action had heightened concerns over the conduct of RECs and its implications on the electoral process. Ari, a lawyer, was among the 19 RECs appointed by Buhari in July 2022.
Put together, all these re-emphasise the need for electoral reforms, especially on the appointment of INEC Chairman, RECs and National Commissioners.
With a history of electoral reforms, analysts believe the nation isn’t lacking credible recommendations but political will to follow through.
Lending his voice in a chat with Sunday Vanguard, Director, Centre for Democracy and Sustainability, Dr. Bala Nagogo, said making an appointment without recourse to constitutional directives amounts to state capture.
Nagogo explained the situation thus: “We are experiencing what political scholars call political decay. It happens over time to the point that institutions and the law mean nothing to those who have captured the state.
“What stops the President from obeying what the Constitution says on the appointment of RECs?
“The relevant Section that deals with that makes it clear that partisan individuals shouldn’t go close to INEC leadership. We are just a nation of jokers.”
Veteran pro-democracy activist, Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin, told this paper that the situation is laughable.
Okei-Odumakin, who is the President of Centre for Change, said: “It would look faulty, but are we talking about the card or the heart?
“Supposing the person does not bear the card but is dedicated to a party by heart? Which is more dangerous?
“I think we should create an electoral system which would handle the card and the heart. I find the conversation laughable.”
On his part, National Publicity Secretary of Youth Party, YP, Ayodele Adio, said appointing partisan people into INEC is one of the tools for manipulating election outcomes.
Adio said: “I believe that the citizens of any country that seek credible elections must pay utmost attention not just to the enabling laws and the electoral process, but also the nomination of the electoral umpires and the ad-hoc staff of the commission.
“When partisan persons are nominated as INEC Commissioners, citizens must resist such ignominy by either registering their displeasure with their elected representatives or demanding that they vote against the confirmation of such nominees.
“They can also choose to exercise their constitutional rights by leading a peaceful protest along with civil society organisations and other relevant stakeholders, demanding the withdrawal of any partisan nominee.
“It is important to stress the fact that elections are not only rigged by ballot snatching, voter intimidation, or multiple thumb printing, there are systemic manipulations, usually unseen, that influence the outcome of elections. One of such systemic tools for manipulating elections is the nomination of partisan electoral commissioners.
“I have long argued that a President who emerges from a political party, with huge sentiments for that political party, should not have the sole responsibility of nominating the Chairman of INEC and the other Commissioners.
“If INEC must remain independent and seen as independent, the nomination of its leadership must be free from political interference.
“If the process cannot be completely divorced from political actors, then a system where every political party has equal voting rights in nominating the leadership of the commission should be encouraged.
“It is only a credible and transparent electoral process that will guarantee citizens participation in any democracy. “Once citizens lose confidence in the electoral process, the alternative to democracies becomes alluring.
“Hence, we must ensure that the individuals who lead our electoral commissions are persons of proven integrity, strong character and are apolitical, so they can inspire the confidence of the electorate.”
Country Representative of Accountability Project, Clement Utulu, demanded reasons for the non-implementation of Uwais Report.
Atulu said: “If past administrations had implemented the Uwais Report, especially as regards appointment of INEC officials by the Nigeria Judicial Council, NJC, we wouldn’t have a situation where APC members are made RECs.
“Where is the regard for the Constitution? This is just emblematic of the party’s habit of interpreting the law to suit their selfish interest. “As bad as Buhari was, he cancelled the appointment of Lauretta Onochie when Nigerians protested.
“In this case, it is obvious that these appointees are affiliated with APC and its leaders, but the Senate hastily confirmed them.
“So, who is expecting fairness from these RECs? The solution to such a flagrant disregard for the Constitution is the implementation of the Uwais Report.
“From what we have seen, 2027 is a closed case for APC. You will understand what I am saying by the time you consider the states the appointees were assigned. “Wike’s man is in charge of Rivers while the man in Lagos is an APC associate. “
The 2008 Justice Muhammadu Uwais Electoral Reforms Report is generally known as having the right answers to controversies around the managers of Nigeria’s elections.
Some key excerpts gleaned from recommendations, submitted to then President Yar’Adua in December 2008, read: “INEC should be re-organized and re-positioned to ensure its independence and professionalism in the conduct of elections in the country.
“The 1999 Constitution should be amended to ensure that INEC becomes truly independent, non-partisan, impartial, professional, transparent, and reliable as an institution and in the performance of its constitutional functions.
“INEC should consist of a board that formulates broad electoral policy and direction for the Commission; and a professional/technical election management team to handle the actual conduct of elections.
Composition of INEC Board
“The membership of the Board of INEC should consist of the following: A Chairman – who must be a person of unquestionable integrity; a Deputy Chairman – who must be a person of unquestionable integrity. However, the Chairman and Deputy must not be of the same gender; six persons of unquestionable integrity, two of whom must be women and 1 of whom must come from each of the six geo-political zones of the Federation; one nominee of Civil Society Organizations working in the area of elections and accredited by the proposed Political Parties Registration and Regulatory Commission; The National Judicial Council shall advertise all the positions, spelling out requisite qualifications.
Tenure of office
“The tenure of office of the members of INEC’s Board should be five years subject to renewal for another five years. At the national level, INEC’s management team should consist of professional/technical/operational officers as follows: Secretary, Departmental Directors.
“At the State level, the State Independence Electoral Commissions, SIECs, should be re-organized and incorporated within the structure of the INEC to form a single election management body for the country. “The state-level secretariat of INEC should therefore consist of 37 Directors of Elections, one for each State and the FCT, appointed by INEC, trained and posted to states.
Security of Tenure
“The Chairman and members of the Board of INEC may only be removed by the Senate on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council (NJC) by a two-thirds majority of the Senate which shall include at least 10 members of the minority parties in the Senate.
“Section 155 of the 1999 Constitution should be amended to provide
that the tenure of the office of the Chairman and members of the Board of INEC shall be five years from the date of appointment, renewable only once.
“The process of renewal of the appointment of members of the Board of INEC shall be by the Senate on the recommendation of the NJC.”