2015 Elections: INEC’s Neutrality Doubtful

(By Duro Onabule)

With two years before the next presidential election, INEC has become suddenly very active, flaunting, in fact, threatening its questionable power under the 2010 Electoral Act, a law, which is not even valid if INEC’s latest threat is anything to go by. Little wonder that this same INEC, not long ago, unsuccessfully demanded to be invested with the power to disqualify candidates.

There is this problem of recurring heating of the polity in Nigeria, arising from the subservience , perhaps, mischief of state institutions with wrong orientation.

These institutions assure their sole function to be (a) to serve, (b) to protect, (c) to publicise, (d) to promote all-round or whatever interests of personalities or ruling political parties. With that reputation, these institutions are no more than time-servers.

Only appointees to political office or beneficiaries of political patronage can exhibit unrestricted loyalty without being faulted.

This is not the case with the personnel of state institutions like the police, the armed forces, State Security Service, the EFCC and lately Nigerian Airspace Management Agency as well as the so-called Independent National Electoral Commission belied by its partisanship.

Maintained with tax-payers money or from our commonwealth held in trust and disbursed by whoever is in power, these agencies are to serve the Nigerian state and all citizens without bias or favour. To be fair, there may be an obstacle in the immunity clause in the Nigerian Constitution, which, in a way, compels special status for the president and state governors.

Otherwise, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) interrogation of incumbent President Bill Clinton of United States over an alleged sex affair with an intern in White House is a good example of how a state institution (FBI) operates.

The service is to the nation rather than an individual even if the first citizen. In Nigeria’s case, even without immunity for the president or a state governor, no law enforcement agency (police or State Security Service) would have the guts to interrogate a Nigerian equivalent of Bill Clinton in a Monica Lewinsky controversy. There was also the public revolt in the Republic of Georgia (an offshoot of the defunct Soviet Union) ten years ago when President Edward Shevardnadze rigged elections in an attempt to stay in office.

He thereafter tried to address the National Assembly but protesters invaded the place and drove him out as the entire security personnel stayed neutral in display of their service to the nation rather than a discredited individual.

What is more, despite the immunity for a Nigerian President and all state governors, all the Nigerian state institutions above can easily be predicted on where to pitch their tent in any real or imagined disagreement between a president and a state governor even belonging to the same political party. It is easier for these state agencies, when the issue involves law enforcement, to do the fighting for the president.

A good example was the police involvement in the political crisis in Rivers State. Way back to the Obasanjo regime between 1999 and 2007, despite immunity and despite the theft of public funds at federal and state levels, the EFCC was not only interrogating but also publicly convicting state governors not tried in courts of law.

Indeed, the EFCC took it on itself to be impeaching or trying to impeach state governors not, by the way, as the expected sacred duty. Instead, the only political denominator to criminalise the state governors was any known disagreement with Obasanjo.

The man himself (Obasanjo) at a political rally at Akure, Ondo State, publicly vowed to send EFCC after (his exact words) Labour Party gubernatorial candidate, Segun Mimiko, as a discipline for disobeying him (Obasanjo) not to contest the elections.

The situation improved slightly under the new EFCC chairmanship of Farida Waziri, who tried to show some independence by prosecuting a Speaker of House of Representatives and also aimed at prosecuting spouses of public office holders not covered by the immunity of their husbands. Rather abruptly, Waziri was removed, as a warning to would-be successors.

Somehow, it worked. While the EFCC of today does not pick on state governors to violate their constitutional immunity, the same EFCC still plays the political bias by interrogating commissioners (especially of finance), serving under state governors perceived not to be friendly with Jonathan (Amaechi of Rivers State, Okorocha of Imo State and Sule Lamido of Jigawa State whose son was arrested at Kano Airport in possession of foreign exchange far in excess of the official limit).

The point to be noted is that if these state governors had keyed into the 2015 presidential race on Jonathan’s side, the EFCC would not have performed its official duty on them.

The latest in state institutions playing the Jonathan game are the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and Nigerian Airspace Management Agency. There are two possibles of playing the Jonathan game instead of serving the nation. Jonathan might have prompted the two agencies.

As possible as that might be, there is no clear-cut proof of such suspicion. It follows, therefore, in the alternative that the two agencies are on their own. So conveniently to satisfy Jonathan in any political crisis. There can be no defence for any state governor not complying with rules, regulations and laws of the land.

Apart from crass irresponsibility implied, such culprits among the state governors are only strengthening the case for the removal of immunity to allow for criminal prosecution of liable offences during or after offences.

However, important questions arise, are state governors being harassed by the EFCC (by picking up their commissioners for finance) the only ones stealing public funds? Are the state governors (Rivers’ Rotimi Amaechi and Edo’s Adams Oshiomhole) whose aircraft were grounded by NAMA the only public office holders not complying with aviation regulations?

The chances are that there are, in fact, non-public office holders private jet owners not complying with our aviation rules/regulations but are not being harassed by NAMA either because they are outstanding donors to PDP campaign fund or because they support Jonathan’s 2015 presidential ambition.

On their part, do these unsolicited NAMA puppets realise that no condition is permanent? Can the agency’s current official conduct stand any future test for allegations of political partisanship? What can we say of INEC on its current posture? So far, it is emerging the worst politically infested public institution in Nigeria. We may even overlook its past no less disturbing record.

With two years before the next presidential election, INEC has become suddenly very active, flaunting, in fact, threatening its questionable power under the 2010 Electoral Act, a law, which is not even valid if INEC’s latest threat is anything to go by. Little wonder that this same INEC, not long ago, unsuccessfully demanded to be invested with the power to disqualify candidates.

For the timing of throwing its weight about, INEC is guilty of open political artisanship, especially in favour of President Goodluck Jonathan. On account of this, Attahiru is rendering his INEC chairmanship as an impartial referee questionable.

What is the explanation for INEC’s pointless barking about its power to discipline parties/politicians for allegedly violating the Electoral Act before 2015 elections? Within the past three weeks, posters of Governor Sule Lamido/Governor Rotimi Amaechi and those of General Muhammadu Buhari adorned Abuja city and Kano State – promoting them for the 2015 presidential elections.

Coming in the midst of the controversy built round the recent leadership election of Nigerian Governors Forum, widely speculated to be aimed by both the winner and the loser at influencing the 2015 presidential elections, the intention of the sponsors of Lamido/Amaechi posters was clear, especially as Amaechi disowned responsibility for the posters.

About the same time, pasting General Buhari’s posters was capable of dividing his new All Progressive Congress on the sensitive issue of picking a presidential candidate for 2015.

The denial of both parties was, therefore, ominous. After all, when Jonathan’s campaign posters similarly adorned Abuja about three months ago, he too denied responsibility and INEC saw nothing wrong with Jonathan’s posters or, at least, INEC did not bark. Even if Jonathan’s campaign posters were to adorn all Nigerian cities today, INEC would see nothing wrong.

But the moment campaign posters of Jonathan’s challengers or rivals emerged, INEC suddenly realised either Jonathan’s interest must be preserved or his opponents’ interests must be handicapped with threats of sanctions, by citing Section 99 (1) of the 2010 Electoral Act, which limits campaigns to ninety days before elections. Does pasting of posters amount to political campaigns? If so, why did Attahiru Jega become aware of that ONLY when posters of Jonathan’s rivals and challengers emerged?

Why was Attahiru Jega not concerned about violation of Section 99 (1) of 2010 Electoral Act when Jonathan’s political campaign posters flooded Abuja? Then, Jega and his INEC must also realise that the Electoral Act is a law only as long as any of its provisions do not violate Nigerian constitution, which is Nigeria’s supreme document, containing wide-ranging fundamental human rights for every citizen, including politicians, seeking public offices. Second, as we, ordinary citizens are often educated by lawyers and judiciary, a law is tenable only if it is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society.

How reasonably justifiable is that law (Electoral Act) in a democratic society, which allows one candidate (be he a president or state governor) in the name of performing official duties during his tenure, to publicise himself in series of campaigns for three years and nine months while the same law allows his rivals and challengers only ninety days for their own campaigns in the same elections?

The fact that lawyers among National Assembly members failed to detect this great injustice in Section 99 (1) of the electoral law does not make the act tenable. Genuinely democratic societies do not stifle campaigns for the following elections even if four years hence.

For example, Americans only last November returned Barrack Obama to office for second term. From only a few weeks after he was sworn in, campaign speculations commenced for the 2016 presidential elections with odds zeroed on ex-Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton as the front-runner for Democrats while Jeff Bush (ex Florida governor) and Senator Paul (Jnr) are leading candidates for the Republicans. Since then, interim-tent opinion polls for the 2016 American presidential elections are regular features in the American press.

These campaigns will heighten in the next two years for an election, which is virtually four years away. Yet, Attahiru Jega is telling Nigerians to wait till January 2015 to commence campaigns for April 2015 elections while Jonathan will enjoy the sole advantage in the interim. If Jega and his INEC flaunt a flawed Electoral Act, we flaunt Nigerian constitution with two important sections.

The first is Section 39, which allows every citizen the freedom to express views and opinions, which should include the desire, to canvass for public support, Section 40, which guarantees the freedom to assemble and associate with fellow Nigerians and Section 42 which guarantees that no Nigerian, among others, holding a political view, will be subjected to any disability, restriction or disadvantage to which fellow citizens are not similarly subjected. Incumbent President and incumbent state governors are, perhaps, inadvertently offered unfair political advantage over fellow citizens by Section 99 (1) of the 2010 electoral law.

• Next week, among others, my “MEETING” with President Goodluck Jonathan.

Distinction for Jonathan and Amosun

It was the annual ritual once again to mark June 12, 1993 presidential elections in which Bashorun MKO Abiola was the winner not declared. If only because the man died while trying to reclaim his mandate, there had since then been demands to honour MKO Abiola one way or another.

When, therefore, Bashorun Abiola was being remembered, only two of the celebrants could be taken seriously. The first was President Goodluck Jonathan whose main aim last year was to immortalise MKO Abiola by naming University of Lagos after him.

But unknown to President Jonathan, he was putting his (Jonathan’s) name in history as the Nigerian leader, who eventually acceded to public demand to honour Bashorun Abiola. I duly supported President Jonathan for his gesture, which I appreciate.

The other man to be taken seriously for genuinely remembering MKO Abiola is Ogun State Governor, Ibikunle Amosun, the only serving state first citizen to endorse President Jonathan’s gesture. It is in pursuit of the sincerity and courage displayed on that occasion that Governor Amosun would always be taken seriously in all matters on MKO’s remembrance.

It was obvious all along that those calling for MKO Abiola to be honoured were publicity and attention seekers, exploiting the memory of a helpless deceased, for their own end. Otherwise, when President Jonathan honoured MKO Abiola, the self-appointed crusaders for his immortalisation, should not have opposed the decision.

Opposing President Jonathan on this issue has turned out to be as unwise as rejecting certainty for uncertainty. Who would love MKO Abiola more than his family loved him?

When President Jonathan honoured Bashorun Abiola, his family wrote him to fully thank him for honouring their father, brother and husband. Once MKO Abiola’s family accepted the honour done their bread winners, who are the self-glorifying professional agitators to oppose or indeed reject the honour.

Again, only Ogun State Governor, Ibikunle , publicly supported Abiola’s family for accepting gesture, just as the families of Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Chief S. L. Akintola wrote to thank the Federal Government for naming universities after their late parents.

Significantly, naming University of Ife after Chief Awolowo did not in any way diminish his stature as a national figure. It was, therefore, mischievous of the agitators to say that naming a university in Yorunaland would diminish MKO Abiola’s stature.

According to Chief Awolowo, nobody could be a nationalist without initial root in his clan, his village, his local government and his tribe. Chief Abiola was, therefore, not an exception. Over ten years before President Jonathan at Aso Rock, it was not considered meritorious to honour MKO Abiola.

President Jonathan came, proved different an earned the distinction of perpetually memorialising MKO Abiola, and some local champions (or at best little south westerners) came to belittle a great honour.

Nigerians should be used to them; they were there in the days of Obafemi Awolowo, parading themselves to be more Awoist then Awo, a claim to which they still cling to attain some political relevance, notwithstanding the public knowledge that these fellows have abandoned the ideals of a man they tout as their hero, only to associate with political vermins, a betrayal of Chief Awolowo.

In MKO Abiola’s case, time will tell just as the hypocrites abandoned Chief Awolowo for blood-littered pastures.

(Source: Thescoopng)

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