IT is 35 days to the commencement of the 2019 general election in which Nigerians will be choosing a new set of leaders to oversee the affairs of the country for the next four years.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has said at several fora that the commission is fully prepared to deliver a free, fair, and credible poll that would be better than the 2015 exercise.
INEC National Chairman, Yakubu Mahmood, reiterated this at the Northern Traditional Rulers General Assembly held in Kaduna in December, saying that he and his team “will continue to improve on the logistics to enable the commission have itch-free, credible polls come 2019,”
But many, including presidential candidates of some of the political parties taking part in the election, have expressed misgivings, not only with regards to INEC’s ability to improve on the successes of the 2015 election, but also regarding the commission’s impartiality.
The apprehension about INEC’s neutrality gained more traction following the recent appointment of Amina Zakari, an INEC National Commissioner, to be in charge of the committee on collation centre. She will be responsible for the national collation centre – the International Conference Centre – from where results of the presidential election will be announced.
Though Zakari was appointed INEC commissioner by the PDP administration led by Goodluck Jonathan, she is said to have some kind of family ties to President Muhammadu Buhari, thereby raising the argument that there could be some conflict of interest.
Some of the presidential hopefuls have been speaking on INEC’s general preparedness for the election, as well as on the commission’s neutrality or otherwise. Here is what they said:
KINGSLEY MOGHALU (Young Peoples Party)
Moghalu, a former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, in a recent interview, said he is worried about President Buhari’s refusal to sign the Electoral Amendment Act into law, and consequently whether INEC will be fair during the election.
“Knowing what we know, seeing that the president has worryingly declined to sign the Amended Electoral Act, I have my fears. And my fears are precisely whether or not INEC will be independent enough to resist what is obviously the intention of the ruling party to rig the elections,” Moghalu said.
ABUBAKAR ATIKU (Peoples Democratic Party)
Especially with regards to the Amina Zakari controversy, former Vice President, Atiku, has not made any comments, personally, yet.
But a spokesman of his campaign team, Kassim Afegbua, a live television programme, said “INEC must as a matter of responsibility allow the electoral process to be seen to be transparent, to be devoid of any partisan inclinations to an extent that the participants in the electoral process would see that INEC is fair enough in the way and manner in which they deploy staff – whether ad-hoc or permanent – in the process of conducting elections”.
Atiku had also alleged that Buhari was deploying instruments of the state, including INEC, for his advantage going into the elections.
In a statement on Thursday, Atiku pointed out that although the INEC Chairman, Yakubu, had warned candidates against using state resources or apparatus for their campaigns, “the Buhari administration and the APC have taken to the illegal deployment of state resources to its advantage for the election”.
Atiku made specific reference to pro-Buhari adverts being sponsored by the Ministry of Information and Culture and which usually ends with the hashtag #PMBDIDIT. He insists that it was “is illegal under the Electoral Act 2010 as amended” for such adverts to be sponsored using public funds.
Since INEC is yet to call the Buhari campaign to order for this “offence”, Atiku is inferring that the commission is not being fair.
Meanwhile, the PDP has petitioned the European Union over Amina Zakri, demanding that she “should not be found anywhere near the (electoral) process”.
OBY EZEKWESILI (Allied Congress Party of Nigeria)
For Ezekwesili, a former Minister of Education, and co-convener of the Bring Back Our Girls campaign, Zakari’s appointment is the clearest signal yet that the INEC chairman has “bowed to pressure from the Presidency”.
“The President and INEC chairman should know that this extremely repugnant and provocative act of political corruption that seeks to undermine our democracy and destabilise the country shall be resisted by all patriotic Nigerians,” Ezekwesili wrote in a statement.
Again, during a TV interview, she maintained that “if Nigerian wants the highest level of electoral integrity, Zakari “should continue to be a Commissioner but don’t put her in the conduct of 2019 elections”.
What Ezekwesili is saying implicitly, is that she has no confidence in INEC’s integrity as long as Zakari remains head of the election collation centre.
OMOYELE SOWORE (African Action Congress)
Candidate of the African Action Congress (AAC) and publisher of Sahara Reporters, Omoyele Sowore, also believes that INEC will not be seen as neutral if Zakari remains head of the collation centre as her sense of judgement will be compromised given her relationship with the president.
“It is not about the blood relationship. If there is any form of relationship at all, that could influence her sense of judgement. I expected her to do the right thing by stepping aside. It doesn’t have to be blood relationship. There are people who don’t have blood relationship in this world that are closer than people with blood relationship,” he said.
As Election Day draws closer and INEC continues to put finishing touches to its preparation, the issue of the neutrality of the election umpire will remain a subject of discussion, especially Zakari’s appointment is not reversed. Whether or not the issue will pose a real challenge to the eventual outcome of the polls is yet to be seen.