By Tobias Lengnan Dapam
Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) have rejected the appointment of some of the INEC Resident Electoral Commissioners by President Muhammadu Buhari.
The CSOs which made their position known on Friday during a press conference in Abuja, urged the red chamber not to screen the nominees who fail the constitutional test of non-partisanship and unquestionable integrity.
They said evidence abounds that some of the nominees are either partisan, politically aligned, or previously indicted for corruption.
“To mention a few, Prof. Muhammad Lawal Bashir from Sokoto was a Governorship aspirant under the All Progressive Congress (APC) in the 2015 elections cycle. Mrs. Sylvia Uchenna Agu, the nominee for Enugu state, is believed to be the younger sister of the APC Deputy National Chairman, Southeast. The nominee for Imo State, Mrs. Pauline Onyeka Ugochi, a former Head of ICT at INEC in Imo state, gained notoriety for alleged corruption and connivance with politicians to undermine elections. Mrs. Queen Elizabeth Agwu, a former Accountant-General of the Ebonyi, was suspended allegedly on the grounds of incompetence and corruption in 2016.
“We contend that the appointment of these individuals as RECs will significantly undermine the neutrality and impartiality of the Independent National Electoral Commission, and it will increase mistrust in INEC and Nigeria’s electoral process. By the combined effect of Section 156 (1)(a) and Third Schedule, Part 1, Item F, paragraph 14 (1), these individuals are constitutionally prohibited from any appointment as members of INEC. It will be against the sacred spirit of the Constitution to accept their nomination. Given their antecedent and close affinity with political parties, it is improbable that they will remain neutral and objective if successfully screened as INEC Resident Electoral Commissioners (REC).
“Additionally, we are constrained to observe that the appointments did not reflect the principles of non-discrimination and inclusivity that the Civil Society Community has and continues to advocate, particularly, in this instant case, with regard to Persons with Disability (PWDs) who represent about 15% of Nigeria’s population and have been completely left out of the process. We submit that it is critical that as we strive to make the electoral process more inclusive, representative, and qualitative, the appointment of PWDS would provide the pulse required to give effect to the provisions of the Discrimination Against Persons Living with Disabilities Act, 2018, and other legislations and guiding principles in that regard.
“To this end, we, the undersigned, reject their appointment as RECs entirely and urge President Buhari to withdraw their nomination in the public interest and in furtherance of his commitment to leave a legacy of a truly independent electoral institution that enjoys the trust and confidence of citizens and electoral stakeholders. Also, we call for a thorough examination and background checks of the credentials of the nominees. The Senate is urged to reject these nominees that fall short of the threshold of non-partisanship and impeccable character. Electoral commissioners must be individuals with impeccable character, unquestionable neutral inclinations, dispositions, and competence. The nominations and process of confirmation must be inclusive and representative of all segments of the society.
“Based on these, we urged the President to withdraw the nomination of these individuals in the public interest and in furtherance of his commitment to leave a legacy of a truly independent electoral institution that enjoys the trust and confidence of citizens and electoral stakeholders.
“In making nominations into INEC, President Buhari should be guided by the judgment of the Federal High Court on affirmative action wherein the court directed that all appointments must comply with the 35% affirmative action for women. In the same vein, the President should ensure the representation of Persons with disability (PWDs) and young people in the appointments.
“The Senate should accelerate the process of screening nominees without compromising due diligence and comprehensive scrutiny of nominations forwarded by the President.”
The CSOs which took part in the press conference included; Yiaga Africa, International Press Center and Center for Media and Society.
Others are; The Albino Foundation, Elect Her, Nigerian Women Trust Fund, Partners for Electoral Reform and Inclusive Friends Association.