On Tuesday, October 27, 2020, the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), officially reappointed Prof. Mahmood Yakubu as the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission. In an official communication to the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, the President said he was making the appointment in consonance with the provisions of Section 154 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended). This appointment has been widely commended. However, did the President fulfil all righteousness in making that appointment? NO!
Section 154(3) of the Nigerian Constitution says, “In exercising his powers to appoint a person as Chairman or member of the Independent National Electoral Commission, the National Judicial Service Council, the Federal Judicial Service Commission or the National Population Commission, the President shall consult the Council of State”. To the best of my knowledge, the last Council of State meeting held in accordance with provisions of Section B of the Third Schedule of the Nigerian Constitution was on August 27, 2020 and there was no mention of consultation or approval of the reappointment of Yakubu then. Even when the President met with former presidents and Heads of State on October 23, 2020 over the #EndSARS protests, there was no mention of any discussion on the appointments in INEC. Was this an oversight? If it was, then it can be rectified so as not to expose the reappointment to unnecessary litigation. Recall that due process was followed on October 21, 2015 when Yakubu and five national commissioners were first appointed after due consultation with the Council of State before their confirmation by the Senate and swearing in on November 9, 2015.
Aside from that constitutional lapse, Yakubu’s reappointment is meritorious. Interestingly, he’s the first INEC boss to be reappointed. Many thought Prof. Attahiru Jega served two terms but that is not true. He was only lucky to conduct two general election – 2011 and 2015. Jega was appointed on June 8, 2010 and ended his tenure in June 2015 before Amina Bala Zakari was appointed in an acting capacity before the nomination of Yakubu.
Among his reported achievements in his first tenure are: the return of voting procedures to simultaneous accreditation and voting. Recall that in the elections conducted by Jega, accreditation and voting took place separately due to the fact that the biometric National Register of Voters compiled by Jega in January/February of 2011 was presumed bloated and there was a need to devise a method to check multiple voting. Thus, accreditation took place between 8am and 12 noon, thereafter there is 30 minutes of voter education as well as forming electorate into queues. Under this arrangement, there is no closing time for voting as this largely depends on when the last person in the queue must have voted. Why did Yakubu’s INEC have to discontinue with this voting method?
According to the European Union Election Observation Mission official report on the 2015 General Election in Nigeria, approximately 2.3 million accredited voters did not come back to vote in the afternoon. In a tightly contested presidential election, this can sway victory one way or the other. These millions of accredited voters did not show up because the voting process was too cumbersome. This was why INEC under Yakubu discontinued with that method. The INEC boss also ensured that Continuous Voter Registration is being done as prescribed in Section 10 of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended. On February 28, 2018, INEC under Yakubu did by announcing the date for Nigeria’s general elections for 36 years, that is, from 2019 – 2055. This was done to enhance electoral planning.
Commendably, the INEC boss has essentially been building on the solid foundation laid by his predecessor in office, Attahiru Jega. He has continued with the crafting of Strategic Plans for the Commission, review of the INEC Gender Policy, expanded the Inter Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security to include representative of Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, holding of Stakeholder meetings and signing of Peace Accord by candidates ahead of general election and off-cycle governorship polls. He followed that up by having Mrs. Rose Oriaran Anthony succeed Mrs. Augusta Chinwe Ogakwu as the Commission’s secretary.
However, it stands to the credit of his INEC that in his first tenure, the commission came up with INEC Framework on Access and Participation of Persons with Disabilities in the Electoral Process. Under this framework, INEC was able to accredit Disability Persons Organizations for election observation. Before then, only a few organizations such as Inclusive Friends Association, Joint National Association of Persons with Disabilities and The Albino Foundation got accreditation as members of the Civil Society Election Situation Room. However, under Yakubu, they are accredited as a stand-alone entity. Furthermore, INEC now provides Braille Ballot Guide for the People living With Disability with visual impairment, Election Day written instruction to aid communication with people with hearing disability as well as Magnifying Glass for persons with Albinism.
Yakubu is the first INEC chairman to conduct elections during a pandemic in Nigeria. His commission came up with a new policy framework known as the ‘Policy on conducting elections in the context of COVID-19 pandemic’. Under this policy, filing of candidates’ nomination by political parties, and accreditation of observer groups, party agents and journalists were done electronically. Voters also have to undergo temperature checks, maintain social distancing and wear face masks when coming to vote. So far, he has conducted three elections under COVID-19. The first was on Saturday, August 8, 2020, in the Nasarawa Central State Constituency by-election. He has also conducted two off-cycle governorship elections in Edo on September 19 and Ondo on October 10, 2020.
These elections had been deemed highly credible because of another innovation by INEC. This is the Election Result Viewing Portal better known as IRev which enables members of the public to follow authentic election results as they are being announced from the Polling Units to the Ward, Local Government and State Collation Centres.
INEC under Yakubu also assisted in the fight against COVID-19 by releasing hundreds of the commission’s vehicles to the NCDC for contact tracing and other logistics.
While the President got it right by reappointing Yakubu, he however wasn’t very much on point with the earlier nomination of four INEC commissioners on October 13, 2020. He courted public opprobrium by nominating one of his media aides, Ms. Lauretta Onochie, as a commissioner. Other nominees are Prof. Mohammed Sani from Katsina State; Prof. Kunle Ajayi from Ekiti State and Seidu Ahmed from Jigawa. The public outrage over Onochie’s nomination is due to her perceived partisanship. This is against the letter and spirit of Section 156(1)(a) of the 1999 Constitution. Assuming without conceding that she is not a card-carrying member of the All Progressives Congress, there is a moral burden she will carry while serving in INEC. I hereby strongly advise the President to withdraw her nomination and replace her with another lady without any moral or legal baggage.
For Yakubu, he will have to build on the success of his first tenure and avoid the mistakes he has made. It is heartwarming that the President made the appointment in order to prevent a vacuum in the election management body. I will enjoin the President to put his executive weight behind the ongoing electoral reform agenda of the National Assembly and see to it that this is expeditiously concluded before the middle of 2021. This will give the EMB sufficient time to plan for the 2023 General Election. Already, INEC is getting ready to give Nigeria electronic voting by inviting about 40 manufacturers of electronic voting machines to come and exhibit it to the commission. But there is a legal hurdle to be crossed as Section 52 of the 2010 Electoral Act, as amended, forbids the use of Electronic Voting Machines. Beyond legalese, INEC has yet to find a lasting solution to the perennial challenge of electoral violence and vote trading. Will he succeed this time round? Time will tell.