Partisan RECs hurt 2023 polls badly, INEC source admits

It is no longer news that controversies and disputations are dogging the outcome of the 2023 general elections. More than 500 cases at the various election petition tribunals attest to that.

Issues from Adamawa State where the Resident Electoral Commissioner, REC, Mr Hudu Yunusa Ari, usurped the powers of the Chief Returning Officer, Mele Lamido, and unilaterally announced the All Progressives Congress, APC, Governorship Candidate, Senator Aishatu Dahiru, as the winner, when collation had not been concluded, are still raising dust in the polity.

Although the National headquarters of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, acted swiftly by annulling Ari’s action, suspending him, writing the Presidency to get him sacked, and getting Mele Lamido to conclude the collation and announce Governor Ahmadu Fintiri, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, candidate as winner, the matter has raised debates on how to safe Nigeria’s democratic process.

INEC National Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu and the commission have come under hammer for the way the elections panned in spite of repeated assurances of credible polls with the introduction of Bimodal Voters Accreditation System, BVAS, e-transmission of results to the INEC Results Viewing, IReV portal realtime from the polling booths.

How partisan RECs, politicians, others hurt polls —INEC source

Defending Yakubu on the flaws in the polls, an inside source in the INEC agreed that there were glitches in the electronic transmission of presidential election results, he blamed RECs, politicians, and some stakeholders for most of the drawbacks.

Insisting that Yakubu was determined to use technology to drive credible polls via BVAS and IREV, the source said some politicians and parties worked extra hard in concert with some RECs to undermine the process.

“We saw all the attempts some politicians, even parties made to abort the use of technology for the polls. Some people even went to court about four times and there were also efforts to remove Yakubu on this premise but he stood his ground” the INEC source said, adding that was vindicated as post-election investigation showed that BVAS performance at the polls was over 88 per cent successful.
Continuing, he disclosed how the activities of some RECs impacted negatively on the outcome of the polls.

According to him, “some RECs were clearly partisan, for instance, 19 RECs were appointed close to the polls and many of them were clearly partisan and to make matters worse some were deployed to states where they had sympathy for the ruling parties. Should we also blame INEC or the Chairman for this?”

In response to the partisan conduct of some RECs, the source said the INEC had carried out disciplinary measures against erring staff to the extent of recommending to President Muhammadu Buhari the sacking of two RECs who had been found wanting in their conduct in the elections.

INEC had since resolved to write the Inspector General of Police, Usman Baba, to probe and prosecute the Resident Electoral Commissioner, REC, in Adamawa State, Hudu Ari.

Indeed, the Adamawa saga was so bad that security agencies started questioning their men on election duty in the state.
The Inspector General of Police, Usman Baba, on Tuesday, ordered the immediate replacement of the Commissioner of Police on election duty in Adamawa, Mohammed Barde, with his counterpart in Gombe State, CP Etim Equa.

As part of moves to investigate the Adamawa election saga, NSCDC Commandant-General, Dr Ahmed Abubakar Audi, summoned its Adamawa State Commandant, Muhammad Bello, to the Corps headquarters in Abuja to explain his role in the Adamawa election.

The Adamawa Police commissioner, NSCDC commandant and Director of the Department of State Service, DSS, were with Ari, when he declared Senator Aisha Dahiru as governor-elect.

INEC should recommend sanctions for erring RECs to the President—LP

Speaking on the issue, the Acting National Publicity Secretary of the Labour Party, Pastor Obiora Ifoh, said for as long as the president has the responsibility of appointing Resident Electoral Commissioners, the best the INEC can do is to recommend sanctions for erring RECs.

The Labour Party spokesman said: “Since the President, based on an Act of the National Assembly, remains the appointing and confirming authority for RECs, the best INEC can do with respect to serious disciplinary action is to make recommendations.

How Buhari, Senate cleared partisan RECs

In August 2022, a coalition of eight civil society organizations, CSOs kicked when President Buhari appointed some APC members as resident electoral commissioners and asked the Senate to reject the nominees

The civil societies called on the Senate to reject the nominees, who included four alleged members of the APC, saying the nomination violated the provisions of the 1999 constitution as amended and negated the criteria and procedure prescribed to protect the neutrality, objectivity and non-partisanship of INEC.

The CSOs in a statement by Yiaga Africa, International Press Centre, Center for Media and Society, The Albino Foundation Elect Her, Nigerian Women Trust Fund, Partners for Electoral Reform, Inclusive Friends Association and The Kukah Centre, claimed that 14 of the 19 nominees from Sokoto, Enugu, Imo and Ebonyi among others were either APC loyalists or were indicted for corruption in the past which they said breached the constitution on appointment of INEC Resident Electoral Commissioners.

The statement said: “To mention a few, Prof. Muhammad Lawal Bashir from Sokoto was a Governorship aspirant under the All Progressive Congress 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, South-East.

“The nominee for Imo State, Mrs. Pauline Onyeka Ugochi, a former Head of ICT at INEC in Imo state, gained notoriety for 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),” they stated.

The statement added, “On July 26, 2022, the Nigerian Senate announced President Buhari’s appointment of 19 Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) following the expiration of the tenure of the out-gone RECs in 19 states. Of the 19 nominated RECs, 14 were new appointments, while five were reappointed.

“The new nominees include Pauline Onyeka Ugochi (Imo); Muhammad Lawal Bashir (Sokoto); Prof. Ayobami Salami (Oyo); Zango Abdu (Katsina); Queen Elizabeth Agwu (Ebonyi); Agundu Tersoo (Benue), Yomere Oritsemlebi (Delta); Prof. Yahaya Ibrahim, (Kaduna); Dr. Nura Ali (Kano); Agu Uchenna Sylvia (Enugu); Ahmed Garki (FCT); Hudu Yunusa (Bauchi); Prof. Uzochukwu Chijioke, (Anambra); and Mohammed Nura (Yobe).

The reappointed nominees include Ibrahim Abdullahi (Adamawa); Obo Effanga (Cross River); Umar Ibrahim (Taraba); Agboke Olaleke (Ogun); and Prof. Samuel Egwu.(Kogi).

“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.”

Adamawa REC, indicted security officers, other offenders must be punished —Falana

Dissecting the issues on a Channels Television interview programme, Human Rights Lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, SAN, said the Adamawa REC, APC candidate and security personnel involved in the saga must be prosecuted and punished.

On calls for probe of Adamawa governorship and supplementary elections

It is not a matter of probe; the law is very clear on these matters. One, under Section 120 sub-section 4 of the Electoral Act 2022, anybody involved in any false declaration of elections is liable to be prosecuted and the penalty is three years imprisonment which, for me, isn’t stringent enough.

Two, there is also Section 121 of the Electoral Act which prescribes 12 months imprisonment for financial inducement with regard to the election. There are allegations that a sum of N2 billion must have changed hands. So, it is not enough for the candidate of the APC, Aishatu Ahmed Dahiru (Binani) to deny. There must be an investigation.

Would these things have happened in the normal cause of events? Was there inducement? That has to be investigated. The officers, who were at the high table with Mr Hudu Yunusa Ari such as the Commissioner of Police, the Director of State Service and the Commander of the Nigeria Defence and Security Corps, are involved in the criminality that occurred.

So, they all have to be tried under the law. It is not enough for the Inspector General of Police, IGP, to simply deploy the Commissioner of Police involved or for the Director of the DSS to be withdrawn from that state. We must make an example this time because this is not the first time that it has happened.

There had been false declarations of results before now in 1983 that plunged the old Ondo State into a major violence eruption. In 2003, many false results were declared. So, we must find out what happened this time so that this terrible experience will not be repeated in the history of our country.

If the REC can be punished in line with the electoral law, what laws would be meted out to the accomplices?

There is a provision for conspiracy. If you conspire with anybody to make a false declaration of results, you are liable to be prosecuted. The NTA must be brought in. The NTA televised the acceptance speech of the candidate of the APC. The candidate of the APC has to be brought in because she was party to the whole false declaration otherwise her acceptance speech would not have been ready and delivered.

She has denied allegations levelled against her, particularly that from the DSS official captured in a video…

The EFCC and the ICPC would have to be brought in to investigate. And I am not accepting the allegations for now. More so, they may be statements he made while being tortured by the crowd. So, we need to investigate and get to the root of the matter.

However, with regard to the acceptance speech delivered by Madam Binani, she is liable to be prosecuted under Section 120 of the Electoral Act.

On claims by Alhaji Lai Mohammed that President Buhari did not intervene in the Adamawa saga because it was the job of the INEC chairman

I don’t want to believe that the president has not taken action because he is currently (while the interview was going on) out of the country on a tour of Saudi Arabia but the statement is not correct.

Under the constitution and the Electoral Act, the appointment of a Resident Electoral Commission, REC, is made by the president and the nomination will have to go to the Senate for approval. That was what happened in November, last year with respect to the 19 electoral commissioners appointed last year. Unfortunately, some of us cried out with respect to all those who were appointed at that time.

We made it clear that we wanted the Senate to reject the majority of the nominations because it was published in detail who had nominated who among the 19 RECs and we did say that they were not likely to deliver. So, INEC cannot go beyond suspending him.

On Binani’s case at the court seeking judicial review

Section 129 presupposes an action taken by the appropriate authority. There was a returning officer, a professor who is saddled with the responsibility to make the announcement, somebody hijacked that position, usurped his authority and made a false declaration. Section 149 does not come in because the whole exercise is illegal.

What has to happen now is that the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, has to come in because Yunusa Ari is a senior lawyer. So, the NBA has to write a petition to the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee for immediate sanction to serve as a lesson because this guy has brought the legal profession to disrepute.

Second, the IG will have to speed up the investigation. By now, we expect him to have been arrested and if he cannot they have to get a court order to declare him wanted. Three, all the security officers that were involved in the charade will have to be investigated and prosecuted. Lastly, the president will have to send a request to the Senate next week, to remove the REC because he has betrayed the Constitution and his oath of office. Unless we do that this time around, we are not going to get out of this crisis.

What should the process of this retribution be, who does what first and what should the sequence be in order to take these four or five issues?

They have to be taken together. One, the INEC has done the right thing by suspending him. It is now left for the president to now embark on his removal via the Senate.

Secondly, the investigation that will have to be conducted, contrary to the request of INEC, the IGP cannot prosecute him because he has committed an electoral offence. By virtue of Section 145 of the Electoral Act, the statutory duty to prosecute all electoral offenders is imposed on INEC.

So, once the INEC gets the report from the IGP on the investigation, all the suspects will have to be arrested and prosecuted by the INEC. Happily, this time around, the NBA has come in to collaborate with INEC, and the anti-graft agencies are also collaborating with INEC for us to stop this menace, this colossal embarrassment, this national embarrassment.

Happily, the INEC has decided to ensure that all those who were arrested and some who are yet to be arrested are prosecuted this time around. The police arrested 781 electoral offenders, the EFCC arrested over 100 people inducing voters, ICPC made arrests, and other agencies made arrests including the Armed Forces. This time around, they are sitting down to say this level of impunity cannot continue and that is why some of us are collaborating with the INEC and the NBA to ensure that all those who are indicted are brought to book.

It appears that you disagree with Lai Mohammed, who said the Adamawa REC is a staff of INEC and it is INEC that has the responsibility to deal with him.

He is not a staff of INEC, he is a public officer. He is an official of INEC and that point will have to be made very clear. It is like a judge if there is a strong petition against a judge the National Judicial Council, NJC, carries out an investigation and the judge is indicted, the NJC will place the judge on suspension and send it’s a recommendation to the president who is the appointing authority.

So, this time around, the INEC has no power under the law to remove a REC because he was not appointed by INEC. The REC, like national commissioners, are appointed by the president with the approval or endorsement of the Senate. So, if you are going to remove any of them, it has to go through the same process.

.As I said earlier, the police will investigate and turn in a report, the report will have to be forwarded to INEC because INEC is the only authority under Section 145 of the Electoral Act that is empowered to prosecute electoral offenders and this is an electoral offence.

The last point is on the role of the NTA, which televised the acceptance speech. I expect the NBC to move in speedily and sanction the NTA because, at that time, the collation was still ongoing just like I have requested the NBA to also send a petition to the Legal Practitioner Disciplinary Committee with respect to the conduct or the misconduct of Mr. Ari, who has brought the legal profession into disrepute and unless this action is taken holistically, somebody else or some other people will commit the same offence and that is why people who engage in impunity in our country must be sanctioned with respect to people going to court.

Again, I will like to advise our judges to behave like the American judiciary. President Donald Trump filed 62 cases challenging the election of President Biden. Within two months, all of them were heard and thrown out. Some of the lawyers who engage in false allegations of electoral fraud were recommended for discipline. Unless we adopt such an approach, we are not going to get it right.

How should the recruitment process of electoral officers be done?

We have to go back to the recommendations of the Uwais panel endorsed by the Ahmed Lemu panel, endorsed by the Ken Nnamani panel set up by this regime. The Uwais panel was set up by the late President Yar Adua. The Ahmed Lemu committee was set up by President Jonathan, and the Nnamani committee was set up by President Buhari.

All the committees were united in demanding a transparent procedure for the appointment of electoral chiefs and that the vacancies should be advertised. At the end of the process, the NJC is recommended to do the short-listing and then recommend three candidates to the president for appointment. The president will then take one of them based on different considerations and send the name to the Senate for confirmation. That is the only way to prevent the system from appointing members of political parties or sympathizers of the ruling party.

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