PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari started courting controversy over the credibility of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, under his watch almost from Day One of his administration. As the tenure of former INEC Chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega, ended he handed over to the most senior National Commissioner, Ambassador Mohammed Wali on June 30, 2015.
But within a couple of hours, newly sworn-in President Buhari appointed another National Commissioner, Hajiya Amina Zakari, to take over from Ambassador Wali as Acting National Chairman until a new National Chairman was appointed. Tongues immediately started wagging. It was then being pointed that Hajiya Zakari, being related to the President, should actually have been retired from the Commission for it to retain its independence and credibility.
On October 21, 2015, Buhari appointed Professor Mahmood Yakubu, an indigene of Bauchi State, as the substantive INEC Chairman. Again, this raised a lot of dust because it was the first time a president was appointing the boss of the Electoral Umpire from his own region. The convention in the past was for the INEC Chairman to come from a region other than that of the incumbent president. With Yakubu and a close relation of the President, Zakari, calling the shots within the Commission, the independence of INEC under the Buhari dispensation came into serious question.
The appointment of Hajiya Zakari as the INEC National Commissioner in charge of the Election Collation Panel of INEC seemed like the chicken coming home to roost. Added to Buhari’s refusal to sign the upgraded Electoral Amendment Bill 2018, the Army’s deployment of soldiers nationwide on the Operation Python Dance exercise throughout the campaigns and elections and the extension of Inspector General of Police, Alhaji Ibrahim Idris’ tenure when he should have retired at 60, the regime’s critics are convinced that the integrity of the forthcoming general elections has been grievously violated.
Hajiya Zakari’s position in the INEC matters so much. She may not be a blood relation of the President. But there is no disputing the fact that Hajiya Zakari’s father, the late Emir of Kazaure in Jigawa State, Alhaji Hussaini Adamu, was the husband of Buhari’s elder biological sister. Besides, Buhari had lived as a protégé of Hajiya Zakari’s household. Buhari has also used his position to benefit members of Hajiya Zakari’s family, including recommending her for the post of INEC National Commissioner under former President Goodluck Jonathan.
Ordinarily, the close relationship between the President and Hajiya Zakari might not necessarily affect the way she would do her job. But the perception that her retention in the Commission and appointment to head the Collation Panel would damage the credibility of the election is overwhelming. In matters of electoral integrity, perception is everything.
Unfortunately, we are embracing the oncoming general elections with this heavy burden.