By Chucks Okocha
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) yesterday defended President Muhammadu Buhari’s decision to reappoint Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, for a second term as its chairman, stating that it is within the constitutional powers of the president to do so.
It added that it decided to conduct the outstanding National and State Assembly elections on December 5 because there is an improved security situation in the country and that National Youth Service Corps members have resumed their national service after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Speaking in an interview with THISDAY, the National Commissioner in charge of Information and Chairman Voter Education, Mr. Festus Okoye, said: “The appointment of national and resident electoral commissioners as well as the chairman of the commission is the exclusive responsibility of the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Such an appointment is subject to confirmation by the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
Okoye who said that there was no constitutional breach in the reappointment of Yakubu, blamed the report of a purported ‘rumpus’ in INEC on those he described as fifth columnists, explaining that the story was planted in newspapers word for word by outsiders who have ulterior motives.
“The Nigerian people have endorsed the reappointment of Professor Yakubu as the chairman.
“The international community has expressed satisfaction with his reappointment and stated that the commission is in safe hands.
“The chairman has instilled courage, dynamism, and professionalism in the running of the commission. He is a believer in constitutionalism and owes absolute fidelity to the rule of law and due process.
“The expectation is a speedy confirmation of his appointment. The Senate is made up representatives of the people of Nigeria and will give vent to the wishes of the people of Nigeria.
“We are confident that all constitutional and statutory requirements have been met and will be met in the appointment and confirmation of the chairman,” he added.
Before stepping aside, Okoye said that “the chairman charged the national commissioners not to allow the activities of the commission to be affected on account of his absence and the retirement of other national commissioners.
“The commission is made up of 12 national commissioners and the chairman making it 13. Presently, there are six national commissioners remaining and definitely the work is enormous but we have the capacity and the courage to cope with the challenges.
“The chairman ran a collegiate commission and each national commissioner has at one time or the other acted in the absence of the chairman. We are therefore familiar with the office and its demands and we are determined to live up to expectation.”
Okoye also described the relationship between INEC and the National Assembly as cordial.
“This commission has a healthy relationship with the Senate Committee on INEC and the House Committee on Electoral Matters. We have made far-reaching recommendations to the National Assembly relating to the amendment of the Electoral Act and the alteration of the constitution. We are confident that these recommendations will be favourably received by the National Assembly. We are irrevocably committed to deepening the use of technology in the electoral process. We are committed to a professional and intellectually driven commission. We have the courage and presence of mind to institutionalise reforms and bring credibility to the electoral process, ” he stated.
He denied that there was any disagreement between the national commissioners at last Thursday’s meeting with the resident electoral commissioners.
According to Okoye, “There is no disagreement between the national electoral commissioners and the resident electoral commissioners relating to the date and timing of the 15 pending bye-elections in 11 states of the federation.
“The commission met with the resident electoral commissioners on 22nd October 2020 and deliberated on the 15, outstanding bye-elections scheduled for 31st October 2020 and decided to suspend same on account of the security situation in the country and the environmental challenges being experienced in some of the states.
“The commission met again on Thursday, 5th November 2020, to further review the situation and decided to consult with political parties, civil society groups, the media and the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security as well as the resident electoral commissioners to decide on a date for the elections.
“The commission met with these stakeholders on the 10th and 11th of November 2020 and with the resident electoral commissioners on the 12th of November 2020 and on Friday the 13th day of November 2020, the commission met and fixed December 5, 2020 for all the pending by-elections.
“The commission consulted with the critical stakeholders and the preponderance of opinion was in favour of holding the elections during the last week of November or the first week of December.
“It is the exclusive responsibility of the commission to fix dates of election and the commission does not share this responsibility with any individual, party or organisation.
“The commission can consult stakeholders but the ultimate decision on the dates of elections lie with the commission and the policy-making organ is the commission made up of 12 national commissioners and the chairman,” he said.
He explained that the commission received reports that the security situation in most of the states has improved and that the water level in Bayelsa and in Ibaji State Constituency of Kogi State has receded, hence the decision to fix December 5 as the date for the bye-elections.
“The commission also took into consideration the fact that some of the corps members trained as ad-hoc staff have passed out and new ones are being mobilised from those that have been mobilised to the various states,” he added.
According to him, the commission is focused on delivering on the by-elections and will not be distracted by unfounded insinuations and imaginary disagreements on account of the performance of its constitutional and statutory duties.
He explained that the people of these constituencies deserve to be represented and the commission will not shy away from its constitutional responsibilities.