In DepthColumnsNigeria elections: Jonathan must not sack INEC boss

Mon,20Nov2017

Posted on Tuesday, 03 March 2015 17:32

Nigeria elections: Jonathan must not sack INEC boss

Professor Attahiru Jega. Photo©Thomas Saater for TARPublic opinion is already at boiling point over postponed elections. President Jonathan must resist the temptation to sack electoral commission boss Professor Jega, or risk pushing the country over the edge.

Rumours that Professor Attahiru Jega might not be overseeing Nigeria's forthcoming elections are increasingly becoming difficult to ignore.

Admittedly the rumours are not new, they first surfaced in the weeks leading to the announcement of the postponement. But they have enjoyed a bold resurgence in recent days, as the rescheduled presidential elections approach.

it is important to note that the rumours of the election postponed were already in circulation days before the official announcement

Local newspapers are reporting that there are fears that a meeting scheduled for Wednesday between Jega and his Resident Electoral Commissioners (the INEC personnel in charge of Nigeria's 36 states) will be used by some of the RECs to pass a "vote of no confidence" on the INEC chairman.

There have also been reports that a number of the Commission's National Commissioners – Pr Jega's equivalent of an executive council – have been shortlisted to replace him.

While it is easy to dismiss these reports as unsubstantiated rumours, it is important to note that the rumours of the election postponed were already in circulation days before the official announcement by Jega.

Going by that precedent, it is important for Nigerians – at the level of individuals and civil society – to ask President Jonathan to do the right thing and obey the rule of law regarding the tenure of Attahiru Jega.

The Law

What does the law say? Section 157 of the Nigerian Constitution defines the conditions under which persons holding the offices of "Chairman or member" of certain Federal bodies (including but not limited to the Independent National Electoral Commission).

It says they can "only be removed from that office by the President acting on an address supported by two-thirds majority of the Senate praying that he be so removed for inability to discharge the functions of the office (whether arising from infirmity of mind or body or any other cause) or for misconduct."

Section 155 makes it clear that a holder of the office of Chairman or member of the Commission shall hold office "for a period of five years from the date of his appointment."

Jega was named to the position by President Jonathan on June 8, 2010, and formally took office on June 24, after his Senate confirmation; and is constitutionally entitled to stay in office until his final day in office – June 23, 2015 – unless he decides otherwise.

The responsibility to decide whether to go on terminal leave lies wholly within his authority, not with the president, or the Resident Electoral Commissioners.

And there is no constitutional basis for the RECs – in part or in full – ganging up against the Chairman and forcing his removal.

The fact that Jega's predecessor, Maurice Iwu, was ordered to proceed on his terminal leave in April 2010, more than five weeks to the June 13 end of his tenure, does not justify a repeat with Jega.

It was Iwu's prerogative to decide whether or not to comply with the presidential order, and his response cannot be taken as a basis for expecting the same to apply to Jega.

So who might be keen to see Jega leave office before the elections, and why?

All evidence points to the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as the interested puppet-master, frantically pulling the strings to jerk Jega offstage.

It would seem that, in the face of the biggest challenge to its federal dominance since 1999, the PDP is uncomfortable with Jega's reputation for independent-mindedness, and would prefer a more pliable umpire.

Also, the voices most opposed to Jega's introduction -- for the first time in presidential elections in Nigeria -- of biometric voter cards and card-reader machines, come from the party's ranks. Without that technology, the elections would go to the most most ambitious rigger -- the party with the most at stake, and with the biggest war chest.

Jega's reputation for independent-mindedness recalls yet another dangerous precedent: the unilateral suspension, by the president, in February 2014, of the similarly-irrepressible Lamido Sanusi, Central Bank Governor, in defiance of the Central Bank Act which made it clear that a Governor's removal could only happen with the approval of a two-thirds Senate majority.

The President and his aides chose to cowardly retreat behind a semantics smokescreen – "suspension" versus "removal" to justify a patently illegal action.

President Jonathan should jettison any plans of applying the Sanusi treatment to Jega.

Lamido Sanusi redux

There is another dangerous precedent: the unilateral suspension, by the president, in February 2014, of Lamido Sanusi, Central Bank Governor, in defiance of the Central Bank Act which made it clear that a Governor's removal could only happen with the approval of a two-thirds Senate majority.

The President and his aides chose to cowardly retreat behind a semantics smokescreen – "suspension" versus "removal" to justify a patently illegal action. President Jonathan should jettison any plans of applying the Sanusi treatment to Jega.

It hasn't helped that the President hasn't issued any stoutly reassuring statements regarding Jega's tenure.

In his most recent presidential media chat he alluded vaguely to the constitutional provisions guiding the removal of an INEC Chairman, but simultaneously seemed to believe it was within his power to "remove" Jega.

What Nigerians and the rest of the world need at this time is an unequivocal presidential statement clearing the air in this season of dangerous rumours, as well as expressing his respect for the rule of law.

As things stand the impending elections have seen enough controversy already. In the absence of any allegations of impropriety or inability to fulfill his duties, Jega, having overseen the electoral process to this point, should be allowed to finish his work.

President Jonathan should strongly resist the temptation to complicate issues by undermining a constitution he has sworn to protect.

He should, as President, and the one on whose table the buck stops, resist every pressure to remove or suspend or prematurely force Professor Attahiru Jega out of office.

Updated 4 March



Tolu Ogunlesi

Tolu Ogunlesi

Tolu Ogunlesi is a journalist and writer based in Lagos, Nigeria. He is The Africa Report's west Africa editor. Tolu has twice been awarded the CNN Multichoice African Journalism Awards. He is an avid user of social media, especially Twitter (@toluogunlesi)

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