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Withdraw some resident electoral commissioner nominees, CSOs tell Buhari

…Cites partisanship questionable integrity

A GROUP of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) have called on President Muhammadu Buhari to withdraw some of the nominees for the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) position in the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) currently awaiting confirmation by the National Assembly.

President Buhari had in July, written to the Senate requesting their screening and confirmation of a list of nominees to fill the positions, following the expiration of the tenure of RECs in 19 states of the federation.

Out of the 19 nominees, 14 were new appointments. 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).

 In a joint statement issued on Friday, the CSOs, however, stated that their investigation and analysis of issues showed that some of the nominees of the president do not meet the criteria of being non-partisan and having unquestionable integrity.

The CSOs signatory to the statement include: Yiaga Africa, International Press Center, 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.

The group explained that appointments of INEC officers have grave implications for the credibility, independence and capacity of the Commission to deliver credible and transparent elections.

 It added that this accounts for why the “Constitution prescribes the criteria and procedure for appointments into INEC to protect the Commission’s neutrality, objectivity and non-partisanship. 

 “Section 156(1) (a) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria clearly prohibits the appointment of any person who is a member of a political party as a member of INEC.

“To further ensure the neutrality of  the members of INEC, the Constitution clearly mandates in the Third Schedule, Part 1, Item F, paragraph 14 (1) that Commissioners shall be non-partisan and persons of unquestionable integrity.

“Our investigation and analysis prove the contrary. Some of the nominees of the President fail the constitutional test of non-partisanship and unquestionable integrity. Evidence abounds that some of the nominees are partisan, politically aligned, or previously indicted for corruption,” the statement reads.

According to the CSOs some of the nominees that do not qualify to be appointed include Prof. Muhammad Lawal Bashir from Sokoto, Mrs. Sylvia Uchenna Agu, from Enugu State, Mrs. Pauline Onyeka Ugochi from Imo State and Mrs. Queen Elizabeth Agwu from Ebonyi.

Giving reasons they think the nominees are not qualified for the appointment, the CSOs said, “Prof. Muhammad Lawal Bashir from Sokoto was a Governorship aspirant under the All Progressive Congress (APC) 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, Southeast. 

 “The nominee for Imo State for Imo State, Mrs. Pauline Onyeka Ugochi, a former Head of ICT at INEC in Imo state, gained notoriety for alleged corruption and 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,” the statement indicated.

The CSOs argued that if the nominees are appointed as REC, their political leaning and past antecedents would affect the neutrality and impartiality of the INEC, which would in turn raise a feeling of mistrust by the citizens. They also claimed that it is doubtful that the nominees would remain neutral and objective if successfully screened and confirmed.

The CSOs also stated that the appointments did not reflect the principles of non-discrimination and inclusivity with regard to Persons with Disability (PWDs), noting that such action violates the provisions of the Discrimination Against Persons Living with Disabilities (PLWD) Act, 2018, and other legislations guiding the principles in that regard.

 “To this end, we, the undersigned, reject their appointment as RECs entirely and urge President Buhari to withdraw their nomination in the public interest and in furtherance of his commitment to leave a legacy of a truly independent electoral institution that enjoys the trust and confidence of citizens and electoral stakeholders,” the group stated.

While calling on the senate to reject the nominees for falling “short of the threshold of non-partisanship and impeccable character,” the CSOs also called for thorough background checks on the credentials of prospective nominees.

“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,” the statement added.

The CSOs called for the expeditious conclusion of the RECs’ appointments, and charged President Buhari to adhere to the Federal High Court ruling that all appointments must comply with the 35 per cent affirmative action for women.

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