SaharaReporters has learned that hawkish members of President Goodluck Jonathan’s inner circle have convinced him to move in an aggressive and decisive manner to remove Attahiru Jega as the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) this week.
Sources within INEC as well as the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) disclosed that, barring a last-minute change of heart, President Jonathan will go ahead this week to force Mr. Jega to embark on a terminal leave prior to the end of his year in the middle of 2015.
Our sources said the decision to remove Mr. Jega would open the door to appoint a new chairman, a national commisoner of INEC, Amina Bala Zakari, who would be open to jettisoning the use of permanent voters cards and other anti-rigging technologies. “Once Prof. Jega is removed, Mr. President will nominate a new chairman who will declare that INEC is not ready to use PVCs. And once PVCs are removed, it will become easier to carry out major rigging,” an INEC source said.
He added that the Presidency had been able to use its massive slush funds, sourced from deals in the oil and energy sectors, to compromise a majority of INEC officials in the states. Over the last four years, Petroleum Minister Diezani Alison-Madueke has been stashing away funds that President Jonathan is now using to bribe electoral officials, traditional rulers, and even some members of the civil society groups. One PDP insider told SaharaReporters that Mr. Jonathan had distributed more than $200 million to different groups since INEC postponed elections two weeks ago.
Several sources said the removal of Mr. Jega is a major part of a strategy developed by President Jonathan’s team to ensure that they win the presidential and other elections by hook or crook. The presidential election is now scheduled for March 28 while governorship and legislative polls will hold on April 11.
Two weeks ago, facing a groundswell of opposition and in the face of rising unpopularity, the PDP and Mr. Jonathan used a series of maneuvers to compel INEC to postpone elections for six weeks. SaharaReporters had detailed plans by Mr. Jonathan and his team to postpone elections in order to slow the momentum of the All Progressives Congress and its presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari.
The Presidency knew that the APC and its presidential candidate were short on campaign funds, said our sources. In forcing the postponement, Mr. Jonathan and his inner circle achieved a temporary crippling of the main opposition party’s ability to continue to run political campaigns and to sustain its electoral lead over the ruling party.
An APC top official told SaharaReporters that the party was truly short of funds. “The president and his people have been putting aside public funds for a long time. They are now sharing the money around the country, but Nigerians are not fools. When the elections come, people will remember that all that money was stolen from them,” he said.
Prior to the postponement, some PDP officials had confided in SaharaReporters that their party and Mr. Jonathan were on the ropes and faced certain defeat. But following the postponement, some of the same officials now wax confidence, asserting that Mr. Jonathan and their party would comfortably win the elections.
A PDP official told SaharaReporters that Mr. Jega’s removal was a done deal. According to him, the hawks around Mr. Jonathan, including Ms. Alison-Madueke, Governor Olusegun Mimiko, Vice President Namadi Sambo, and presidential aides Doyin Okupe and Femi Fani-Kayode, believe that the PDP and Mr. Jonathan can weather the storm of any fallout from the firing of the INEC chairman. “They believe the APC, the world press, the US and EU will make noise, but then everybody will eventually calm down,” said the source. He added that the same situation played out when President Jonathan removed Sanusi Lamido Sanusi as the Governor of the Central Bank.
Our sources said Mr. Jega’s refusal to be compromised in the conduct of this year’s elections had spelt his doom. “Many RECs (resident electoral commissioners) are in the party’s [PDP’s] pocket, but Professor Jega has refused even to pick up the phone calls of those representing the president. That’s why the decision has been reached to push him out of the way,” one INEC source said. He added that Mr. Jega knew that the eyes of the world were on him, and had decided to run elections that are acknowledged as credible.
Our sources added that, before and after Mr. Jega’s removal, the PDP plans to launch a major campaign to depict him as incompetent, corrupt, and a servant of the APC. “His successor will come out and say that INEC’s preparations for the elections are in a state of mess and that further delay is needed to make proper preparations,” he added.