Skip to main content

The Rot At The Independent National Electoral Commission: Is There An Attorney-General of the Federation Or Senate?

March 2, 2016

There appears to be an erroneous assumption that when the Presidency and its full complement of staff have been elected and appointed, the structures of governance have been formed, and other structures become dispensable or redundant. Even more worrisome is the scant regard paid to the statutory guidelines enabling the governance structures of some federal Commissions, Boards, Agencies and other relevant institutions. An important example is the Independent National Electoral Commission, wherein Paragraph 14 of the 1999 constitution (as amended)  clearly states that the Board of INEC shall comprise of 13 members without floating any provisos requiring piecemeal, staggered or discretional constitution of the board.

But unfortunately,  what has happened so far is a total disregard for the constitution. Since the inception of the current administration, Nigerians have witnessed serial constitutional violations. The first was the illegitimate appointment of an interim-Chairperson of INEC by autocratic proclamation, which made no reference to the Council of State and Senate approval under Section 154 of the Constitution. Yet, the current Senate has failed in its oversight function. This was followed by a piecemeal appointment of the Board of INEC without an amendment of the constitution, yet the National Assembly appears intimidated to ask the Executive to follow the path of constitutionality. How could be explained that over 21 states of Nigeria do not have Resident Commissioners and the fact that sensitive INEC offices now in the hands of civil servants?

The proper constitution of governance structures in a democratic society is not at the President's  discretion. While those who are appointed may be by his discretion, except where specific directional orders are made by statute,  the proper constitution of such institutions centres around the core notion of governance. Most development authorities agree with the description that governance defines the practices, traditions and decision-making processes which characterize a society, how the people identify and solve problems, meet needs, and take advantage of opportunities.

For instance, elections meet the need of democratic society to select leaders through the aggregate assent of constituents in the form of votes. To meet this need, a body is constituted, and it is fairly representative of the zones of Nigeria. These representatives are guided by the Constitution, the Electoral Act and other statutes to make guidelines for conducting elections. How the decisions they make to effect these needs are reached is relevant to how the public perceives the legality of the representatives' actions and, therefore, the credibility, legitimacy and acceptability of the process. It is, therefore, a developmental defect in governance, and consequently a defect in the practices, traditions, decision-making process in election management, as required in a democratic society, when the executive arm of government, without reference to enabling constitutional provisions, to appoint the board of INEC, a governance structure provided for by law in a piecemeal fashion by appointing seven instead of the 13 members required by law to make decisions which are only considered legal and constitutional when a minimum of five of the 13 meet to take such decisions on election matters. It is only then that it is properly constituted.

The constitutional requirement for a properly constituted INEC is clearly stated as 13 national commissioners who, in making decisions for elections and election matters according to section 159 of the Constitution, must have a quorum of not less than five determined only from a full Board of 13. At the moment INEC has inconclusive and inchoate Board of only seven members and if they sit as five members or seven, what quorum does this represent? Is it a five-member quorum of seven or a five-member quorum of a hypothetical 13? The minimum quorum envisaged by the constitution is that calculated or determined by a 13-member Board and not a mere bringing of five people together to assume a legal board. The current regression in INEC is a sad commentary, given that constituting such a board in line with the provisions of the constitution is for national development. This has been worsened by public perception of the character of some persons already appointed, a situation contrary to paragraph 14(2) of the Constitution that such persons must be of "......unquestionable integrity".    Yet in the recent piecemeal appointments to INEC, Nigerians were shocked as to how a government like that of General Buhari, recognised globally for honesty and transparency, can represent itself in terms of election integrity with Mr. Solomon Soyebi, whose dodgy past  has been  exposed  that even the PDP, which enjoyed his support, could not get him reappointed for the Southwest under former President Jonathan. He has now been re-appointed to replace an unblemished professors, who served with integrity in that INEC, before recently dying in active service. Another South-South man has been appointed despite his squalid record of financial probity for which he was recommended for prosecution by the EFCC. He was found to have placed public fund in the private account for personal gains.

 Does this signal the possible return of lwu men to INEC and a reversal of what Prof. Jega and other civil society colleague achieved in INEC for the country? Nigerians were astounded to see on Channels TV a few days before the Bayelsa election such a man as the new face of INEC, speaking without a grasp of the issues on various questions put to him. Many listeners were eager to call in to remind him of his public encounter with former NDDC boss, Chief Onyeama Ugochukwu, over the saga of cash for a previously rigged Guber election in Abia.  It is not only worrisome that President Buhari, almost eight months in office, has been unable to constitute correctly the Board of INEC that was previously made up of men of integrity that made his victory possible last year. The President's  appointments so far into INEC have not reflected concern for public sensibility. Rather, they indicate shoddy background checks of those individuals he appointed. Their wretched records are on the internet, including on Saharareporters. Nigerians have high regard for and expectation from President Buhari. 

Therefore, constraining the possible achievements of his government by limiting the governance space foreseen in the creation of national institutions for public decision making in different spheres  will not help him achieve the many things he hopes to within four years, Delays in setting up such national institutions  by appointing the full boards  will only widen the governance gap and limit democratic development under his regime.