INEC Chairman Attahiru Jega
The sudden ado about the powers of the INEC Chairman Attahiru Jega has given rise to much speculation, writes Vincent Obia
The recent media report on the advice from the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Mohammed Adoke (SAN), to the Chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega, is hardly a pin prick that can just be ignored by the electoral umpire. It raises questions that impinge on the integrity of the country’s electoral process.
Jega had in a June 19 letter to Adoke sought clarification concerning certain aspects of his powers, particularly, as it relates to the accounting duties of the commission. He had stated: “Since our assumption of office as a new commission in July 2010, having regard to the fact that neither the constitution nor the Electoral Act defined the role of the secretary to the commission as the accounting officer, I have considered myself as such, relying upon provisions of the Procurement Act, particularly Sections 18, 19 and 20 of the Act and regulations issued by the Bureau of Public Procurement to the effect that in an MDA/corporate procuring entity, the chief executive is the accounting officer.
“I have also done this, given the weighty personal liability which the Procurement Act places on the shoulders of the accounting officer. The tradition in INEC had been that a Permanent Secretary was posted as the secretary, until 2008, when INEC, having regard to the provisions of the constitution and Electoral Act appointed its secretary. The functions/roles of the secretary as specified did not say or imply that he is the accounting officer.”
Jega’s search for clarification followed a faceoff with some of INEC’s national commissioners over alleged inordinate powers wielded by him. The INEC chairman had in May sought an amendment of the Electoral Act to allow for electronic voting and give him broad powers to appoint the Resident Electoral Commissioners. He also asked for powers to sanction political parties that flouted the rules of internal democracy. Like in the case of the commission’s accounting officer, he had stated in a proposal to the National Assembly during a retreat for members of the House of Representatives ad-hoc committee on the review of the 1999 Constitution in Port Harcourt, “There is no clear sense of the relationship between RECs and the commission at the national level…
“We will like to be given a role in order to streamline authority structure within the commission.”
The rumblings of displeasure within the commission became apparent when in his letter to Adoke Jega stated that the clarification on the question of INEC’s accounting officer had become necessary “for the avoidance of doubt and in order to put lingering matters to rest.”
Adoke replied that none of the relevant laws guiding INEC’s operation, including the 1999 Constitution, Electoral Act, Public Procurement Act, and extant financial regulations, specifically provided for the position of either the “Chief Executive Officer” or “Accounting Officer” of INEC. In the absence of such express delineation the INEC chairman cannot function either as the commission’s chief executive officer or accounting officer, Adoke said. He stressed that the secretary to the commission had powers that were analogous to those of directors-general of parastatals, who are “statutorily the accounting officers and chief executive officers of their various commissions.”
Indeed, Jega, appointed to the post of INEC chairman in 2010, had never had occasion to disagree so openly with either his subordinates or the government on the exercise of his powers. The presumable effort of the relevant players in the sensitive commission to keep a lid on their differences and make them the internal affairs of INEC is certainly understandable. What is not easy to fathom is the motive behind the current escalation of the internal disagreement.
The INEC chairman is certainly unhappy with the attorney-general’s position. Jega has refrained from discussing the matter in public. His media aide, Kayode Idowu, said it was a matter for legal experts to resolve. INEC has also remained evasive on the question of seeking further clarification from the court of law. But various conspiracy theories have now emerged to try to explain the current revisionism over the INEC chairman’s powers. Some believe the game-plan is to reduce the powers of Jega, who might have been perceived to have become “non-conformist” and plant a secretary, who would replace the current secretary, Alhaji Abdullahi Kaugama, and wield enormous powers that would be deployed in fixing elections in 2015. There are also speculations that the ground is being prepared for Jega’s replacement ahead of the 2015 poll.
Of course, Jega had severally been accused of favouritism in the award of INEC jobs, especially with regard to the application of the commission’s over N80 billion budget for last year’s general elections. He had also been accused of running a “one-man show”. But these are largely the internal affairs of the commission. More importantly, they are things the federal government had side-stepped. The question now is, what has suddenly changed to warrant the current ado over Jega’s powers? Could there have been things the government had decided to take that it is no longer prepared to accept?
At stake here, unfortunately, is the reputation of the Nigerian electoral umpire and the integrity of the electoral process. There is also the question of the reputation of Jega, who was a member of the Justice Muhammadu Uwais electoral reform panel that ushered in the current INEC. Hardly has any INEC chairman since the Fourth Republic left office without been badly bruised by charges of corruption and fixing up things for the ruling party. With the seeming conspiracy of silence by INEC and the justice minister on the question of judicial interpretation of the alleged acts of Jega that tend to indicate that he has overreached himself, the doubts about the powers of the INEC chairman might be carried into the next general elections. Besides, the present disparity between the federal government and INEC on the definition of the powers of the commission’s chairman could just mean that the country might as well forget even the lofty reforms, which Jega had been trying to make part of the government’s proposals in the ongoing constitution amendment process.
To set the record straight, many believe, Jega’s INEC and the justice minister should seek judicial interpretation of the role of the commission’s chairman, especially with regard to the alleged wide powers of Jega. Even if disagreement is part of the democratic process, the current discrepancy in the positions of Jega and Adoke on the former’s powers remains curious. The nation ought to be assured that both parties are not engaging in the present divergence at its expense.