THIS REPUBLIC BY SHAKA MOMODU
The nomination of Ms Lauretta Onochie, a diehard member or supporter of the All Progressives Congress (APC), an all-purpose attack dog for the government and aide to President Muhammadu Buhari on Social Media and many more APC fundamentalists/partisan individuals to fill up sensitive and strategic positions in the Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC), not only underscores the total contempt the president has for democracy, it more than anything else shows a dangerous obsession to rig upcoming elections and perpetuate the calamitous reign of his evil party.
Clearly, the 2023 election is the ultimate target and the planning has long begun unknown to many Nigerians. Thankfully, Nigerians have risen in unison and rejected the partisan Onochie as a national commissioner nominee of INEC. Her nomination is still before the Senate, headed by President of the Senate, Ahmed Lawan, who has said he would not reject any request from the president to please critics. With utterances like that, we’ll not be surprised if he sneaks that confirmation through in the middle of the night when we are sleeping. So we must remain vigilant.
That singular nomination did not help the perception of this government by Nigerians. Rather, it reinforced its unscrupulous reputation. It’s a measure of the risk Buhari poses to the conduct of free and fair elections in Nigeria. The mere thought that the president considered her rabid partisanship an asset, that her exploits in attacking critics of his government made her worthy of such a sensitive position, is not only tragic but represents one of the greatest examples of insensitivity to democratic tenets and disrespect for the Nigerian people on a scale that defies explanation.
I have repeatedly stated that those who brought Buhari did this country a grave, immeasurable disservice and we must never forget them for what they have done to our country. The president by almost every action or inaction has proved his critics right. Nigeria is on the race to the bottom under a president with nepotism and ethnicity flowing through his veins, a man who is clearly hell-bent on destroying this country. As many have realised, President Buhari is clearly not interested in building or strengthening institutions, instead he is more than eager to destroy them.
Clearly, it appears the first goal of the emerging plot to kill lNEC by the APC is to seize control of it. The aim is to populate it with its members or sympathisers to ensure that whichever faction of its party that emerges as national executive of the party from the expected implosion of its forthcoming national convention would be recognised by those already implanted as commissioners in lNEC. Ultimately, the target is to secure 2023 electoral victory because the party is scared stiff of the public mood. There is no denying the fact that APC has failed Nigeria on a colossal scale. It has destroyed the scintilla of progress Nigeria had made and has become desperate to retain power at all cost. So INEC is now its surest bet of holding on to power as it did in 2019.
As part of the implementation of the Justice Mohammed Uwais’s Electoral Reform Report, the Goodluck Jonathan government had set the tone for appointing the chairman and commissioners of INEC by significantly picking a crop of respected and neutral leadership for the commission. Ironically, the Buhari ruling APC benefited from this initiative because of the civil society background of a handful of the commissioners that Jonathan appointed, starting with Prof. Attahiru Jega. Most past commissioners, to a large extent, exhibited a commitment to the principles of neutrality and demonstrated courage that led to APC’s victory in 2015.
If I may ask, would Buhari and those targeting the upright commissioners today be in power if these few experienced hands that stood on the part of rectitude had been compromised in 2015? Why should a national electoral management body be reconstituted in the interest and image of a ruling party that could not resolve any known crisis within its fold since 2015 but now wants to use a convention to settle all scores that they need their stooges in INEC to rubber stamp? The desire to purge INEC of its experienced and honest hands is merely aimed at achieving the obnoxious intentions for 2023. These few good hands, from the North and South, some of whom had championed electoral reforms before being appointed to INEC and have remained consistent, whose presence has given some credibility to the commission, are now targets of attacks by the APC apparatchik in their desperation to rid the system of them.
You see, by mid-2022, about six months to the 2023 general election, the tenure of 80% of Resident Electoral Commissioners (REC) who were appointed by Buhari in 2017, would come to an end. This is because of their belated appointments, just like the delay in appointment of ministers by the president in 2015. The current efforts by the APC-led government to disregard universally recognised principles of professionalism and political neutrality expected of those who preside at various positions in lNEC and plant its members or sympathisers will spell doom for the 2023 elections. That appointments to INEC are now being determined by political groups within the ruling party in each of the geopolitical zones of the country, show how Nigeria’s democracy under Buhari has been undermined.
Nigerians should be aware of the troubling consequences of partisan recruitment of either national commissioners or RECs. Whatever little gains recorded under Jonathan are gradually being reversed as public confidence in lNEC ahead of the 2023 election is fast eroding with dire consequences for the country already reeling from a near-total breakdown of law and order. It’s even more worrisome that about 80% of the RECs will be leaving in August 2022 when the current crop of commissioners in INEC is expected to bow out.
Given the above scenario, and if we are a people with a scintilla of hope of building institutions, particularly institutions like lNEC, to serve the interest of the nation, the appointing authority ought to ensure that a healthy mix of experienced hands are moved up as national commissioners to oversee the RECs expected to be recruited in 2022.The importance of this cannot be overemphasized, given that states are under the supervision of national commissioners and the new RECs will not have sufficient time to acquaint themselves with the task of pre-election and election-day activities that could overwhelm them; especially in a year that will be dominated by transition elections at the federal and state levels.
I sometimes wonder why experienced state resident commissioners who have served with credible records and without blemish can’t rise or be elevated to national commissioners and why national commissioners can’t be appointed to head the electoral body. Instead we look for fresh hands who are pliable to political pressure and deliberately recruited in the pursuit of partisan goals. Every appointment is now seen as an opportunity to push partisan ends and not an opportunity to build institutions that will serve the greater good.
Who are those to be appointed at this time as commissioners to prepare Nigeria for the 2023 election? We cannot take things for granted. We must be vigilant and keep a watchful eye on every move by this discredited government that values cows more than human life, otherwise we may not realise it until it’s too late. Again, Joseph Stalin once said, “The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything.” So we must keep an eagle eye on INEC and the integrity of those appointed to the commission.