Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Buhari should fill vacant INEC RECs seats now!

Nigerian Constitution vested enormous powers in the office of the president but it will seem the incumbent, President Muhammadu Buhari, is apprehensive or too circumspect to use the powers bestowed on him by the grundnorm. Right from the inception of this administration on May 29, 2015, it is crystal clear that Buhari is always at pain making necessary appointments as required by law. Maybe the president would have preferred to run this country as a sole administrator. It took the president several weeks before he could appoint his personal aides. It was six months before he could appoint his ministers. Ambassadors are being appointed two years into his administration. Several board positions, heads of government departments and agencies are vacant for more than a year and the president has not deemed it fit to appoint substantive chief executives for those institutions.
Is the president trying to save money he would have used to pay salaries of these people? How much will that amount to compared to what the country loses for lack of substantive leaders in these government institutions? Perhaps he couldn’t find credible, capable and competent Nigerians who would hold those positions. That will be incredible considering the humongous number of world-class professionals that the country has.  I must hasten to say that some state governors are also acting like the president by refusing to appoint their commissioners and heads of parastatals on time.
Did you know that as I write this, the term of office of 34 out of 37 Resident Electoral Commissioners of the Independent National Electoral Commission has expired; some for more than a year now?  Yet, Mr. President has not deemed it fit to appoint successors to these vacant seats. This is not the first time this lethargic action is taking place under the present administration. As at the time Prof. Mahmood Yakubu and five national commissioners were appointed by the president in consultation with the Council of State on October 21, 2015, the chairman’s position as well as those of 11 other national commissioners was vacant. While Hajia Amina Bala Zakari was acting chairperson, only Ambassador Lawrence Nwuruku remained as national commissioner. Yet the constitution prescribed that four commissioners out of the 12 will form a quorum at any meeting of the Commission.
Civil society organisations, the media and even the Senate had to mount pressure on the president before that initial appointments were made into INEC. I recall that Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State, while addressing the press to inform the nation about the initial appointment into INEC stated that “The Council has agreed to stagger the confirmation of this appointment of Commissioners of INEC in view of the situation we found ourselves presently whereby the tenures of individual commissioners expired almost the same time. So, to avert future occurrence of such a situation the Council has agreed that the next six of the Commissioners should be submitted to the Council subsequently for its approval.” That did not happen until September 30, 2016 when names of six other national commissioners were forwarded to Senate for confirmation. As at that time, the seats of 20 Resident Electoral Commissioners were vacant. The president didn’t just care to make the appointment. Now the number of vacant REC positions had grown to 34, still President Buhari could not care less.
In case the president does not know, what he has done is a breach of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended in 2010. Section 153(f) of the grundnorm established the Commission. Section 156 enumerated the qualifications for members of the Commission. Section 14 of the Third Schedule gave detailed prescriptions of the age, qualities and procedures for appointing members of the board of the Commission. Subsection 3 of that section states that “There shall be for each state of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, a Resident Electoral Commissioner who shall –
(a)  Be appointed by the president subject to the confirmation of the Senate;
(b)  Be person of unquestionable integrity and shall not be a member of a political party; and
(c)  Not be less than 35 years of age”
The operative word in that section is SHALL. The Constitution did not say MAY. Thus, the power of the president to appoint REC for INEC is not discretionary but mandatory. It is therefore important for Acting President Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, in the absence of President Buhari to do the needful, just as he did recently by forwarding the name of Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen to Senate for confirmation as substantive CJN. He should likewise headhunt for men and women of impeccable character and requisite qualifications and forward same to the Senate for confirmation as INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner.

In making the appointment, he should take into cognisance the needed diversity. Nigeria has gender policy which says that 35 per cent of appointive and elective positions should go to women. We have missed the elective target, we should not miss the appointive one. There are competent and conscientious women of sterling character who merits being appointed into INEC. Same with youths. The minimum age for REC is 35 years and am sure we can find highly qualified men and women of that age that could be appointed into the electoral management body. 2019 General Election is barely two years away and preparations for the next election should actually start once the last one ends. These new RECs will need ample time to settle down into their new positions. Election is a process and not an event and a very sensitive one at that. INEC cannot be said to be fully independent until it is well resourced both financially and administratively. Non appointment of RECs is hampering the efficiency and effectiveness of the Commission. The time to address that anomaly is now!