The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, vests on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) the sole responsibility to conduct all national and state elections in the country. The implication of this is that the commission is pivotal to the success or failure of the 2015 general elections, which many believe will define Nigeria.
However, recent signals from the electoral body call for worry. Early this week, the commission issued a statement wherein it alerted the public to plots afoot to discredit both its chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega, and the entire commission. This plot, the commission further said in unambiguous terms, is aimed at deflating its integrity, thereby casting doubts on its credibility to conduct the 2015 general elections.
Before the INEC alert, reports in the media quoting security agencies had it that the INEC chairman was being investigated. The reports listed Jega's alleged leasing of his personal property to the commission for office and residential purposes; an international development partner, the United Nations Development Project (UNDP), paying the salaries of five of Jega's personal aides; the retention and hiring of a foreign national (Kenyan) to head the commission's ICT unit on a consultancy basis, among other allegations.
The impression being created in some quarters is that the INEC chairman is being investigated because he refused to take instructions from some senior members of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) not to register both the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM)as political parties. If this is true, then, it is unfortunate. The constitution guarantees freedom of association to every citizen, and every group reserves the right to seek registration as a political party from the commission, if it meets the criteria. For no reason should any person be shut out of the political horizon by the reason of the fact that some powers that be feel otherwise.
Under the 1999 Constitution, as amended, the president has the power to appoint and remove the heads of the electoral umpire. It needs to be pointed out, however, that the presidency need not create the impression, overtly or otherwise, that it wants to dictate to the leadership of the electoral body. This will send a wrong signal to both the local and international community and put a question mark on the outcome of the 2015 elections.
Every public officeholder, including the INEC chairman, should always be held accountable. But the electoral umpire should never be arm-twisted to do the bidding of those in power. This portends dire consequences for our fragile democracy.