Dear President Buhari,
Your ascension to the Office of the President of Africa’s largest economy was by constitutional design, making you a creation of our constitution; therefore you owe it a duty to protect its integrity and sanctity. Remember that while taking the Oath of Office you swore to preserve, protect and defend the constitution in the discharge of your duties as President. You, therefore, owe us a duty as our President to ensure all your actions are in conformity with our most sacred document – the Constitution. This is why I write this open letter as a Constitution enthusiast and election watcher to urge you to immediately constitute the full board of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Section 154 of the 1999 constitution as amended hereinafter to be referred to as the Constitution vests the power to appoint the INEC Chairman and members of the Commission on the President. Section 14 of the 3rd Schedule of the Constitution also empowers the President to appoint INEC’s Resident Electoral Commissioners. These are exclusive powers vested on the President to appoint persons of unquestionable integrity to the helm of affairs at the electoral commission. This is a power that must be exercised in the interest of the public and preservation of democratic ethos.
Since the tenure of former Chairman of INEC, Professor Attahiru Jega came to an end in June 2015 and you appointed Mrs. Amina Zakari as acting Chair of the Commission; a position she held for three months before the appointment of the chair and other commissioners in an apparent move to avert what many have referred to as a constitutional or electoral impasse ahead of the Kogi governorship election. This move was predicated on the inability of the former Commission led by Mrs. Zakari to form a quorum in accordance with the provisions of section 159(1) of the 2010 Electoral Act (as amended).
Nine months since the appointment of the current seven national commissioners, vacancies still exist as six remaining commissioners are yet to be appointed. In the same vein, there exist another 20 vacancies in 20 states where the tenures of their Resident Electoral Commissioners have expired. I would like to remind you, Mr. President, that the Constitution does not contemplate piecemeal or staggered appointments to the electoral commission, as Elections are a process, not an event. Elections are a cumbersome enterprise involving strategic and long-term planning within the spectrum of the electoral cycle. The task of providing effective electoral service delivery is predicated on early planning. It is important to underscore the fact that the end of one general election announces the beginning of another thus the preparations for the 2019 general elections commenced immediately after the 2015 general elections.
Your Excellency may wish to note that the elections that brought you to power are an outcome of early preparations and reforms undertaken by INEC and other stakeholders.
INEC cannot function effectively without the full complement of its members as the absence of six other national commissioners and the 20 Resident Electoral Commissioners as contemplated by the Constitution undermines its efficiency and productivity. This obviously has overburdened the current members of Commission with additional responsibilities; potentially impacting negatively on effective electoral service delivery. For instance, a supervisory officer as against substantive REC will manage the forthcoming rerun elections in Kogi state.
Mr. President, the delay in fully constituting the membership of the electoral commission has grave implications for the 2019 elections. First, it affects the planning of the commission for the 2019 elections. The management of elections involves the establishment and operationalization of integrated systems and infrastructure. This is reflected in the structure of the INEC with its nine departments. For the purposes of efficiency and professionalism, INEC constitutes fifteen standing committees spanning all components of election management and institution building. Each National Commissioner superintends over one or more committees. You will agree with me that having seven persons perform the job of thirteen persons is an arduous task capable of diminishing impact and productivity. It might interest you to know that some of the committees have not been fully constituted due to this unnecessary delay in appointing members of the Commission.
Mr. President, the failure to fully constitute the electoral commission nine months after the appointment of the Chairman and five other national commissioners casts doubt on your commitment to institution building and the rule of law. This singular action or inaction is perceived as a lack of respect for institutions and a deliberate ploy to undermine the electoral commission and by extension the 2019 general elections. Without the full complement of its membership, INEC is weakened and incapacitated to fully prepare for the 2019 elections. While it’s a given that a quorum (still questionable) is formed for decision-making purposes, the quality of execution and implementation is jeopardized due to limited supervision and manpower. This trend justifies the unending call by different stakeholders that the power to appoint the Chairman and members of the Commission be divested from the office of the President as recommended by the Justice Uwais Committee on Electoral Reform.
Mr. President, there’s no moral compulsion on my part to remind you of the importance of an independent electoral umpire for credible elections as you have publicly proclaimed on different occasions that you are a beneficiary of an independent electoral commission headed by former INEC Chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega. It will, therefore, be morally and ethically iniquitous to turn around and undermine the same institution that conducted the elections that brought you and your party to power.
Mr. President, please be reminded that you swore on oath to discharge your duties faithfully and in accordance with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and in the interest of the sovereignty, integrity, solidarity, well-being and prosperity of Nigeria. You also vowed to protect and defend the Constitution whilst not allowing your personal interest influence your official conduct or official decisions.
I urge you in the spirit of the rule of law and constitutionalism, to fully constitute the membership of the Independent National Electoral Commission, as we are approximately 940 days to the 2019 general elections.
Samson Itodo is an elections enthusiast and he works with the Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth & Advancement (YIAGA). He tweets @DSamsonItodo