The Federal Government might have shortlisted four national commissioners to take over from Prof. Attahiru Jega as the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission.
SUNDAY PUNCH reliably learnt that Jega might be asked to hand over to one of the commissioners in INEC and also proceed on a three-month terminal leave.
During a presidential media chat on February 11, President Goodluck Jonathan had reassured Nigerians that he had no plan to remove the INEC chairman from office. The President’s reassurance came at a time when speculation was rife that government had perfected plans to remove Jega. But some stakeholders who spoke after the interview had dismissed the President’s reassurances as needless, adding that the laws of the land do not confer on the president powers to remove the INEC chairman.
Speaking at a press conference on Friday, the Supervising Minister of Information, Mr. Edem Duke, had also said the President had no plan to sack Jega.
“On the issue of the INEC chairman, I align myself with what the President said that he has no plan to sack the INEC chairman.
“That is not to say that if it is time for the INEC chairman to naturally exit his office, then the natural course of things will not take place.
“It is like saying a civil servant has done 35 years or achieved the age of 60; we now begin to say that he must not retire or he must retire,” Duke had said.
However, the minster drew parallels between Jega’s conditions of service and those of civil servants, reigniting speculation that the Presidency might go ahead with the plan to remove Jega.
Earlier, there had been reports that Prof. Femi Mimiko, brother of the Governor of Ondo State, Olusegun Mimiko, had been pencilled in for the position but investigations by our correspondents showed that the former Vice Chancellor of Adekunle Ajasin University, Ondo State was no longer in contention.
Sources said the national commissioners that might take over from Jega could come from a list made up of Dr. Mohammed Wali from Sokoto State, Mrs. Amina Zakari from Jigawa State, Colonel Mohammed Kurmi Hammanga (rtd.) from Adamawa State and Dr. Ishmael Igbani from Rivers State.
It was learnt that the person that would take over would act as chairman till June 30 when the tenure of Jega would expire.
The Federal Government, it was learnt, had decided against appointing an ‘outsider’ because preparations for the elections had reached an advanced stage.
Investigations further showed that the FG had yet to decide on whether to appoint the acting chairman from the North-West, where Jega hails from or to take the post to another zone.
It was learnt that Wali and Zakari were shortlisted because they hailed from the North-West.
Igbani and Hammanga were included on the list because of the argument among some top government officials that the INEC chairmanship should not be subjected to the principle of zoning.
A top Federal Government official, who confided in SUNDAY PUNCH on Saturday, said, “None of the commissioners have been informed because the government has not decided whether to retain the post in the North-West or take it to another zone.
“The terminal leave letter that the All Progressives Congress senators were talking about has not been written, but I cannot deny the fact that government wants Jega to proceed on terminal leave.
“Anytime the letter is written and Jega gets it, it will contain the name of the person he will hand over to.”
It was learnt that the government officials, who advocated that one of the INEC commissioners should be appointed, argued that with less than three weeks to the elections, getting Jega’s replacement from outside of the commission could be complicated.
A top government official, who is privy to the discussions in government circles in relating to Jega’s fate, said, “Time is of the essence. The truth is, if you bring someone from outside, he or she will need time to understand the place and know what is happening. It will be difficult for such a person to fully understand what is on the ground.
“However, if we get someone who is already within the system, it will be easier for the person to identify areas where errors were made and correct them within the time left.
“There are also those who are making a case for a neutral person. This set of people argue that after all, Jega himself was brought in from outside and he did a good job of the 2011 elections.”
Several calls and a text message to the Special Assistant (Media and Communications) to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Sam Nwaobasi, were not replied. Reports have said Jega’s terminal leave letter was written by the SGF.
Also, attempts to reach the Special Adviser to the President on Political Matters Prof. Rufai Alkali and the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs, Dr. Doyin Okupe were unsuccessful. Calls to their mobile phone indicated that it was unreachable. A response to text messages sent to them were still being awaited as of the time of filing this report.
Similarly, the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, could not be reached as his telephone lines were not connecting.
Explain why you don’t want Jega sacked, PDP tells APC
Meanwhile, the Peoples Democratic Party has challenged the APC to explain its link with the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission.
The PDP National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Olisa Metuh, in a statement in Abuja on Saturday, said it was more than curious that the APC had allegedly continued to fabricate stories and show undue interest in Jega.
He said, “Undoubtedly, the frenzy, hysteria and spate with which the APC has been inventing stories regarding Prof. Jega’s stay in office even when nothing suggests that such was on the table, raise a lot of issues.
“We ask, is there any underlining issue or arrangement between the APC and Prof. Jega which the opposition is hell-bent on protecting and informing its anxiety and apprehension towards his stay in office?
“While it is noted that the APC is a party of one week, one lie, we in the PDP look beneath the surface to the deeper issues propelling the lies.
“We therefore challenge the APC to come clean and tell Nigerians the real reason behind their false alarms and uncontrolled nervousness regarding Prof. Jega ahead of the 2015 general elections.
“Finally, we wish to remind the leadership of INEC that Nigerians are monitoring its activities and series of unfolding political events ahead of the elections, and will not accept anything less than the conduct of credible, free and fair general elections come March 28 and April 11, 2015.”
Reacting to these, the APC said President Goodluck Jonathan and the PDP are not interested in the 2015 elections.
National Publicity Secretary of the party, Mr. Lai Mohammed, said this in response to an e-mail sent to him by SUNDAY PUNCH, on Saturday.
Mohammed, who is in London on an official assignment said, “The plain truth is President Jonathan and the PDP don’t want elections at all.
“If Jega is removed, his successor will simply claim that as a new helmsman, he should be given more time to prepare for the elections. Therefore we don’t want Jega removed because we don’t want elections postponed again. There is no other ulterior motive.
“Is it not strange that President Goodluck Jonathan and the PDP who appointed Prof. Jega and praised his handling of all elections since he came on board as transparent is now suddenly afraid of him and want him out by all means.”
Alleged terminal leave, illegal —Falana, Ubani
In their separate reactions, rights lawyers, including Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), insisted that President Goodluck Jonathan lacked the power to either sack Jega, or send him on a terminal leave. A former chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr. Monday Ubani, and Mr. Malachy Ugwummadu, also spoke to SUNDAY PUNCH in separate interviews.
They cited provisions of Section 158 of the constitution as providing that the INEC Chairman could only be sacked with the approval of two-third majority of the members of the Senate.
Falana also explained that Section 155 of the constitution conferred independence on the INEC chairman with immunity from any directive or influence from any person or authority.
The senior advocate said, “At his last presidential chat, the president gave the erroneous impression that he could hire and fire the chairman of INEC. With profound respect, that is not correct.
“By virtue of Section 155 of the constitution, the INEC chairman has a renewable five-year tenure. The appointment and removal has to be by the resolution of no less than a two-third majority of the Senate.
“Before the resolution is passed, the President will need to address the Senate and justify the reasons on the need to remove the INEC chairman on account of his inability to discharge his duties.
“On the issue of sending Jega on terminal leave, the President has no power to do that because once appointed, the INEC chairman is not subject to the control or directive of any power or authority by virtue of Section 158 of the constitution.”
On his part, Ugwummadu, said beyond the constitutional provisions conferring immunity against undue influence on the INEC chairman, Nigerians were paying close attention to any plot to remove the INEC boss.
He said, “The idea of sacking Prof. Attahiru Jega has been making the rounds and should be watched carefully just as we have remained circumspect regarding the further shift of the elections.”
Ubani threatened to personally lead a “nationwide crusade” against the President should there be any attempt by his administration to remove Jega, having earlier publicly promised that he (President Jonathan) had no such intention.
In the same vein, the President, Nigeria Voters Assembly, Mashood Erubami, the Nigeria Voters Assembly condemned the alleged move to ask Jega to go on terminal leave.
The group in a release signed by its President, Mr. Mashood Erubami, strongly warned that the removal of Jega would show that the Federal Government had a hidden agenda.