The All Progressives Congress, prominent lawyers and some members of the National Assembly, have warned against an alleged plot to sack the Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission, Prof. Attahiru Jega.
The opposition party, prominent Nigerians, including a human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), a former Chairman of the Ikeja branch of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr. Onyekachi Ubani, and other lawmakers in separate interviews with The PUNCH, said Jega’s removal would erode the credibility of the general elections.
They said that President Goodluck Jonathan could not unilaterally sack Jega.
In its reaction, the APC said the credibility of the 2015 general elections would be called to question should the alleged plot to remove Jega succeed.
The National Publicity Secretary of the party, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said this in a telephone interview with The PUNCH, in Abuja, on Tuesday.
According to him, public perception about the conduct of the INEC boss rates him high.
Mohammed said, “From the perception view point, removing Prof. Attahiru Jega at this time will adversely affect the credibility of the election.
“If he is removed, it may be interpreted to mean that he was removed by the government because he insisted on doing the right thing.
“If you consider the fact that even at the press conference of last Saturday, Jega told the world that the commission is ready for the elections but security concerns have forced his hand. If anybody now removes him, it will be interpreted to mean desperation to rig the elections at all cost.”
This is coming on the heels of the decision of 12 out of the 26 registered political parties to oppose the planned removal of the INEC boss.
Falana dismissed the alleged plot, arguing that the appointment of the INEC chairman being a constitutional one, the occupant of the office could not be removed by the President without the support of two-third majority of the Senate as stipulated in the Constitution.
The senior advocate, who hinged his argument on provisions of section 157(1) and (2), also contended that the INEC chairman could also not be asked to proceed on a terminal leave as such was not provided for in the constitution.
Falana said, “INEC is created by the virtue of provisions of Section 153 of the Constitution. The removal of INEC chairman is guided by provisions of section 157(1) and (2).
“INEC is an independent body. It does not take directive from the President. The National Security Adviser cannot remove the INEC chairman.
“The President cannot interfere with the appointment of the INEC Chairman. The INEC Chairman cannot be asked to proceed on a terminal leave because he is not a civil servant and such is not provided for in the Constitution. He cannot be removed by the president without the two-third majority support of the Senate.”
Also, some APC members in the House of Representatives cautioned the Presidency over the reported plot to remove Jega before the March 28 poll.
The APC lawmakers warned that besides Jega’s removal raising credibility questions for the result of the poll, the power to “initiate” his removal resided with the Senate.
But, PDP lawmakers quickly dismissed the alleged plot, describing it as “one of the propaganda tactics” of the APC to paint the Presidency and the PDP in bad light.
The House Minority Leader, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, advised against removing Jega, as it would create “more constitutional problems” for the government.
He explained that asking Jega to proceed on terminal leave, as being speculated, would further give credence to fears that the government did not want to conduct the elections.
However, the Deputy House Majority Leader, Mr. Leo Ogor, accused the APC and its supporters of heating up the polity with “their propaganda, which is to continue to send the wrong messages to the entire world.”
On his part, Chairman, House Committee on Justice, Mr. Ahmad Ali, told The PUNCH “all signs point to the likelihood that the government wants a compromise election.”
Ali noted that this could only explain the alleged “desire” of the government to remove Jega a few weeks to the elections.
When contacted for his comments, Chairman, House Committee on Electoral Matters, Mr. Jerry Manwe, doused the issue, saying that to his knowledge, Jega’s tenure would expire on June 30.
The Vice – Chairman of the Senate Committee on Solid Minerals, Senator Boluwaji Kunlere, has cautioned President Jonathan against approving the terminal leave of Jega in order to prevent him from superintending over the forthcoming polls.
He said such action would automatically spur simultaneous violent reactions in some parts of the northern Nigeria, as the people there would see it as a plan to deny them the opportunity of producing the President.
The Chairman, Senate Committee on Rules and Business, Senator Ita Enang, on Tuesday advised the media against causing panic and tension by publishing speculations not based on facts.
Enang in an interview with one of our correspondents, noted that since the INEC boss had confirmed at a news conference that his tenure would end in July and that he