BY SONI DANIEL/Vanguard
ABUJA — Despite restriction on open campaign for the 2015 polls by President Goodluck Jonathan, it was revealed yesterday how forces close to the administration plan to reduce the powers of the Chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Prof. Attahiru Jega.
According to Vanguard’s findings, powerful elements within the government had perfected a plan to replace the current secretary of the commission, Alhaji Abdullahi Kaugama, with a trusted ally and confer him with enormous operational powers that would make him more powerful than Jega prior to the 2015 elections.
The hawks, said to be headed by top officials of the administration, are said to be relying on the tradition of fielding INEC secretary’s position from outside the commission by previous administrations.
Incidentally, Kaugama, who is the first secretary of the commission to be appointed from within the staff pool, was named in 2008 and he is due for retirement next February.
It was gathered that some influential members of the ruling party had become increasingly uncomfortable with what a source described as ‘Jega’s overbearing powers’ , which he could use to scuttle the political ambitions of their supporters in 2015, if unchecked.
The source hinted that the protagonists of the plot, who had fallen out of favour with Jega had suggested to the Presidency that he (Jega) could not be relied upon to give them victory in 2015 and should, therefore, be stripped of some of his powers. They asserted that some of these should be given to a trusted person that could be manipulated.
“It is as a result of a high-wired political agenda that you hear the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Adoke, saying openly that Jega is not the CEO of INEC and that the man should not parade himself as one.
“What they want to do is to take the operational powers from Jega and confer same on one of their own, likely to be picked from outside the INEC anytime from now so as to protect their narrow political interests.
“These people are just looking for ways and means to protect their interests at all costs by keeping someone as their ‘operational man’ at INEC to do their biddings.
“But if they say that Jega is not the CEO of the commission, let them go to the law establishing the commission and find out if the man is not a full time chairman and the chief electoral officer,” the source said.
Attempts to confirm the receipt of the AGF’s letter by INEC were unsuccessful, as the Chief Press Secretary to the INEC Chairman, Mr. Kayode Idowu, did not pick his calls and did not respond to text messages sent to him.
Jega overbearing power
One of the sms sent to the CPS at 2.05pm read, “Please confirm if the letter published in the media today about Jega not being the CEO of INEC, purportedly written by Adoke had been received.” There was no reply to the sms at the time of going to the press.
Jega, a former Bayero University Kano Vice Chancellor, was tapped by President Goodluck Jonathan on June 8, 2010, to head the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, as part of his effort to reposition the electoral body and ensure credible elections in the country.
But Jega might have played into the hands of his adversaries by sending an innocuous letter he wrote on June 19, 2012, to the AGF to clarify who was the accounting officer of the body, as part of his efforts to ensure effective service delivery.
But in replying to the letter, Adoke in a response dated July 26, 2012, bluntly declared that Jega was not the accounting officer of the body and quoted several sections of the law to buttress his position, leaving the chairman guessing on what next to do.
Part of Adoke’s reply read, “I have examined relevant provisions of the law particularly, the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, the Electoral Act, the Public Procurement Act and extant Financial Regulations in order to determine whether the law has expressly provided for the position of either the ‘Chief Executive Officer’ or ‘Accounting Officer’ of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.
“Regrettably, it would appear that no such terminology was used in the statutes examined. Item 14(1)(a) of Part 1 to the Third Schedule of the Constitution only provides that the Chairman shall be the Chief Electoral Commissioner. The provision does not state that the ‘Chief Electoral Commissioner’ is the ‘Chief Executive Officer.
“I have similarly examined the functions and powers of the Commission as provided for in item 15 of Part 1 of the Third Schedule to the Constitution and sections 2, 3, 4 and 5 of the Electoral Act and wish to observe that these are functions and powers that can only be exercised by the Commission and not by the Chairman or any individual Commissioner except as may be delegated by the Commission under Section 152 of the Electoral Act or item 15(h) of Part 1 to the Third Schedule to the Constitution.”
“Consequently, in the absence of any clear donation of the powers of a Chief Executive Officer or Accounting Officer by the relevant statutes, and in the absence of any evidence to indicate that these functions and powers of the Commission have been delegated to the Chairman, I am unable to come to the reasoned conclusion that the law contemplates that the Chairman of INEC shall be the Chief Executive Officer or Accounting Officer of the Commission,” Adoke stated.
But the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Mohammed Adoke, yesterday distanced himself from the development in INEC, saying that he had no hand in whatever was going on there.
Adoke, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, who spoke through his media aide, Mr. Ambrose Momoh, said INEC was an independent body constitutionally-empowered to carry out its duties without reference to his office and that he had nothing to do with the agency.
He declared: “I do not have any personal interest in what INEC is doing and that is the truth.”
The situation in the commission will become clearer in the next couple of weeks as the secretary prepares to bow out. Incidentally, Kaugama is the first INEC secretary to be picked from within the commission. All others were nominated from outside by the government, which now appears poised to do same as soon as the current occupier of the office leaves.