Consanguineous relations are usually celebrated in Nigeria, because when you are related by blood to a person, there are family obligations and expectations that you look out for one another.
Last week, when the respected former lawmaker and former top civil servant, Alhaji Tanko Yakassai, revealed that he knew the “Acting-Chairperson” of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) “Mrs. Amina Zakari since childhood, and that her late father, the former Emir of Kazaure, was married to President Buhari’s elder sister.”
Alhaji Yakassai, in the interview conducted by Tribune of July 27, 2015 at page 22 added that President “Buhari lived with and spent a significant part of his early years in the home of Amina Zakari’s father”. He emphasised that “Amina Zakari’s father worked under me as a Permanent Secretary and was a close friend for many years.”
In effect, the ties of Mrs. Zakari to the President prior to this recent claim, was in fact much more familial than any of the parties had been willing to admit. It is a shock that reveals a streak of nepotism that elevates the courage and integrity of the former President Goodluck Jonathan, who had searched very widely and very carefully for a man of integrity to ensure that the impartiality of the electoral umpire was unblemished by suspicions of partisanship.
Since then, nobody has disputed the knowledge claims of the former lawmaker. It is disappointing that one area that the former President Jonathan had been extoled for, will become one of the early sources of disappointment by a President that has received so much goodwill from Nigerians to rise above such nepotism. Worst still is the loud silence of well-known leading civil right activists and lawyers on this breach of the constitution; except for the effable explanations of Professor Itse Sagay, the well-known academic and professor of law and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, who stated “that her acting as chairperson of INEC was valid and backed by relevant provisions of the constitution…” without citing any legal or constitutional backing for his argument. This is most unfortunate coming from one who should speak truth to authority.
The tragedy is that the same people who are by their silence or are openly encouraging the President now on this path, would be the ones who will turn round to pillory him, when they fail to get the anticipated favours they are expecting now from him. Those who want the President and his team to succeed must tell him the truth, when we do not expect appointment or contracts, but only wish for good governance based on the rule of Law.
Nepotism, tribalism and uncaring disposition towards the need for inclusivity has been at the pivot of most of the national disputes, which often threatens to tear this country to shreds on many occasions. From the first post-independence elections, most of the regional and national disputes have been underpinned by the reality and perception of social, cultural or ethnic exclusion. It is disappointing that a President, who was a major recurring role player in these ebbs and crest of our national history, can brook indifference to a main cause of our national recurrent malady.
In executing this indifference to the sensitivity of the national mood, the President needlessly reversed the decisions of a chairperson of INEC, whose unblemished integrity and impartiality ensured that he broke the jinx of political contest, between incumbent presidents and other political contestants. The President is probably acting like someone who having climbed up a tree with the help of a public ladder, has decided to break the ladder to prevent any other person from climbing the tree to enjoy its benefits.
In the haste to ensure an advantage for his relative, the President was willing to breach several laws, including the constitution that he swore less than 60 days ago, to defend and respect. First he caused the Head of the Civil Services to assume powers that he did not possess, by indicating in writing that he could prematurely terminate the tenure of an INEC National Commissioner outside the provision of Section 157 of the constitution, by claiming that the tenure of Mrs. Zakari had ended with that of Jega on June 30th , instead of the statutory date of July 21, 2015. Then in the same letter it was purported that the President had appointed Mrs. Zakari as an “Acting-Chairperson “ of INEC, a title that is unknown to the constitution, where the President ought to derive his powers from; or any Nigerian law in relation to the office of INEC chair person. By this breach, the Presidential blunder has created a needless impasse for the national electoral body. As of today, the Commission which had only recently regained its respect, is seen as a body that is headed by an illegitimate leader.
Moreover, having lost an additional member who recently died after a protracted illness, the Commission is unable to form a legitimate quorum as required by Section 159(1) of the constitution that requires five members, whereas they are now three legal and legitimate members. Mrs. Zakari’s five years tenure like that of others, in line with Section 155 of the constitution, ended on July 21, 2015, even though she is still hanging around loosely.
The question that those of us who supported the president in the elections, and who will continue to support him, in the hope that he will help to unify rather than divide the country will like to be answered is; can the price of pleasing a relative be worth the destruction of a national institution like INEC? How will the President like to be remembered in terms of the integrity and quality of elections? Will he want to surpass the much vaunted achievements of Goodluck Jonathan on political tolerance and electoral integrity or will he return the country to the era of vanquished political enemies?
We are already disappointed by the appointment of the President’s relative on a title that is unknown to law, to head a sensitive institution like INEC. The President must restore our confidence by correcting the wrong perceptions already created about his intentions for the “independence” of the Independent National Electoral Commission.
Rotimi Adebisi, Esq. writes from Oyo State.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.