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Ahead of the 2023 general elections, there are fresh intrigues threatening to tear the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) apart and completely erode its independence as a body that should serve the interest of all political parties.
This followed the formal handover by its National Chairman, Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu, last week, pending the Senate’s confirmation for the renewal of his tenure as chairman of the commission.
Also, there are strong indications that the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) is going through a regime of crisis as a result of intense power play among key players within the party’s leadership cadre who have constituted themselves into strong power blocks within the context of who holds which sphere of influence, preparatory to the 2023 general elections.
In this mix of power play is also a minister from the North-West geo-political zone who is angling to seek the governorship of his state in 2023.
One of the signs of the power play emerged penultimate week, following the announcement by President Muhammadu Buhari that the tenure of Professor Yakubu and some national commissioners have been renewed.
This was done in total disregard to the constitution that says that the president in the exercise of his power to make appointment to INEC, ‘shall’ consult the Council of State made up of ex-presidents and all serving governors of all political parties.
A credible source informed our correspondent that such announcements are usually made after the Council of State meeting through the instrumentality of a letter written to the Senate for a reconfirmation of a renewal of the tenure for such appointments.
The President of the Senate, it was gathered, usually reads out the letter from the executive signed by President Buhari, requesting Senate confirmation.
Informed sources within Aso Villa, the APC leadership cadre and the Senate disclosed that the announcement was made “with a view to checkmating other moves by members of other power blocks angling to take over control of INEC”.
In fact, the simmering contention in the APC over the timely organisation of its national convention, where members of its National Executive Committee (NEC) are expected to be voted into office, is not unconnected to the unfolding power game which has INEC as its centrepiece.
Whereas there were conflicting signals regarding what went into the renewal of the tenure of Professor Yakubu, and those for now outsmarted threatening to open up can of worms in the days coming, notwithstanding the perceptible dismal showing and the deep in the esteem of INEC as a result of election outcomes that continue to draw the indignation of members of the public, civil society and some foreign election observers – apart from the recently conducted governorship election in Edo State adjudged by many to be free and fair – there is palpable apprehension that the renewal of Professor Yakubu’s appointment by the Senate may be stormy.
Until the Edo election, the incremental progress instituted by Professor Attahiru Jega, the immediate past national chairman of INEC, had suffered tremendous damage in the hands of the present EMB.
While there are indications that the Senate may not resume its plenary sitting until January 2021, as a result of on-going work on next year’s budget by various committees, the information floating around is that there is pressure being mounted by the power block in APC behind Prof. Yakubu’s reappointment on the leadership of the Senate, to reconvene this week for the purpose of sealing the renewal of Professor Yakubu reappointment.
The push for the resumption of the Senate is reportedly being spearheaded by a very powerful member of its leadership whose hands is said to be fully in the plot for the retention of the chairmanship of INEC by Professor Yakubu.
Indeed, from the Senate end, there are said to be two power blocks interested in not just the headship of INEC, but the fresh appointments of national commissioners and resident electoral commissioners who are either party members or sympathisers. This move will ensure that current experienced commissioners who have acted truly independent and had exhibited neutrality in the conduct of elections that should be elevated are possibly removed.
Two very powerful officers in the Senate are said to be in opposing camps and both are of the APC.
While one is for the retention of Professor Yakubu, the other, said to be acting in concert with some other forces within Aso Rock Presidential Villa, is believed to be rooting for the appointment of one of the national commissioners who hails from his own geo-political zone and an in-law to take over from the incumbent.
At the executive branch is powerful minister from the North-West who wants to be a governor. He had penciled down his own chairmanship candidate nominee and those who should be commissioners but has been outsmarted for now by one of the blocks behind Professor Yakubu.
From the camp of the APC leadership, the reappointment of Yakubu is seen as a potential repudiation of further push from the South-West zone regarding what an insider described as a “seeming entitlement of a takeover in 2023 after President Buhari.”
This calculation thrusts into the battlefield, as well as pours cold water on the aspirations of both Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and the former governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
Yet, a source within INEC made it clear that “the potential series of crises that are likely to overwhelm INEC are going to rear their heads with the filling of slots that would soon be vacant in North-East – on account of tenures that have ended – as well as operational nuances that may alter long-held procedures of engendering elections that would stand the test of time.
“Some of the new people that Nigerians will begin to see within the commission will likely signpost the type of election Nigerians will witness in 2023. All those whose faces represent a hopeful future for credible elections in the system at the moment may be eased out instead of been elevated as national commissioners.
“At least, the nomination of a known presidential aide as a national commissioner was a clear indication of what is to come and meant to test the waters and Nigerians should not be fooled into believing that there will be an independent commission but rather all efforts are being made to compromise the composition of the commission with partisan individuals for total control,” the source lamented.
“As of last week, there were ripples within INEC over the moves to bring in another national commissioner nominee from the same state of Gombe where the acting chairman, AVM Mauzu (rtd.) hails from within the North-East geo-political zone.
“This is apart from surreptitious moves being made to upturn the balance in the ethnic configuration of the top management of the commission, with an emerging plot to reverse a Federal Government of Nigeria circular which suspended the tenure policy in the Federal Civil Service to achieve what insiders in INEC described as planned ethnic cleansing of individuals holding directorates that must be yielded to a favour some others.