A group, the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room (Situation Room), has disagreed with President Goodluck Jonathan on his claim that he possessed the power to sack the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega and other commissioners of the electoral body.
The group at a press conference in Abuja warned that the president risked throwing the nation into anarchy should he take such a step.
It said much as the president was empowered under the Constitution to nominate people as INEC’s chairman and commissioners for confirmation by the Senate, he lacked the power to either sack or compel occupants of such offices to proceed on pre-retirement leave.
The president had last Wednesday, during a media chat, said that having appointed Jega and other INEC commissioners, he possessed the powers to fire them should he feel displeased with their conduct.
The group, comprising lawyers and civil rights activists also cautioned against a further shift in the election timetable.
It noted that any alteration in the schedule of the general election could result in an unprecedented constitutional crisis that might consume the country.
At a press conference Thursday, the group appealed to members of the National Assembly, the judiciary, other stakeholders in the electoral process and the international community to prevail on the Nigerian authorities to ensure that elections were held as scheduled.
It regretted the impact of the postponement of election on the people, noting that since the postponement was announced, “Nigeria has been in a state of suspended animation,” with effects on the economy, politics, the society and the collective state of the people’s emotional and psychological well-being.
The group’s spokesman, Clement Nwankwo, argued the INEC, not being a civil service institution, was not subject to both the civil service rules and the control of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation.
He said being a public service institution, created by the constitution, INEC, was not subject to the control or direction of any person or authority in the performance of its responsibilities.
Nwankwo, a lawyer and Executive Director of the Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (a member organisation of the Situation Room) said: “The Constitution (Section 157) is very clear on the appointment of the Chairman and members of INEC. The president makes the nomination, he sends it to the Senate and the Senate votes to confirm it. Once a nominee is confirmed by the Senate, the person remains in office until the last date, amounting to five years of his tenure.
“Such a person can only be removed by the Senate, voting on a two-third majority. Outside of that, the President has absolutely no powers to suspend, to ask a commissioner or Chairman to proceed on a pre-retirement leave, or to remove them under any circumstance. Any purported removal would be a constitutional violation for which the president could be impeached.
“Apart from the constitutional question, the president, for the integrity of the electoral process, should be quite wary about what he says. It is important that the President realises that INEC is a special body because of the special nature of its activities. And, the President is now a party in the electoral contest. So, he should be wary about the kind of things he says concerning the umpire in the election in which he is a participant.
“I am quite surprised that the President would say such things. It raises questions about the understanding, in government circle, about the special role of INEC,” he said. Nwankwo, who expressed concern over the negative implication of a further shift in election dates, noted that “of all threats, the most critical at this moment, is the crisis of legitimacy.
“Sections 132(2) and 178(2) of the Constitution clearly states that an election shall be held ‘not later than 30 days before the expiration of the term of office of the last holder of the office.’ As such, elections cannot happen later than April 29 2015.Therefore, the election dates of March 28 and April 11, 2015 cannot be moved,” Nwankwo said.
Section 157(1) of the Constitution states that: “Subject to the provisions of subsection (3) of this section, a person holding any of the offices to which this section applies may only be removed from that office by the President acting on an address supported by two-thirds majority of the Senate praying that he be so removed for inability to discharge the functions of the office (whether arising from infirmity of mind or body or any other cause) or for misconduct.
Sub-section 2 says: “This section applies to the offices of the Chairman and members of the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB), the Federal Civil Service Commission (FCSC), the INEC, the National Judicial Council (NJC), the Federal Judicial Service Commission (FJSC), the Federal Character Commission, the Nigeria Police Council (NPC), the National Population Commission (NPC), the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) and the Police Service Commission (PSC).”