On Wednesday, February 11, the president in a media chat with select journalists at the Presidential Villa, Abuja attended to questions bordering on various issues that affect Nigeria and the polity. If anything, rather than clear the air around the issues raised the president merely succeeded in adding to the confusion and aiding the distrust that already pervade his administration.
Particularly, through his own whims and grimaces, he offered Nigerians another opportunity to re-assess his sentiments and the thinking around government quarters with respect to those important national issues.
Even if the president is no longer disposed towards Jega, he should be told that he cannot remove the latter from office until the expiration of his tenure on June 30. While responding to questions during the media chat, President Jonathan opined that he held constitutional powers to appoint or remove the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Attahiru Jega.
He said, “…if you ask Jega, he would tell you. I appointed all the Commissioners and Resident Electoral Commissioners in INEC. They are my appointees. So, if I feel that Jega is not good enough for obvious reasons, then I can by that provision of the constitution that gives the person power who appointed him the power, to remove him. But I have not told anybody that I am going to remove Jega”.
I think it is unfortunate that despite all the years spent in public service, which invariably is his main claim to suitability for the highest office, the president continues to commit such solecisms on issues that draw obvious references in the Constitution of the Federal Republic as well as from legal texts, history and tradition in public office.
To wit, the Constitution is clear on the powers for appointment and removal of the INEC Chairman and head and/or members of other federal agencies duly listed in S153, Chapter VI, Part I(B). Listed at S153f, amongst 14 other federal agencies (S153a-n), the Commissioners at INEC, including the Chairman (S161) “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 misconduct (S161d)” as clearly enumerated in S157 of the same chapter of the Constitution.
With all the human and financial resources at the disposal of the president, one would expect that he has unhindered access to the best advice or ideas that you can imagine. He should, by now, know that once nominated, ratified by the National Assembly and appointed into office, it has gone beyond his powers to sack any of the Commissioners at INEC, including the Chairman.
What do his aides viz: Attorney-General, Special Adviser (Legal) and his personal lawyers, tell him with respect to his powers in this instance? I wish that he be so reminded and that he must immediately withdraw his embarrassing comments but also ensure he guarantees the tenure of office of the INEC Chairman and his Commissioners. This call has become imperative in light of the coordinated orchestrated attacks on the person and integrity of Jega by the president’s men, friends and party.
I am sure that Nigerians have not forgotten how the president in two instances overreached the powers of his office in the removal of former President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Ayo Salami, and the former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi. This is a man who claims not to apply more than 40% of the powers of his office yet has consistently misapplied or misappropriated such Constitutional powers.
A president who touts separation of powers should be mindful that the exercise of certain powers is subject to the ratification of the relevant arms of government. Despite being a major beneficiary in both instances, if the removal of Salami and Sanusi did not cause him enough political heartache, Mr. Jonathan would know that the country is at that point where the inkling of any unwarranted suspicion of the electoral process can inflame tenebrific clouds over the nation. My reproof is for him to price the crisis very well before he procures it.
INEC and the Military
In another instance and in a clear attempt to scorn S158 (1) of the Constitution, the president intoned what seemed like a complaint stating “In 2011, INEC didn’t consult me.” May I make it clear to the president that the ‘I’ standing for ‘Independent’ in INEC is not a pejorative affixture but one whose ramifications have been stated and founded a backbone in S158 (1) of the Constitution. Sir, INEC is not expected to consult you more especially when you have a vested interest and you’re a contestant in the elections. Nonetheless, this does not in any way preclude you from providing all necessary administrative supports to ensure hitch-free elections as against the slipshod manner in which your security chiefs have reprobated relevant provisions of the Constitution.
Contrariwise, the same is not correct for the conduct of the Service Chiefs who seemed to have turned the president to not more than a ‘figurehead’ Commander-in-Chief by his own admission. In the selfsame chat, the president suggested that, “I am not the Chief of Defence Staff that wrote the letter…. the security services did not consult me. Of course, I was not consulted and did not want to be consulted”.
With no other person than the president who should double as the Commander-in-Chief now openly admitting that he was not consulted before the security advisory to abort the initially proposed February elections was passed to INEC, one must be deeply worried that the security services no longer subscribe to or are no more under the firm control of civilian authorities as expected in a democratic dispensation and as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution.
Whereas the Chairman of INEC claimed during his infamous press conference that he received a security caution from the NSA, President Jonathan has not apportioned that claim to the Chief of Defence Staff. We are left as a nation with nothing more than frenetic jitters to demand the truth with respect to the author, nay Constitutional coupist(s) of the missive that eventually occasioned last Saturday’s involuntary postponement of the elections.
It should bother all men and women of good conscience that the National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd.) and the Service Chiefs have become too powerful that they contumaciously usurp provisions of the Constitution and contemptuously disregard constituted civilian authorities and no less than the man in whom the sovereignty of Nigerians has been vested till May 29th, 2015.
By his own very admission, President Jonathan has not only demonstrated his infirmness to continue to hold office as the President and Commander-in-Chief but also exposed the NSA and Service Chiefs as abusing their offices and irresponsibly abdicating the lawful security tasks assigned to them thereby making them, incompetent to continue in their offices.
Of course, the president showed a deceitful befuddlement when he later admitted that, “as Chief Security Officer of the Federation, I have an idea” of the memo sent to subvert the original plans towards the February 14 national elections and February 28th state elections. This development where the president vacillates or prevaricates unsurely publicly has given rise to a situation contrary to known practice where it is now the NSA and Service Chiefs who give assurances with respect to the ‘inviolability of next advertised dates’ of the general election.
Use of Government Resources for Campaign
With all gusto, President Jonathan declared, “In 2011, INEC didn’t consult me (before shifting the election). If they had consulted me, I wouldn’t have wasted my time and government resources. For any trip I make, I know what the government spends”. This is a clear testimony from the president that he has been applying government resources to his political campaigns.
Whether in periods of surplus or time of austerity, such wanton misapplication of official resources for the president’s personal political activities is totally uncalled for. If for nothing, this puts additional unnecessary pressure on dwindling government resources.
One would expect Coordinating Minister for the Economy (CME) and Minister of Finance, Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, to immediately commence the implementation of her austerity measures from such wasteful endeavours that eat into government expenditures. I think it behooves a punctilious leader and one who has the interest of his people at heart to do away with such unnecessary draw-downs on public funds.
More Reasons for Polls Shift
If the inconsistency of the NSA’s original claims for the calls for polls shift with those of the service chiefs, who claim inability to protect the polls was anything to go by, the president debunked all of these when he asserted that, “Yes, the Boko Haram is there; but also the tensed factor in the country. When INEC came up with the dates for elections, there was no much threat and the security agencies saw a lot of red points and they believed elections should be shifted, otherwise the whole country would go into flames”.
A president who has already claimed not to be consulted in serious matters of national security declares that some other “tensed factors” was responsible for the polls postponement, then we may begin to demand further explanations; what items constitute these tensed factors? This latest suggestion is an unambiguous confirmation of what we have always maintained that the president and his band of appointed security chiefs take Nigerians for a ride as they wish.
Nigerians are reminded how the clamour for polls shift started with the NSA under the pretext of rate of PVC collection, then to the irresponsible claim that the security agencies cannot guarantee security for the elections and now the president himself cited tensed factors.
At some point, the government through the Director-General of the National Orientation Agency (NOA) resorted to scaremongering when Mike Omeri avows of plans to blow up polling units across the country. A threat to which his government’s only response to avert the envisioned carnage was to collect signatures from Nigerians across all 774 Local Government Areas
Nigerians should demand to know the truth as these indications call for concern regarding the genuineness of the new dates announced for the elections. Nigerians are already exasperated and having to endure a grueling campaign schedule is bad enough. President Jonathan and his men should save the nation the distressing troubles of going through this cycle again, because suddenly, the electoral developments have become a déjà vu reminiscent of Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida’s series of aborted transition programmes. Nigerians are forewarned to beware!