The forthcoming election is unprecedented in the history of Nigeria in terms of issues that have been thrown up in the build up to the election. Apart from the fact that the election has polarized the electorate, it is one election that can best be described as ‘one week, one trouble’. In normal climes, candidates sell themselves to the electorate through their programmes and the plans they have for the country they want to govern, but in Nigeria, our politicians would have none of it. You could hardly put your hand on any major programme or manifesto of the political parties, rather what sticks to the memory are the abuse and disinformation that the two main parties have perfected and are using so copiously to discredit each other.
Which one haven’t we heard? That the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), General Muhammadu Buhari is sick and as a result would not be able to govern the country effectively. The ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) had accused the APC of hiding the health status of its candidate and insisted it must come clean on it.
“The rumour that he is suffering from prostate cancer is exceptionally worrying and it is incumbent upon each and every one of us to pray for him if this rumour is true,” was the way Femi Fani-Kayode, Director of Media of Presidential Jonathan campaign organisation puts it.
He actually said the General should allay the fears of Nigerians by jogging round the campaign rally ground or take a brisk walk to prove he was fit.
“In this day and age, nothing ought to be swept under the carpet. “We are therefore constrained to urge him to prove to Nigerians that he is really as fit as a fiddle by taking a brisk walk,’’ he said. If not for the seriousness of the allegation, the image evoked by his suggestion is cause for mirth. Imagine the septuagenarian General jogging round the stadium perimeter in a knicker and T-shirt? What would be the feeling of the electorate watching the show? Won’t they say the candidate is only fit for a mental hospital?
Before then, it had been the certificate of General Buhari. The certificate that was never an issue when he contested on three previous occasions suddenly became important in this election. Trust some die-hard supporters of APC, they said even if the General presented his PHCN bill as certificate, they would still vote for him.
There was also the issue of General Buhari’s Chatam house appearance. Was he actually in London over health issue or had gone to deliver a lecture at Chatam house? For days, it was not so clear. The PDP had said his presence in London was to visit his physician and that the Chatam house appearance was bought in order to put a lie to the claim that General Buhari was sick. Ekiti state governor, Ayodele Fayose insisted that Buhari was sick and if he wasn’t , he should swear with the Quran. But the APC denied and the General Buhari eventually delivered his lecture, whether the appearance was bought or not, is now immaterial.
The next was the personal attack among the political gladiators. Femi Fani-Kayode versus the duo of APC leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and the party’s spokesman, Alhaji Lai Mohammed. Fani-Kayode had raised the alarm that the APC’s Vice Presidential candidate, Yemi Osinbajo had sworn to an oath to resign from office in the event of APC winning the presidential election to pave way for Tinubu. The allegation incensed the APC leadership and they challenged Fani-Kayode to produce evidence that such took place. The situation led to altercation among the parties concerned, leading to embarrassing personal attacks that are not worth repeating here.
But today, the main issue is whether the INEC boss, Professor Attahiru Jega should conduct the elections or proceed on a three months terminal leave. The president has said he would not remove him, but there is a civil service regulation that stipulates what should be done in this instance.
APC believe there is a plot to actually remove him. PDP has not come out to say Jega must be removed but there have been suggestions from its sympathizers that since his tenure ends in June, he should follow the Civil Service regulation.
Though the president has the prerogative of extending his tenure, the president and PDP’s body language does not indicate that this would be done.. PDP believes that Jega is no longer an impartial arbiter in the forth coming election. He was alleged to be consorting with the opposition and had even met with them in Dubai. Of course, as it has always been since the start of this campaign, unsubstantiated allegations have always been thrown at the electorate. No details have emerged about when this meeting took place and who were at the meeting.
Still, APC believes the plot to remove Jega goes beyond that hinging their argument on the fact that Jega is not willing to do the PDP’s bidding. But what are the issues concerning Jega? Can he be removed or should he be allowed to conduct the elections? Are there implications if he was removed?
The issues. Jega was appointed on June 8, 2010 and was confirmed on June 24 of the same year. His tenure was for five years which ends either in June 8 or 24 depending on the way you look at it. The Civil service rule states that he should compulsorily embark on three months leave before the end of his tenure which should start by March 8 or 24. It is not as if this is happening for the first time, there have been precedents. When the tenure of former INEC chairman, Professor Maurice Iwu ended on June 13, 2010, by April 28 of the same year, this same President Jonathan directed Iwu to proceed on his terminal leave. Former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Dahiru Musdapher proceeded on his three months terminal leave before the end of his tenure. In the same vein, former Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar embarked on the compulsory three months leave before the expiration of his tenure on July 30, 2014.
A Civil Service circular issued by former Head of Service, Alhaji Isa Bello underscores the extant rule of three months compulsory leave towards the end of civil servants’ tenure. Entitled, ‘Three Months Pre-Retirement/Terminal Leave’, it stated that “It has been observed that the mandatory notice of retirement for officers who are due to retire is not being observed as provided for in the extant rules. Accordingly, it has become necessary to reiterate the provisions of Public Service Rules (PSR) 100238 which states that officers are required to give three months notice of their retirement from service terminating on the effective date of their retirement”.
The circular was addressed and sent to the Chief of Staff to the President, Chief Justice of the Federation, all Ministers, Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Service Chiefs, the Inspector-General of Police, Chairman Federal Civil Service Commission, the Chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), and the Chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Others are Heads of extra-ministerial departments, the Accountant-General of the Federation, Auditor-General of the Federation, Surveyor-General of the Federation, Directors-General/chief executives of parastatals and agencies. I am sure nobody had Jega in mind when this rule was made.
Thus, removing or telling Jega to proceed on terminal leave is not an aberration. It is the standard rule. He can either voluntarily proceed on the terminal leave or be directed to do that. His continued stay as INEC chair could only be a presidential prerogative.
People have argued that his removal and bringing an outsider in would disrupt the process. I disagree, there are processes in place to do some of the things that have to be done, so a new person can continue from where Jega left it. For the purpose of this election, an insider can be appointed as replacement if the fear is that of disruption to the electoral process. And like Fayose said, “President Goodluck Jonathan can sack Jega if he wishes and if he does, heavens will not fall.” Again, we can ask ourselves, why won’t the president extend Jega’s tenure and let him conduct the election?