***Demands immediate replacement
A Coalition of Civil Society operating under the aegis of ‘Society Watch’ and ”National Peace Campaign’ has demanded that the Resident Electoral Commissioner in charge of Jigawa Prof. Muhammad Lawal be relieved of his appointment alleging that the appointment was in clear breach of the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999) as amended.
The Coalition with strong interest in election monitoring and governance tracking, petitioned President Muhammadu Buhari that the said appointment was also in breach of Electoral Act as amended in 2022, due to his partisanship and involvement in political party, particularly, the ruling All Progressive congress party (APC) in Sokoto State.
Also copied were the National Chairman Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)’Senate President Dr Ahmad Ibrahim Lawan
The Chairman Public Complaints Commission, INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner Jigawa State, Director General Department of State Security.
A Copy of the petition which was signed by Desmond Ebireri National Coordinator SOCIETY WATCH and Valentine Opaluwa of the NATIONAL PEACE CAMPAIGN which was also made available to the Guardian in Abuja reads in part,
“In the course of our research on the newly sworn-in Resident Electoral Commissioners and subsequent postings to their various States of assignments, we have discovered that Prof. Muhammad Lawal’s appointment as Resident Electoral Commissioner in charge of Jigawa State was in clear breach of the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999) as amended.
“It was also in breach of Electoral Act as amended in 2022, due to his partisanship and involvement in political party, particularly, the ruling All Progressive congress party (APC) in Sokoto State.
“Specifically, Prof. Muhammad Lawal had contested Sokoto State governorship election on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and was a former Special Adviser to the then Sokoto State governor, Senator Magatakarda Wammako in 2019.
“Hence, he was actively involved in political activities in Sokoto State having participated in political meetings, rallies and conventions up till the time he was erroneously nominated as Resident Electoral Commissioner representing Sokoto State slot by President Muhammadu Buhari.” According to the Coalition, Prof. Lawal’s nomination, confirmation by the Nigerian Senate and his subsequent posting to Jigawa State in the Northwest, undoubtedly, is a violation of Section 14(2a) of the Third Schedule of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution which provides that “a member of the Independent National Electoral Commission shall be non-partisan and a person of unquestionable integrity.”
“This petition is to draw your attention to the absurdities for quick intervention by immediate sack of the Resident Electoral Commissioner, REC.
The petition recalled that, the Nigerian Senate, particularly Committee on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) headed by Senator Kabir Gaya representing Kano South Senatorial district, which confirmed Prof. Lawal was not fair to the provisions of law.
“The security report which we believed was diligently carried out indicted Professor Lawal as a card carrying member of APC. He is on the APC register in his ward and an active politician who is interested in the office of Governor of Sokoto State.
“Sadly, your Excellency, inhibitions that were supposed to stop the confirmation of Professor Muhammad Lawal were in public domain and widely publicized as could be seen in the Sun Newspapers of 16th May, 2019 and other mainstream media platforms.
“The appointment of Prof. Muhammad Lawal is seen as a slur on the commitment of President Muhammadu Buhari at ensuring, a free and credible election.
“The commitment of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration in conducting a free, fair and credible election, particularly as he round-off his second tenure of office on May 29, 2023 was the introduction of BVAS and IReV, hence, anyone who is involved in a strategic INEC office as Resident Electoral Commissioner need to be apolitical.”
According to the Coalition the assumption of duty of Professor Lawal on 7th November, 2022, in Dutse, the Jigawa State capital was received with mixed feelings by the electorate as they wondered what has become of INEC act that people who are non partisan shall be the ones appointed to serve as INEC officials.
“Moreso, other opposition political parties are currently casting doubt as to whether they would be free, fair and credible election. The people of Jigawa are apprehensive that the State REC might be sympathetic to its party, the APC.
“The fear reached its feverish pitch penultimate week by supporters of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which is adjudged to be the strongest opposition in Jigawa State. Concerns are that there was destruction of PDP campaign billboards in Hadejia Local Government area of Jigawa State by thugs allegedly loyal to the All Progressives Congress.
“Without being partisan, there have been relative peace in Jigawa State which is occasioned by mild conduct of political parties, until the resumption of the new INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner is now raising serious concerns in the State.
The petition hinged its demand for the sack of Jigawa REC on the need to nip in the bud, anything that would be tantamount to the Global best practices in the conduct of election, particularly that the 2023 PDP presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar and Governorship candidate, Mustapha Sule Lamido may have over ninety percent of the people supporting them in Jigawa State.
“The appointment of Professor Muhammad Lawal Bashar as REC for Jigawa State will significantly undermine the neutrality and impartiality of the INEC and it will create mistrust in INEC and Nigeria’s electoral process.
“Even in fairness, a Delta State born personal Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on New Media, Mrs Lauretta Onochie was rejected by the Senate during her screening in July, 2021 after she was nominated as REC.
“Delta is in the South South, and it seems Professor Lawal wasn’t given the same treatment because he comes from the same zone of the Northwest with President Muhammadu Buhari.
“For avoidance of doubt, the same Senate that rejected Onochie approved Professor Lawal appointment against the provisions of the law.
“For emphasis, Senate decision on Onochie is reproduced below:. “The committee therefore recommended that the presidential aide’s appointment be rejected.
Mr Gaya said she was disqualified based on federal character principles as there is currently a serving commissioner from Delta State, where she hails from.
Nomination of Onochie is in disregard for the Nigerian Constitution which forbids him from nominating partisan individuals for such a position. The president committed a similar blunder in the past when he appointed dead people to boards of federal parastatals.
Section 14(1)(a&b) of the Third Schedule of the 1999 Constitution as amended stipulates that “the…Commission (INEC) shall comprise the following members: a). a chairman, who shall be the Chief Electoral Commissioner; b). twelve other members to be known as National Electoral Commissioners.”
That means that two national commissioners must be drawn from each of the country’s six geopolitical zones.
That was also the part of the law the president referred to when he wrote to the Senate seeking the confirmation of the appointment of Ms Onochie and three others.
“Pursuant to Paragraph 14 of Part I(F) of the Third Schedule to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, as amended, I hereby forward for confirmation by the Senate, the appointment of the following four Commissioners for…INEC,” the letter read
“As we toe the part of wisdom which says “a stitch in time saves nine”, we believe that democracy should be saved at all cost.