Is Amina Zakari good enough for INEC?

Mrs Amina Zakari as acting chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

Mrs Amina Zakari as acting chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

THE narrative has changed in Nigeria’s political hemisphere since power changed hands via the ballot on May 29, with the PDP having some trouble settling into its new role as opposition after 16 years in charge.

This perhaps explains why, like a toddler learning to walk, the party is holding onto every action and inaction of President Muhammadu Buhari to form the fulcrum of its criticisms.

The PDP has made it a duty of find fault with every step taken by the APC administration since that historic day. One of such concerns raised by the PDP that I feel compelled to address is the appointment on June 30 of Mrs. Amina Bala Zakari as Acting Chairman of INEC. Mrs. Amina Zakari steps into this role on the heels of the exit of one of Nigeria’s heroes of democracy and overseer of the largely free and fair 2015 elections, Professor Attahiru Jega. A Professor of Political Science, Jega assumed chairmanship of INEC on June 30, 2010 at the request of former President Goodluck Jonath

an. Mrs. Zakari’s appointment makes her the first woman to occupy this position in Nigeria’s history, and if confirmed by the Senate, it will be the first time since return to democracy in 1999 that an INEC Commissioner is rising through the ranks to head the organisation. Since joining INEC in 2011, she has chaired, at different times, the Political Parties Monitoring Committee and the Planning Monitoring and Strategy Committee.

Her efforts in leading these two important committees contributed in no small measure to the reform programmes of the Jega leadership and the success of the 2015 elections. Surely she brings with her the requisite wealth of knowledge and experience needed to chair INEC.

So why is Nigeria’s opposition party crying wolf over her appointment? Mrs. Zakari is perceived to have close ties to the APC administration and the Governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai.

She is also rumoured to have a strong personal relationship with President Buhari. The PDP has also pointed out that prior to her appointment, Jega had handed over to another INEC Commissioner, Mohammed Wali, and the reversal of that handing over by Buhari is likely to cause a rift within INEC.

The PDP spokesperson has gone further to say her appointment is a move by the current administration to influence the decisions of various elections tribunals holding across the country. In the same breath, it was also alleged that the appointment is meant to influence the upcoming guber polls in Kogi and Bayelsa states.

The truth, however, is that Mrs. Zakari has no personal relationship with the president, nor does she have any political affinity for the APC. During her time as Chair of INEC Political Parties Monitoring Committee, she worked across board with all political parties to sanitise the political party system and improve the relationship among the various parties.

Before now, her last two appointments were by two different PDP governments, so this nullifies every propaganda about her being an APC loyalist.

It is interesting to note that despite the balanced and unbiased handling of the 2015 elections by Jega, and his proven track record of integrity, he was also accused by the PDP of colluding with the APC to rig the elections. Same party turned around after his exit to shower encomiums on him for delivering elections.

On her ties with Mallam El-Rufai, it is interesting that critics failed to highlight the fact that Mrs. Zakari has an equally good relationship with former PDP Chairman Adamu Muazu and the Acting Chairman Bello Haliru.

These relationships were fostered from their time together at the Ahmadu Bello University. It reeks of sheer desperation for any person or group of persons to clamour for the disqualification of a woman of such sterling record in public office from an appointment she is clearly fit for, morally and intellectually, based on their dislike for anyone she has gone to school with.

Furthermore, Mohammed Wali, the INEC Commissioner Jega initially handed over to, is due to retire from the commission on August 11. This means he will barely have any time to implement any lasting reform or execute any tangible project before handing over to someone else.

It is, therefore, I believe, an act of foresight on the part of President Buhari to ensure stability in the leadership of INEC, in appointing Mrs Zakari as acting chair pending the confirmation of her promotion to the role.

Mrs. Zakari has not wasted any time since her appointment by also reconstituting all INEC’s standing committees, which lends credence to her readiness for the job. She has pledged to continue with the reform programmes of her Professor Jega towards free and fair 2019 general elections.

Nigerians voted overwhelming for President Muhammadu Buhari because they believe in him, his integrity, and his ability to do what is right. A man of his stature is not one to make an appointment based on personal, religious, ethnic, or political sentiments. As such, this appointment should be seen for what it is, the promotion of one of INEC’s most credible, staff over the past four years, based on her excellent public service record.   • Tunde Babalola, a public analyst,  wrote in from Lagos.

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