By Sunday Ani
Four months to the 2023 general elections, there is apprehension and anxiety over the alleged moves by some political hawks to ensure the removal of the Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC) chairman, Prof Yakubu Mahmood.
Those allegedly recruited into the vanguard of the campaign to remove the INEC chair before the 2023 elections are mainly state governors and senators, working in cahoots with some presidential candidates who feel threatened by the electoral body’s resolve to deploy technology in the conduct of the election.
Their grouse with Mahmood, according to the report, is his insistence on the wholesome deployment of technology in the conduct of the 2023 general elections.
Prof Mahmood is known for his insistence on the use of Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) and the Election Result Viewing Portal (IRVP) in the 2023 elections; a development some politicians believe would jeopardize their electoral fortunes, hence their plot to remove the INEC boss.
About two weeks ago, the Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP), through its spokesman, Ikenga Ugochinyere, had raised the alarm that there were some subterranean moves by certain politicians to get the INEC chairman removed from office before the 2023 general elections. The prayers of many critical observers is that it is either a false alarm or a huge joke.
The CUPP equally alleged that those behind the plot would not want the INEC chairman to use the BVAS for the elections and were planning to deactivate the technology from being used in the elections, and ultimately stop the electronic transmission of results at the polls.
For followers of events in the country, it appears the handwriting is clearly becoming visible on the wall. The move in their estimation is no longer in the realm of imagination as some of the strategies allegedly being employed by those behind the plot have started manifesting.
Last week, the Arewa Citizens’ Watch for Good Governance (ACWGG), through its chairman, Alhaji Mohammed Adamu, called for the removal of Mahmood, accusing him of being morally compromised to deliver a free, fair and credible elections and deliberately working against the interest of the North.
Close watchers of political developments are saying that politicians who are afraid that they would be defeated if BVAS and IRVP were finally deployed for the 2023 elections, were behind the call by ACWGG and other similar groups.
This segment of Nigerians equally believe that those urging some members of the Senate to pass a vote of no confidence in the INEC chairman to prepare a fertile ground for his removal by President Muhammadu Buhari were afraid of defeat if BVAS and IRVP are deployed in the elections. In the estimation of critical observers, they want to cash in on the constitutional provision which states that the INEC chairman can only be removed on the recommendation of two-third majority of members of the Senate to the president to execute their plot.
The amendment of the electoral law to accommodate the use of technology, particularly the BVAS and other technological innovations, in the conduct of elections in Nigeria did not come easy. It took several years of arguments, counter-arguments, protests, lobbying and even political concessions before the president eventually signed the bill into law. Nigerians celebrated the law when it came into effect and heaved a big sigh of relief that the 2023 election would be a complete departure from the previous elections. They were happy that with the new law, elections in Nigeria would have a semblance of credibility; a belief that has already been given credence by the recent governorship elections in Osun and Ekiti states respectively.
The thinking in some quarters is that the plot to remove Mahmood, and probably recruit a new umpire, who would readily jettison the use of technology in the conduct of the election, is being hatched by politicians who already know that they would be roundly defeated if BVAS is used in the election.
But, the projection in many quarters also is that Nigerians would not fold their arms and allow some disgruntled politicians to scuttle what is certainly a panacea to the conduct of free, fair and credible elections in Nigeria.
For the President of the Arewa Youths Consultative Forum (AYCF), Alhaji Yerima Shettima, Nigerians would resist any attempt by groups or individuals to instigate the removal of Mahmood or cause the stoppage of the use of BVAS in the 2023 elections.
He said: “We are mindful of the fact that some people have been plotting to remove the INEC chairman. I raised the same alarm last week but we are determined across the board. We have been making consultations with other youth organisations across the country, and we are moblising; we are determined and willing any day any time, such that any attempt by any group or individual to subvert democracy in Nigeria will be vehemently resisted.”
He described the INEC chairman as one of the best in recent times, and called on Nigerians to give him all the necessary support to conduct credible elections next year. “He has demonstrated integrity and transparency and has shown willingness to conduct free, fair and credible elections, and we will give him all the necessary support to make sure that he achieves that and that no harm comes to him. He will survive all the evil plots against him and leave the Commission with his integrity and respect intact. We will stand firm behind him to ensure that he conducts free and fair elections, and no harm must come to him. We have mobilised and we are watching with keen interest; nothing should happen to him,” he submitted.
Former Secretary General of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), Chief Frank Kokori, was of the opinion that the news about such plot could only exist in the imagination of those pushing it out, as no reasonable fellow would want to embark on such a suicidal and fruitless journey. He was confident that nobody can remove Mahmood as Nigeria is not a banana republic.
“I don’t take the matter seriously; I think it is fake news because nobody can remove Mahmood. We have passed that stage, so forget about such news. Nobody can remove him at this stage and the BVAS must be used in the elections. Nigeria is not a banana republic, so forget about the story. We can’t get to that level; so forget it. It is fake news; it is not possible. Nobody dares to do that,” he threatened.
Also, Dr. Pogu Bitrus of the Middle Belt Forum (MBF) described the move as the most unfortunate development in the country’s political history, stressing that the introduction of BVAS was the best thing that Nigeria has experienced in recent times. He insisted that any political party, government or a union of persons that wants the INEC chairman removed so that transparent elections would not be held is an enemy to Nigeria. “We are seriously committed to ensuring that we have a credible election, and we believe that the use of BVAS will guarantee that because it will allow votes to count both at the accreditation and transmission levels. Of course, the use of BVAS is going to cut off a large chunk of manipulations of figures which has happened in the past through collaborations and conspiracies. Such a plan should be resisted by all Nigerians,” he noted.
He called on the government not to cave in to such a sinister plot. “We are calling on the government not to go down that lane having signed the electoral amendment bill into law. We commend Mr. President for that and having commended him, he should not allow the process which has moved from what we used to have to this new process to take Nigeria back to the archaic systems which were never transparent,” he added.
He also called on Nigerians to resist any attempt to remove Mahmood, saying, “My call is for all Nigerians to resist any move by any group, whether the national assembly, a political party or the presidency, to avert this process or to remove the INEC chairman. He has done well and we believe that the process is well intended towards moving Nigeria to the destination of a better Nigeria, which we are all clamouring for. So, such a move must be resisted by every well meaning Nigerian.”
On his part, the National Publicity Secretary of the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Alex Ogbonnia argued that everything about the country’s democracy was faulty from the outset. He said: “When something is faulty, anything built on it is faulty. In any democracy, the state is separate from the government. There is always a distinction between the state and the government. Certain things are organs of the state or characteristics of the state and some others are that of the government. For example, when you look at a state, you are looking at a given territory, a geographical area, an estimable population, sovereignty and government. It is the state that recruits people into government but in Nigeria, it is the other way round. In Nigeria, it is the government that forms the INEC at state and national levels; that is not democracy. In the state, the governors appoint the electoral body. At the national level, the president appoints the electoral body and you expect the people to believe that such a body is independent; it is not possible.”
He argued that whether Mahmood stays or leaves, those who control the levers of power will still achieve whatever they want to achieve using the electoral umpire. “I want to make it clear that there is no guarantee that Mahmood Yakubu will not eventually dance to the tune of the powers that be. If they want to rig an election, they will use him to rig it because the system is fundamentally wrong. The government should not be part of the INEC, which is an independent body. It is INEC that recruits people into government but here, the reverse is the case. So, they are building on a faulty foundation and I don’t see anything standing on it. Even if this man stays, he will still do what they want him to do and even if he leaves, they will appoint another person, who will do their bidding. He is just claiming that he will not do the bidding of the president, but that is not true. We are already trapped in it. I don’t believe them. Our own paradigm of democracy has never been seen in any part of the world,” he submitted.