A rights and integrity advocacy group, Network for Best Practice and Integrity in Leadership (NEBPRIL), has called on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to douse the palpable apprehension among the Edo electorate over the appointment of Johnson Alalibo as Resident Electoral Commission (REC) to the state.
The group made the call in a letter dated September 3, 2020, to INEC chairman, Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu. It raised concern over the ongoing controversy over the recent redeployment of Alalibo, “who has had obvious political exposure, which is evident in his recent participation as an aspirant in governorship election in Bayelsa state, under the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC), a major contender in the coming Edo election.”
It therefore called on INEC management to “take urgent steps to review this obvious insensitive, controversial decision to reflect its core values of impartiality, credibility and integrity, in order not only to do the right thing, but to be seen to have done the right thing in the interest of peace and democracy.”
The letter signed by its chairman, Hon. Afam Ogene, titled “urgent need to reverse the insensitive and seeming partial and constitutional breach in the appointment of the new Edo state Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC)”, and released to the media, questions the timing, legality and propriety of appointing a REC that was so politically exposed, especially coming at a time that the “major political parties in the state are already enmeshed in bitter rivalry, thus raising questions of the objectivity, sensibility and intent of such a controversial decision”
NEBPRIL told the INEC chairman that particular action by the electoral body is not only contributing to the rising “political tension in Edo state, but also appears to contravene the provision of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,as amended, that states that for anyone to qualify to be appointed as REC, such person must not be a member of a political party.
“The idea behind this particular amendment is to ensure impartiality is carrying out their duties in line with the core values of INEC, as published in its website and other documents, which include “impartiality: INEC shall ensure a level playing field for all political actors; credibility: INEC shall ensure that no action is taken in support of any candidate or political party”.
The group opined that while it accepted the fact that “it is within INEC’s rights to move its employees at any given time, to other stations as its administrative needs may demand, the timing of this particular appointment, close to the election date, his prior political exposure, especially in relation to membership of a major party in the coming election and the consequent partisan controversy, throw up not only constitutional questions, but also those of morality, propriety and fairness.
NEBPRIL emphasized that “the final result of an election in itself, doesn’t authenticate a free and fair elections, rather the whole processes, before, during and after the election, including conducts of everyone involved in the election, especially decisions, negligence, actions and inactions of the electoral umpire, that may directly or indirectly inhibit fairness and equity, or compromise the integrity of the final outcome.
“We call your attention to the position of INEC in 2019 in a case of an INEC REC in Cross River, Frankland Briyai, who contested governorship election in Bayelsa state, as published by Premium Times on August 15, 2019. Dr. Festus Okoye, INEC’s Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, while responding to the question on the eligibility of the REC to remain a member of INEC after being identified as a member of a political party. “To emphasise the position of the commission, he paraphrased the Section 156(1)(a) and Paragraph 14(3)(b) of the constitution which noted that for one to be qualified for appointment as REC, one must not be a member of a political party.” Premium Times reported.
“So We ask INEC, what has changed from the time you chose to stand by the tenets of the constitution and democratic principles regarding retaining a REC that was exposed politically? Even if the Edo REC had probably resigned as member of APC, (which is still in doubt), is it not insensitive for him to be posted to Edo seemingly on the eve of an election in which major political parties in the state are already enmeshed in bitter rivalry, thus raising questions of objectivity and intent of such a controversial decision? This we fear may impact negatively not only the process and outcome of the election, but also the trust and belief of the electorate in INEC’s integrity as an unbiased umpire.” NEBPRIL stated.