Kayode Robert Idowu
Some sections of the Nigerian public in recent times have shown intense interest in the structure and personnel composition of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and on-going effort by the Commission to shape up for optimum discharge of its mandate. This interest is not exactly isolated. It drapes against the backdrop of a notion that the Commission’s manpower have a way of influencing its core task of conducting elections and, thereby, distort the popular will of the electorate. The notion was not helped by the huge credibility deficit of the 2007 general election; even though the outcomes of the 2011 General Election and other elections conducted by the present leadership of the Commission since then have effectively proved that notion wrong.
The media were awash with sometimes weird tales of goings-on within the Commission. There were reports of imminent shake-ups and redeployments in INEC that were at variance with what the Commission was really up to. Some of the reports were downright farcical. A reputable newspaper, for instance, reported that The Presidency had directed the Commission to reshape – a directive that would be curious, if true, since INEC is an independent body whose composition and operations are defined and guided by specific provisions of the Federal Constitution and the Electoral Act. Another newspaper foretold mass retrenchment of top-level staff of the Commission, while yet another hazarded the names of persons to be affected. Only that the persons named are actually non-existent in the Commission! Online platforms equally worked up the rumour mill.
Perhaps the most bizarre was a newspaper advertorial by a faceless group called ‘Election Integrity Network’ alleging regional domination of INEC. The advertorial, which has been issued by the group twice in selected newspapers, drew strength from a report in the July 02, 2012 edition of TheNEWS magazine which had alleged sundry tendencies in INEC – the most acute, according to the magazine, of which is a purported design by the present leadership to foist Northern domination on the Commission. The difference in the morality of TheNEWS report and the said advertorial is that while the magazine barely managed to reflect a defence to its story by the Commission, the authors of the advertorial made no allowance for such basic nicety. This ethnic campaign, perhaps, further fuelled the intensity of public (or is it just media?) interest in the on-going restructuring of the Commission.
True, INEC is restructuring; but not because of any regional domination or fundamental defect in the morality of the Commission’s personnel as presently composed. Its Chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega, made this clear in a recent interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) when he said: “Our vision in INEC is to be the best election management body in Africa, and we want to achieve this if possible by 2015. That is a very ambitious vision given a history of failed elections in this country. So, in order to actualize that vision, we have to bring in substantial reforms in terms of making INEC more efficient and more effective in the delivery of services, which are associated with elections. Obviously, we have to do a lot reorganisation and restructuring. We have to do what we call ‘placing square pegs in square holes’ in order to ensure that we have well-trained professional people who can efficiently and effectively deliver on the electoral process. We have started this; we are doing a lot of this already. We’ve started a process of reorganisation and restructuring.”
The Chairman particularly dispelled fears of wild-cat job displacements, saying: “The problem is that in Nigeria, anytime you talk about reorganisation and restructuring, people think you are talking of retrenchment. But it need not be so. It is not necessarily so, and in INEC our restructuring and reorganisation is not synonymous with retrenchment. We are doing everything possible to bring efficiency and effectiveness, and it can be done without the kind of massive retrenchment that people fear and expect. We are doing our best, and we also need to motivate people. So, a lot of the reforms we are trying to bring in have to do with what levels of motivation and adjustments in the condition of service we can bring about in order to have a contented workforce that can keep on giving their best and making enormous sacrifices both for INEC and for our country. We have planned to do quite a lot in terms of restructuring and reorganisation. We employed some of the best management consulting firms that have given us proposals, and at the level of the Commission we have studied this and we have begun the process of implementation.”
Factually speaking, there is no ethnic or regional domination of any kind in INEC. The ethnic campaigners argued, for instance, that both the present Chairman and Secretary of the Commission hail from the same geo-political zone, and they hold that against the Chairman. But they miss the point that Professor Jega was appointed in 2010 by Mr. President, with the endorsement of the National Council of State and the clearance of the Senate, at a time when a Secretary tenured from the previous dispensation in the Commission had been in office. That tenure needs to run its course, otherwise there will be needless complications in service rules and dislocation of internal cohesion within the Commission.
It is also alleged that there is regional disproportion in the chairmanship of INEC committees by the National Commissioners. That, simply, betrays grievous ignorance of legal provisions setting up the Commission and governing its operations. Section 14 (1) (a) of Part 1 (F) of the Third Schedule of the 1999 Federal Constitution (as amended) provides that The Commission shall comprise the following members: (a) a Chairman, who shall be the Chief Electoral Commissioner; and (b) twelve other members to be known as National Electoral Commissioners. In practice, the 12 National Commissioners are appointed by Mr. President on geo-political basis: two from each of the six geo-political zones making up the country. Also, Section 7 of the Electoral Act 2010 (as gazetted) provides that “the Commission may appoint one or more committees to carry out any of its functions under this Act.” The Commission for operational convenience, therefore, created committees; and the Chairman as well as all the National Commissioners head one committee or the other based on personal expertise, previous experience and ultimate responsibility. Incidentally, there is no committee more important or strategic than the other in INEC’s operations; all the committees as created contribute vitally to the core mandate of the Commission and are equally important. In effect, arguing that certain committees are strategic and are chaired by National Commissioners from a particular region, as the campaigners did, simply bears no correlation to the reality of INEC’s experience.
Strictly speaking, policy-making in INEC is the constitutional responsibility of the Commission as comprised by the Chairman and 12 National Commissioners. But the ethnic campaigners seem to presume this function applies at the directorate level, hence they have made capital of alleged domination of the headship of INEC’s departments and directorates by the North. Yet their motive shows forth to be less than altruistic, because they cited 18 departmental heads as illustrative of their claim in an organisation that has 29 directorates, departments and units. Official statistics of the headship of these departments, directorates and units show the distribution on state basis as follows: Benue (6), Anambra (4), Imo (3), Abia (3), Niger (2), Sokoto (1), Kebbi (1), Plateau (1), Delta (1), Enugu (1), Bayelsa (1), Ekiti (1), Kogi (1), Yobe (1) Taraba (1) and Adamawa (1). Now, if the current Chairman were nepotistic as the campaigners suggest, would there be only one head of department from his home state of Kebbi while there are six from Benue, four from Anambra and three from Imo and Abia states? And please note: All these directors came to office under the previous dispensation except for two who replaced duly retired predecessors, and one other brought in to a department where the leadership felt compelled to make a change ahead of the 2011 General Election.
In any event, heads of departments aren’t the only staff on directorate level in INEC. There are indeed 67 directors in the Commission, and the distribution on the basis of state of origin is as follows: Benue (9), Anambra (9), Imo (4), Delta (3), Cross River (3), Plateau (3), Akwa Ibom (3), Abia (3), Kebbi (3), Edo (3), Niger (2), Kaduna (2), Zamfara (2), Bayelsa (2), Lagos (2), Bauchi (2), Borno (2), Sokoto (1), Enugu (1), Kano (1), Kogi (1), Katsina (1), Osun (1), Gombe (1), Ogun (1), Jigawa (1) and Yobe (1). Talking about ‘strategic’ departments if there was one, none could be more so in INEC’s work than the ICT and Operations departments, and both presently are headed by South-Easterners. So, what’s the argument, please?
But the issue really is that this present leadership of INEC has not had the time or seen the need to arbitrarily realign the manpower structure simply to gratify ethnic interests. It is no secret that the present Commission came on board in June 2010 – barely six months to when it was expected to conduct the 2011 General Election if there had been no adjustment in the legal framework which allowed it some breathing space till April. Even at that, the Commission had to undertake a nationwide voter registration in January 2010, preparatory to the General Election, which was as massive and complex an operation as the election. Obviously, that wasn’t the time to indulge ethnic gratification at the cost of manpower experience and expertise needed for those complex operations. Besides there are extant regulations, like the Civil Service Rules, which prescribe procedures and timelines for attaining and holding senior positions in the Public Service. It isn’t as if the present leadership of INEC is at liberty to throw out some senior staff and throw in others at will, in disregard of these extant regulations, without risking severe dislocations in the Commission that could incapacitate it from effectively discharging its mandate.
It is no doubt important that a nationally strategic organisation like INEC must be sensitive to the Federal Character factor. But if it must attain unto the vision of the present leadership and satisfy the yearnings of most Nigerians, merit, experience and expertise, not petty ethnic considerations, must be the primary criteria for attaining and holding key offices in the Commission. That is where the on-going restructuring is headed. And that is why the ethnic campaign is needlessly distracting.
.Kayode Robert Idowu is the Chief Press Secretary to INEC Chairman