In the new week, the National Assembly (NASS), especially the senate has two major impute to make to advance democracy, facilitate effectiveness and efficiency of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) which is warming up for the conduct of general election in 2023.
The two major issues are the finalisation of required amendments to the Electoral Bill and the approval of President Muhammadu Buhari’s electoral commissioner nominees.
The Senate, it has been reported, has further amended the Electoral Act to provide for alternative for the holding of primaries by political parties against the direct primary clause that had been contentious.
The other is the approval of the INEC’s National Commissioners as nominated by President Buhari which stakeholders say should be expeditious because of the preparation for bye-elections, some governorship elections as well as the February 2023 general election.
The nominees which the Senate President, Senator Ahmed Lawan, unveiled on the floor of the senate, include May Agbamuche (Delta state) representing South-south; Mr Ukeagu Nnamdi (Abia state) representing South-east.
The others are Major Gen. A. B Alkali Rtd.(Adamawa state), representing North-east; Rada Gumus (Bayelsa state), representing another South-South; Mohammed Haruna (Niger state) representing North-central; Others are Sam Olumekun (Ondo state) representing South-west and well as Mr. Olaniyi Ijalaye (Ondo State, South West) as Resident Electoral Commissioner.
Stakeholders have appealed to the Senate to see the immediate approval of the nominees as a national duty that should be devoid of political intrigues and nuances.
Praising President Muhammadu Buhari for the timely presentation of the nominees, the Inter-Party Advisory Council, IPAC , appealed to the National Assembly to confirm the appointees with the deserved urgency in view of the up-coming strategic elections later in the year and in 2023.
IPAC was particularly excited over the nomination of Mr Kenneth Ukeagu as National Commissioner.
The IPAC National Chairman, Mr Yabagi Yusuf Sani, described the nomination of Mr. Ukeagu, a serving Director with INEC, as a National Commissioner, a commendable ground-breaking appointment that will enhance smooth operations of the Commission.
Mr Sani also observed that with his experience of thirty years, during which he climbed from a very junior officer through the rungs to his present position, the nominee will be coming on his new position with a tremendous wealth of experience that an inexperienced appointee would take a long time to master the ropes.
He said by this unique decision, President Buhari has established a new chapter of appointing working public officials to exalted positions hitherto considered as slots of political reward to cronies and party members thereby jettisoning experience, professionalism and dedication in service.
“The appointment of Mr. Ukeagu would greatly inspire zeal and commitment to service by his colleagues at INEC to the national course of deepening and strengthening democratic institutions’’.
IPAC similarly commended Prof. Mahmud Yakubu, Chairman of INEC, for the role he clearly played in the identification and recognition of the dedication, diligence, discipline and patriotism which informed the President’s acceptance of Mr. Ukeagu’s appointment.
With Ukeagu’s appointment, President Buhari has again hit the bull’s-eye preparatory to the 2023 general elections and has also set a precedent.
Alhaji Aminu Alkali, Chairman of the National Integration Forum (NIF), a political pressure group, observed that the appointment was not consequent on political exigency but based purely on experience and due diligence.
“Ukeagu’s appointment is unique being the first member of staff or an insider to be so appointed by any president; President Buhari needs to be commended for the innovation, sense of judgment, and the futuristic reforms in the commission,’’ he said.
“Aside being a round peg in a round hole, the appointment is an indication that hard work pays and it will encourage members of staff of the Commission to look up to scaling to top of the ladder as well as usher in unfettered commitment that will boost the nascent democracy.
“This appointment is a further step taken to discourage corruption in electoral system as well as a step taken in the president’s usual manner of refining the system.’’
Mr. Hakim Afolabi of the Centre for Transparency and Accountability, said “It was not made to deny or diminish any state or region of their slots but based on national interest which sometimes should be injected and blended into critical institutions.’’
“I appeal to the Senate to approve the nominees because of the immediate critical and substantial inputs they are to make into the electoral process.’’
“NASS should regard these appointments as dramatic injection of reforms and an encouragement that would give birth to a better tomorrow.’’
“The Senate should display the needed urgency as usual in approving the appointments in order to save time as well as prevent political meddling,’’ Mr Adebayo Owolabi, the Chairman of Nigeria Democratic Initiative, advised.
“We are aware that the senate if aware that all the nominees are capable and will add value to the electoral system. The honourable senators should do the needful to avoid unnecessary turmoil,’’ he said.
Appealing to the Senate to approve the appointments without delay, President Buhari explained that the request was made pursuant to paragraph 14 of Part (1) of the Third Schedule to the 1999 Constitution (as amended).