ABUJA—The House of Representatives, yesterday, warned President Goodluck Jonathan against removing the chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega, saying his removal could derail the nation’s democracy.
The House has, therefore, resolved to subject anyone involved in moves to remove Jega to judicial prosecution in Nigeria or at the International Criminal Court, ICC.
President Jonathan has, however, insisted that there was no such plan to remove the INEC chairman ahead of the general elections scheduled for March 28 and April 11.
Speaking in an interview on Al-Jazeera English on Monday, President Jonathan had said: “INEC is a very sensitive body. For me to change INEC chairman, Nigerians will ask questions. So, you cannot wake up and change INEC chairman.”
He said that he had never raised the prospect of a change in the leadership of the commission with “any human being on earth.”
The House resolution that was pushed through by the All Progressives Congress, APC, majority was despite strong objections by the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, caucus in the chamber.
Meanwhile, alleged plots to recruit Resident Electoral Commissioners, RECs, to instigate a no-confidence motion against Jega today came unstuck after a meeting of the RECs scheduled for today was shifted. The meeting, Vanguard gathered, would now hold next week.
The House resolution came as Speaker Aminu Tambuwal told a civil rights group that any premature removal of Jega could derail the country’s democracy.
The motion to sanction anyone involved in the alleged plot to prematurely nudge Jega out from the country’s election management body was brought to the House floor by Rep. Ali Ahmed (APC,Kwara).
Moving the motion titled: “Threat to further tamper with the status quo arrangement for the 2015 general elections”, Ahmed noted that “the initial postponement of the general elections for the six weeks due to the security concerns related to the Boko Haram insurgency has further heightened the tempo for pre-election violence.”
He stated that there were already threats and insinuations about further alterations to the status quo arrangements and regulations for the elections, arguing that “any alteration in the status quo arrangements in whatever form at this crucial stage would invariably lead to further postponement of the dates of the elections”.
According to him, the “threat to tamper with the status quo may take several forms including but not limited to illegal removal of the current INEC chairman”.
He further submitted that “there is already documented evidence from several sources that any change in status quo arrangements, especially removal of the INEC chairman, “presents a possibility of violence” and would occasion the sowing of seeds of major crises”.
Ahmed reminded the House that civil society organizations and some notable Nigerians have already sounded “a note of warning”, and threatened a “showdown” should the Federal Government go ahead to remove Jega.
Quoting Section 157(1) of the 1999 Constitution, he said that Jega could only be removed from office on only two grounds based on “his inability to discharge the functions of the office or for misconduct as determined by two-thirds majority of the Senate”.
He thus “prayed the House to urge the political class, government of the Federation, states and security agencies to heed the warning of imminent and present danger associated with any interference with the existing schedules of the general elections and also hold personally accountable, at domestic judicial forum or at the International Criminal Court, any person or organization that foists on INEC any decision or action whatever, including unconstitutional attempt to remove the current chairman, that has the effect of making it impracticable for the elections to hold on March 28,and April 11, 2015.”
Hardly had Ahmed finished than the deputy leader of the PDP caucus, Rep. Leo Ogor raised a point of order based on House Order 62 which states: “No dilatory motion shall be entertained by the Speaker”.
Ogor said that the motion thrived on speculations, saying that he failed to establish or properly situate the principle of the motion. “Nobody is interested in rumour”, Ogor said as he urged the speaker to dismiss the motion.
His submission received spontaneous jeers from many members of the House, prompting Tambuwal, who presided, to hit the gavel repeatedly in his effort to regain the attention of members.
Turning to Ogor, Tambuwal said: “Thank you, but unfortunately, I have to overrule you.” With the ruling, Tambuwal proceeded to put the question with the ayes drowning the nays.
APC caucus leader reacts
Following the debate, leader of the APC House caucus, Rep. Femi Gbajabiamila told Vanguard that the appointment of the INEC chairman could only be terminated by a two-third vote of the Senate, stressing that Section 171 was clear on who a civil servant was.
“Personally, I do not consider the chairman of INEC as a civil servant subject to our civil service rules, same way I am not a civil servant”.
Speaking while receiving a delegation of the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, NCS-SR, after yesterday’s House session, Tambuwal said any attempt to remove Jega would be unlawful and could derail the nation’s democracy.
He explained that those plotting Jega’s removal are only playing a script that Nigerians are familiar with. “When the Emir of Kano, Muhammad Sanusi II,” whose removal he explained precipitated the current economic woes being experienced in the nation, “I had cause to condemn the act. Those contemplating Jega’s removal are acting along the same line.
“But Jega is not a civil servant. We should be careful. We shouldn’t send the wrong signal to the people of Nigeria,” the speaker appealed.
Kicking against the veiled declaration of war and the indications from unknown quarters that an interim government is in the offing, Tambuwal observed that “signs are ominous that if we are not careful, the dark days will return to Nigeria.
“There is no interim government in the constitution. Those talking about interim government, are they planning a coup? It is outside the Constitution, and I don’t know why our security agencies are condoning it? It is a treasonable offence. We should respect the wishes of the people and the will of God.
“It is very clear that certain individuals are not interested in a free and fair electoral process,” he added.
“We should always remember that power belongs to God, and He gives it as He wills. We should appreciate that not up to 10 per cent of us (Nigerians) are politicians. What then happens to the remaining 90 per cent? If you do what pleases you and at the end of the day crises break out, what happens,” he asked.
Tambuwal also had a word of caution for the electronic media which beam sponsored advertisements attacking some members of the opposition political parties. “Some of the adverts are well over and above board,” he pointed out, wondering whether leaders of such organisations ever think about the future.
Earlier, Clement Nwankwo of the NCS-SR said the group was worried about the economic crisis in the country, the fate of the constitution and the forthcoming general elections.
“We are making the point that the dates of the elections are so close to the handover dates, so it will be intolerable to postpone the elections again.”
He also criticised the idea of foisting an interim government on the nation and the suggestions that Jega should proceed on terminal leave. He cited sections 156-7 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) to back his argument.
Meanwhile, today’s scheduled meeting of the country’s RECs with Jega in Abuja has been shifted to next week. The shift, Vanguard learned, was to enable the RECs prepare for and monitor Saturday’s test run of the card readers to be used for the election.
Chief Press Secretary to the INEC chairman, Kayode Idowu told Vanguard that since the commission had already planned to carry out a mock election, where the card readers would be used, it was decided that the RECs meeting be put off till after that exercise.
“As you already know, this weekend we are going to 12 states to demonstrate how the Card Reader works. We have chosen two states from each of the geopolitical zones; we will be at any ward the REC of the state will select for the exercise. It is on that strength that the RECs meeting was shifted”.
Today’s meeting was to evaluate the preparation of the commission ahead of the March 28 and April 11 polls with a special focus on the distribution of the Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) across the country.