Forty days to the presidential election, eminent persons across the country, on Saturday, insisted that the appointment of Amina Zakari as head of the collation centre for the general election by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is part of a grand design to compromise the poll.
They insisted that Zakari ought to go, as the claim by the Presidency that she had no blood tie with President Muhammadu Buhari was untenable.
However, Mrs Zakari, in an interview monitored on Channels Television on Saturday, said she was neither a cousin nor niece of the president.
“I’m not his cousin; I’m not his niece. I will continue to do my work in the service of the fatherland,” she said.
Elder statesmen, Chiefs Olu Falae and Ayo Adebanjo; former governor of Ekiti and South-West coordinator of the Aticu/Obi campaign organisation, Chief Ayo Fayose; former ministers, Mrs Obiageli Ezekwesili and Chief Tom Ikimi; Colonel Tony Nyiam, leaders of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo and Middle Belt Forum all agreed that Zakari’s continued stay in the commission had further lent credence to the allegation of plot to rig the elections.
There has been uproar over the appointment of Zakari, said to be a niece of President Buhari, as head of the collation centre for the general election. Zakari is the commissioner in charge of Health and Welfare in the commission.
But, the Presidency on Friday denied that Buhari has tie with Zakari, who represents Jigawa State as a commissioner in INEC.
Buhari should sack her now –Ayo Adebanjo
Also, a leader of pan-Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, urged President Buhari to remove Zakari, if he does not have any other interest to protect.
The Afenifere chieftain, while saying it was not proper to continue to have Zakari in that position at INEC, contended that it was “the practice and norm anywhere that once a member of public or any citizen for that matter complains of lack of confidence in an umpire, such umpire or jury should cease to be.”
“It is not proper. It is only in a country like this that some people don’t see it as anything. The fact that any member of public or any citizen doesn’t have confidence in a jury means that jury shouldn’t be there. Once you lack confidence in an arbiter, there is no room for argument,” he said, querying further that “what is special there that she cannot be removed?”
It’s a sign of plans by authorities to compromise election — Falae
Chief Falae, who spoke with Sunday Tribune on Saturday said the status of Zakari in the commission was not the issue, as “every Nigerian has the right to occupy any office in the land,” but the chain of events that underscored a pre-meditated plan to rig the election.
He observed that the case of her current appointment should not be treated in isolation as it was manifestation of the series of actions by the authorities to compromise the election.
Citing the withholding of assent by President Buhari to the Electoral Act amendment, the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation said there were pointers to a plot to undermine the wish of the electorate.
He wondered “why anybody should be afraid to allow the wish of the electorate to prevail at the poll,” stressing that heaven would not fall, if a candidate should lose in a free, fair and credible contest.
It’s a public scandal —Junaid Muhammed
Shedding more light on the controversy, Second Republic member of the House of Representatives, Dr Junaid Mohammed, described the appointment of Zakari as a monumental public scandal ahead of the 2019 general elections.
Speaking in a telephone interview, the one time lawmaker from Kano State contended that he was shocked over her appointment.
“I was part of the Kano State delegation that went to Sokoto to condole with the people over the death of the former President Sheu Shagari. While in Sokoto, I saw Bola Tinubu in company with Murtala Nyako. He told me to follow him to Abuja. We held a meeting. From there, on the following day, when I was returning to Kano, I heard the news of her appointment.
“I think the INEC chairman, Professor Mahmoud Yakubu, was forced or blackmail into making such an embarrassing appointment.
“Her appointment is a public scandal. And I want to appeal to concerned authorities to act accordingly by reversing her appointment.
“Zakari should be removed as the chairman of that committee and return the position to the chairman of the commission. The responsibility of collating results rests with INEC chairman. That is the standard practice.
“I don’t have any thing against her, but we are talking of having credible elections and for the credibility of the elections, the government of the day should know that this election is too important for Nigerians to joke with. The government must shun any thing that will plunged the country into another crisis few days to election,” he said.
According to the former vice-presidential candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), “this election, if care is not taken, may be the final arbiter of our journey to becoming a democratic nation.
“What is so special about appointing her into such position at this late hour? Don’t we have other credible people in government, parliament or judiciary, rather than having a trained pharmacist to collate the figures for us?”
He also described the refutal by the Federal Government about her relationship with the president hypocritical.
“I could remember that the Salihidjo of the defunct Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) and one late Dr Safana telling me that she was a niece to General Buhari.
Apart from that, I knew her father. He taught me Arabic and Islamic Studies in college. The present Emir of Kazaure is her elder brother. The present minister of water resources is her younger brother. One of her sisters was married to a former Ambassador to Niger Republic.
“If you are married to a family, you are part of that family. I raised her case in an interview I gave to a national daily two years ago. But the media and everyone ignored what I was saying at that time.”
Zakari is a moral burden on Presidency, INEC – Fayose
Immediate-past governor of Ekiti State and Southwest coordinator of the Atiku/Obi 2019 campaign, Dr Fayose, said the issue of Zakari had become a moral burden on both the Presidency and the INEC.
He maintained that President Buhari had no electoral worth left to warrant his being a contender in the coming presidential election, given a free and fair exercise.
The former governor who said the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and other opposition political parties had no confidence in INEC, as presently constituted and under the current leadership of the nation, made the declaration in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, during a campaign summit he hosted the party’s National Assembly candidates to.
“If you say the APC controls the South-West now, I agree. But the table turned. PDP used to control it. The table merely turned. Let me tell you, there were many people who used Buhari’s name in 2015. Buhari helped many people to win in that election. But today, if you put his picture on your poster, may God help you. He has lost any name he had. He lost it all.
“You can tell what to expect from their actions in the last elections they conducted. It started in Kogi, came to Ondo, Ekiti and Osun. Nigeria started the trend with inconclusiveness. In fact, it started in Edo and came down to the South-West.
“It is now a moral burden for this government. This is a government that emerged from an election conducted by a man who had the opportunity to hold unto power, but didn’t; a man who said his ambition was not worth the blood of any Nigerian. It has become a moral burden on this government.
“In any case, you can’t see anything good in any INEC overseen by the current leadership of the country.
“Zakari was appointed by Goodluck Jonathan when Buhari was not a candidate in any election. If you were taken to court and you take a plea before the judge that you don’t believe in his ability to give you justice, he gives way. Why does Zakari’s case appear like a do-or-die matter? When Zakari was appointed as INEC national commissioner, President Buhari, her blood relation, was not a presidential candidate.
“In fact, the president had vowed never to run for the Presidency after the 2011 election. Now that he is candidate and a sitting president, fairness and equity demand that Zakari should step aside from playing any role in this election. They want to rob during the day. And I see that as a banana peel for Nigeria.
“Should the PDP candidate, Atiku Abubakar, and other presidential candidates also have their relatives as part of INEC committee on collation of results?”
It is morally wrong, will erode Nigerians’ confidence – Ohanaeze
The apex Igbo socio-cultural association, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, noted that while the deployment of Zakari to head the election collation centre was not constitutionally wrong, it was wrong morally.
Deputy National Publicity Secretary of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Mazi Chuks Ibegbu, speaking with Sunday Tribune, said, “it is not wrong per se, constitutionally, for the Presidency to appoint Zakari as head of election collation centre. But it is morally wrong. It will be difficult for Zakari to be impartial in the conduct of an election involving her uncle (Buhari). Many Nigerians will not have confidence in INEC, if she is allowed to remain there.”
Reverse Zakari’s deployment now, Ezekwesili warns INEC
In a similar vein, the presidential candidate of the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN), Dr. Obiageli Ezekwesili, asked INEC chairman to reverse the deployment of Zakari.
The former minister of education, in a statement on Saturday, said: “The INEC chairman appears to have bowed to pressure from the Presidency.”
She described Zakari’s appointment as political corruption, “considering that having a relation of the president who is a contestant in the February 2019 presidential election amounts to an apparent conflict of interest situation,” adding that such “repugnant deployment of Zakari to the collation centre suggests a brazen attempt to ease rigging for the APC’s candidate in the election.”
To ensure peace and give all the candidates a level playing field, the ACPN standard-bearer asked the INEC to restore confidence in the management of the collation process by reversing the appointment of Zakari as the committee’s chairperson.
“Zakari can be assigned another task farther away from tasks that can hinder electoral integrity.
“The INEC chairman has obviously bowed to President Buhari’s visible and increasingly brazen determination to not just rig, but to steal the 2019 presidential election and throw the country into crisis. Or how else can one describe this repugnant action of placing the president’s niece, Mrs Amina Zakari, at the head of the centre for collation of election results?
“The President and INEC chairman should know that this extremely repugnant and provocative act of political corruption that seeks to undermine our democracy and destabilise the country shall be resisted by all patriotic Nigerians.
“I caution the INEC chairman and the Presidency to reverse this shameful posting immediately and safeguard the integrity of the 2019 elections,” she said.
“The president should lead a discussion among candidates and parties to set the rules that will guide the security forces in the 2019 elections. Ideally, the military and police establishments should be pulled out of the involvement in our elections, considering the damning evidences of how their personnel disenfranchised voters in Ekiti and Osun governorship elections.
“I call on the international community to join the Nigerian people and prevail on President Buhari to practise the Peace Accord, with exemplary actions, in order to build confidence in the process he ebulliently led,” she said.
INEC chairman has responsibility to Nigerians —Nyiam
On his part, Colonel Nyiam said the onus was on Professor Yakuku to ensure that the forthcoming elections were conducted based on global standards and practices.
Accordingly, Nyiam warned that it was the responsibility of the leadership of the commission to frontally address any raging issue surrounding any functionary of the INEC, since the buck stops at his table.
“If there is a controversy over a particular individual, it is the duty of the boss of the electoral commission to take an appropriate action,” Nyiam said.
Reject the offer, Ikimi advises Zakari
Former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chief Tom Ikimi, speaking on the controversy, advised Mrs. Zakari to voluntarily reject the offer.
The former national chairman of the defunct National Republican Convention (NRC) during the ill-fated Third Republic told crowd of PDP supporters at an Edo Central Senatorial district rally in Uromi, Esan Local Government Area of Edo State that it was inappropriate for the electoral umpire to appoint relatives of a candidate to collate results of the presidential election.
“INEC has a responsibility to conduct a free and fair election. It must be above board. Mrs. Zakari must disqualify herself,” Ikimi advised.
It is morally reprehensible –Edo PDP chairman
In a similar vein, chairman of the PDP in Edo State, Chief Dan Orbih, who also spoke at the rally attended by wife of the PDP presidential candidate, Mrs Jennifer Atiku, said it was “morally reprehensible that Mrs. Zakari, a kinswoman of President Muhammadu Buhari, the APC candidate is being selected for the onerous job.
Orbih added that INEC did have a responsibility to conduct a free and fair election, noting that the opposition party would resist any attempt by the commission to rig the poll by working in league with the APC.
Zakari, a red flag for 2019 elections –Afenifere
Meanwhile, Afenifere, in an official position demanded for Zakari’s resignation.
Speaking with Sunday Tribune on phone, spokesperson of the group, Yinka Odumakin, said “she has to go. INEC can’t relieve her of responsibilities, as long as she is still on the commission. Our demand is direct to President Buhari.
This woman was nominated by Nasir el-Rufai to INEC. She served with el-Rufai when he was minister. It was el-Rufai that nominated her and I want him to deny that.
“I can see that in all the elections where she has been accused of playing one role or the other, el-Rufai is always defending her. So, she is a red flag for 2019. She must be relieved of that post. Her brother can give her an appointment in the Presidency, but not to conduct elections for us. She is tainted and, therefore, she must go.”
Middle Belt groups fault appointment
Also, groups and individuals in the Middle Belt added their voices to the gale of condemnation.
President of Mdzou U To, Chief Edward Ujege, described the development as abuse of power, while the Tiv Youth Organisation (TYO) observed that Mrs with the development, Mrs Zakari could be a tool to mar a credible exercise.
Ujege noted that it was absolutely wrong for a relation of any candidate in the coming elections to be given such sensitive role, adding that it would make a mess of the elections.
“It is absolutely wrong and an abuse of power to give relation to any candidate in the coming elections such roles to play, because at the end, it will make the exercise a ruse,” he said.
In his own comment, president of TYO, Timothy Hembaor, said the development made it “absolutely clear that the APC seeks to use Zakari as a tool to rig the forthcoming election.
“Having been rejected by Nigerians, Buhari is now using her as virus to compromise the independence of the (electoral) commission, manipulate the electoral process and rig the presidential election for him.
“A credible electoral commission must be completely impartial, transparent, totally independent and immune from external control by interested entities.
“These are qualities INEC can no longer lay claim to as long as Zakari remains even a member of the committee.”
“INEC, Buhari heating up polity with Zakari” – ASOMBEN
The Secretary, Association of Middle Belt Ethnic Nationalities (ASOMBEN), Reverend James Pam, blamed both INEC and President Buhari for heating up the polity with appointment of Amina Zakari, adding the president, in 2015, had attempted to make her INEC chairman, but rescinded this when Nigerians kicked against it.
Reverend Pam advised both the president and INEC to reverse Zakari’s appointment “with immediate effect and post her to another parastatal” to reduce the controversy.
“Why should that woman hold such key position? My advice to INEC is that they should remove the woman from INEC quickly. She is too controversial. Why don’t they post her to another parastatal? Why must she be in INEC?” he queried.
“With her there won’t be credible election” – Middle Belt Front
Also, the Convener, Middle Belt Front, Ibrahim Bunu, said with Zakari in the sensitive position given to her, “in view of her relationship with the president, there will be no credible election in February.”
He added that the appointment was a wrong signal and “an ominous sign, as far as the presidential election is concerned.”
“There is the fear that there won’t be credible election in 2019. The selection of the present INEC chairman was not like the former one under the Jonathan-led administration. You are a president from the North and you are picking somebody from the North. This is already a wrong signal. There is a lot of information aligning this woman with the president.
“Zakari should relinquish the position” – PDP
Similarly, the running mate to the PDP governorship candidate in Kaduna State, Honourable Sonny Katung Marshal, said “in a situation like this, the most honourable thing to do by Mrs. Zakari is to excuse herself on moral ground or the president should direct INEC to remove her to protect his image and integrity.
“Already, with this appointment, INEC is starting on a cloudy note. Whatever INEC wants to do, there should be some element of transparency and independence. It is wrong for the commission to claim that it is independent and can do anything without recourse to certain circumstances and prevailing political situation in the country.”
APC not ready to contest in 2019 elections —Olawepo Hashim
Presidential candidate of the Peoples Trust (PT), Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim, while rejecting the appointment of Zakari, said the ruling APC is not ready to contest in the coming elections.
Olawepo- Hashim, who stated this in a chat with our correspondent, said that the appointment had further confirmed “that the APC is not ready to contest the 2019 elections.”
He said that the ruling party, rather than run on its achievements, was seeking ways to manipulate the process and concoct results.
“We see the appointment as another evidence that the APC is not ready to contest the elections,” Olawepo- Hashim said, adding that Nigerians were, however, wiser to resist manipulations.
“Nigerians will resist every attempt to manipulate the process to hand over an undeserved victory to any of the big parties. We are resolute on free and fair elections and we shall continue to provide leadership for Nigerians to see the dream of credible elections come to fruition, “ he said. – Tribune.