Legal practitioners, members of civil society groups and other Nigerians have cautioned President Goodluck Jonathan against sacking the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Attahiru Jega. They also cautioned those urging the President to sack the electoral umpire to desist because the INEC Chairman does not have the constitutional right to fire Jega.
They further urged Nigerians to be prepared to take their destinies in the hands should the President decide to go against the constitution in this regard.
Some senators on the platform of the All Progressive Congress, APC, had on Thursday alleged that there was a grand plan to sack Jega within a week.
They accused the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and the presidency of hatching this plot.
The activists concerns were triggered by Friday’s insistence by the Supervising Minister for Information Edem Duke that Prof. Jega’s removal would follow the Civil Service Rule while reacting to opposition Senators allegation of plot to sack the electoral umpire in chief.
Duke’s patronizing response to a matter many consider as serious fuelled speculations that the ruling party is determined to get Jega out of the way before the rescheduled elections dates.
Consequently, Lagos lawyer, Festus Keyamo, urged Nigerians to resist any of such moves because it is unconstitutional.
Keyamo said the position on civil servants as contained in the constitution did not apply to Jega, whose tenure ends in June.
Keyamo, currently in London, lamented in a statement that the PDP and the presidency had constantly sponsored negative stories and advertorials in leading national newspapers against Jega, adding that this was not the best at the current time.
Another lawyer and Chairman of the Lagos Assembly Committee on Judiciary, Sanai Agunbiade, said it would not only amount to a constitutional problem, it would throw the country into chaos.
Agunbiade said Jega could only be removed by two-third majority of the legislators, but that with the way it is now, any attempt to even discuss it in the National Assembly would make people understand that the PDP really does not want Nigeria’s democracy to survive.
“If that happens, it would confirm positions that the six weeks extension is meant to carry out this job,” he added.
Barrister Wale Ogunade, Coordinator of the Voters Awareness Initiative, said: “if there is a rumour to that effect, I suspect that there would be some truth to it. My opinion on this issue however is that sending Prof Jega on compulsory or terminal leave at this period is just a ploy to cause problem for this country.
“If this government is not ready to conduct an election, let them tell us because I don’t know when somebody will prepare a meal, get ready to serve the meal and you will now say he should leave the food for somebody to come and serve. It is not done anywhere. You don’t change a referee midway into a game.
“Whichever way, anybody that wants to disturb the system, let them go ahead. For us, we know that the ploy will not fly because we are living in a country that is ruled by law and the law will always take its course.
“We are running a democratic system of government and anyone who wants to run a dictatorial government should bury that thought. Law and order must prevail in this country and we will not accept anything less.”
Another lawyer, Robert Igbinedion, said he was sure Nigerians are comfortable with Prof. Jega conducting the forthcoming elections, adding that the INEC chairman had shown a level of neutrality by his actions and words and should be allowed to continue with his plans at INEC.
“Bringing any person to take over from him now would spell disaster for this country. First, we heard the rumour that Prof. Mimiko was going to replace Jega. Although we have not heard anything again about the rumour, the question someone would ask is, why will any reasonable government want to replace the INEC Chairman with the brother of a serving governor who is loyal to the PDP? It just doesn’t make sense.
“President Jonathan has a moral obligation to ensure that this election does not only go well but that is it perceived to be credible. The international community is watching us and I believe this is not the right time to begin an experiment with a new INEC chairman. Prof Jega should be allowed to do his job,” he said.
Barrister Yemi Omodele said any plan to simply remove or send away Prof. Jega at this point in time would not help the country.
“Although it is still a rumour, if it is true, then it shows how desperate this present government is in making sure it remains in power. The election was initially shifted on the advice of security chiefs.
“We are trying to give them the benefit of doubt and now we are hearing that they want to remove Jega. Let them try it and see what Nigerians will do.
“Saying that Jega should proceed on terminal leave is not only satanic and uncalled for, it is just a desperate plan by the government of the day to manipulate INEC and ensure that they win at all costs.”
Barrister Chris Nwaokobia said he was in support of well-meaning Nigerians raising their voices against the government’s plan to remove Jega.
He warned the presidency against provoking the people of the country, recalling that Jega has promised to conduct the freest and fairest election in the country’s history and his posture has shown that he meant it.
He said to attempt to remove Jega through the National Assembly or any means would be an infraction.
Rights activist, Abiodun Sowunmi, simply said a player does not have the right to remove his referee, adding that Jonathan, as a candidate in the election, cannot remove the electoral umpire as it was unconstitutional to do so.
Citing sections 157 and 171 of the Nigerian Constitution as amended, Sowunmi said the plan to remove Jega was meant to create a constitutional problem that would lead to an interim government.
According to him, if Jega is sacked now and Jonathan loses at the election, he would head to court and the court would then rule that Jega’s removal is illegal thus creating a problem in the country.