Some concerned groups have taken President Bola Tinubu to court over the appointment of Resident Electoral Commissioners for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The lawsuit was filed against President Tinubu at the Federal High Court in Lagos by various groups including Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), BudgIT, and 34 concerned Nigerians specifically for “the appointment of at least four members of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and allies of high-ranking politicians as new Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)”.
This was disclosed in a statement by SERAP’s deputy director, Kolawole Oluwadare, on Sunday.
The President had on October 25 approved the appointment of 10 new RECs for the electoral body for a term of five years each. A week later, the Nigerian Senate screened the nominees and confirmed seven. Those confirmed are Etekamba Umoren (Akwa Ibom), Isah Shaka Ehimeakne (Edo), Oluwatoyin Babalola (Ekiti), Abubakar Ahmed Ma’aji (Gombe), Shehu Wahab (Kwara), Mohammed Yelwa (Niger) and Aminu Idris (Nasarawa).
However, there was an outcry that the appointees from Akwa Ibom, Edo, Lagos and Rivers were partisan. They were said to be loyalists of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
The plaintiffs, in the suit marked FHC/L/CS/2353/2023 filed last Friday, are seeking “an order setting aside the nomination, confirmation and appointment of the alleged APC members as RECs for INEC, for being unconstitutional, unlawful, null, void and of no effect”.
Other reliefs sought by the plaintiffs include “an order of mandamus to compel President Tinubu and Senate President Mr Godswill Akpabio to remove the alleged APC members as RECs for INEC, in line with Section 157 of the Nigerian Constitution 1999 [as amended].
“An order of mandamus to direct and compel President Tinubu to appoint qualified Nigerians who are persons of unquestionable integrity and a non-member of a political party or loyalist to the positions of RECs for INEC, in line with Paragraph 14(3)(b)(c), Third Schedule and Section 156 of the Nigerian Constitution.”
The plaintiffs argue that: “The status, powers, independence of INEC, and the impartiality with which it acts and is seen to be allowed to act, are fundamental to the integrity of Nigeria’s elections and effectiveness of citizens’ democratic rights.
“INEC ought to be the primary guarantor of the integrity and purity of the electoral process. President Tinubu and the Senate have the constitutional responsibilities to ensure both the appearance and the actual independence and impartiality in the nomination and confirmation of INEC top officials.”
They further argue that the credibility and legitimacy of elections depend mostly on the independence and impartiality of those appointed to manage the process. Without an independent and impartial INEC, the democratic rights of Nigerians would remain illusory.
“Anyone to be appointed as RECs for INEC must clearly be non-partisan, independent, impartial and neutral. INEC officials ought to be able to discharge their legal duties and implement the Electoral Act without fear or favour.
“Nigeria’s electoral body must enjoy the independence from direction or control, whether from the government or any other quarter. It must be accountable to the electorate, and act accordingly,” the plaintiffs argue.
The suit filed on behalf of the plaintiffs by their lawyers, Kolawole Oluwadare and Andrew Nwankwo, read in part: “As public officers, President Tinubu and Mr Godswill Akpabio are required to act in conformity with their oath of office and the letter and spirit of the Nigerian Constitution 1999 [as amended].
“Treating INEC as a line department accountable to bureaucratic higher-ups and high-ranking politicians, rather than as an independent and impartial body is antithetical to constitutional and international standards and the notion of the rule of law.
“The use of the word ‘non-partisan’ means that those to be appointed to conduct credible elections must not be people who openly identify as belonging to a political party, whose occupation is politics or who are perceived by ordinary Nigerians as having political biases.”
Joined in the suit as defendants are INEC; Mr Godswill Akpabio, for himself and on behalf of the Senate; and Messrs Etekamba Umoren; Isah Shaka Ehimeakne; Anugbum Onuoha; and Bunmi Omoseyindemi.
No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.