Following the outcry that accompanied the nomination of party members as commissioners in the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Presidet Goodluck Jonathan has announced his intention to withdraw such nominees from the electoral body
He made the declaration at the 51st meeting of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) at its national secretariat in Abuja on Thursday.
President Jonathan, who referred to recent media publications on the issue, told members of the PDP NEC that even though there was no law barring political party members from being appointed into INEC positions, he decided to withdraw those who were associated with political parties in his desire to ensure free and fair elections next year.
The Action Congress (AC) had queried President Jonathan’s commitment to the conduct of free and fair elections, citing his nomination of members of the PDP as INEC commissioners.
In a statement signed by its National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the party had said: “Ambassador Z. Anka contested the governorship of Zamfara on the platform of the PDP in 1999; General (AB) Mamman is a member of the Board of Trustees of the PDP, while Alhaji Yakubu Shehu contested the senatorial elections in 2003 and 2007 on the platform of the PDP in Kaduna State, and he is the chairman of PDP stakeholders in Giwa Local Government of Kaduna State. Yet, all these people were on the president’s list of appointments into INEC.”
President Jonathan said: “If we follow media publications, you will notice that they come with clear evidence of some people that are clear members of political parties. The constitution does not say that if you are a member of a political party, you should not be in INEC. No, that is very clear.
“You can be a member of a political party. We can decide to make the acting chairman (of PDP) the chairman of INEC, if we choose to do so, if we believe that he can conduct elections free and fair. I am not saying that he is going to rig election for PDP.
“In fact, the law emphasises that to be in INEC you must qualify to contest election into the House of Representatives. For you to contest election into the House of Representatives, you must be a member of a political party. So if you follow the law to the letter, you can appoint people in political parties to be in INEC.
“Active members of political parties will feel, wrongly or rightly, that we will be biased. If today I make the acting chairman as the INEC chairman, they will say PDP has taken over the place. But for that reason I promised Nigerians and the whole world that come 2011, we are going to conduct free and fair elections. For that reason, any body that will be in INEC should be somebody that should be above board.
“People should have confidence in him because perception is one thing and reality is another. If they perceive that he will do the wrong thing even if he does the right thing, and somebody fails election, they will believe that he was manipulated out and for that reason, those people that have been linked to have played key roles in political parties, I am withdrawing them,” he explained.
President Jonathan drew the attention of the party chieftains to the coming elections, saying that the party must prepare itself by ensuring greater internal democracy that would ensure that candidates emerged through a free and fair process, noting that there would be no automatic tickets.
He said: “I want to plead with the party that, especially as the elections are coming, one of the areas where we normally have problems is the issue of internal democracy; that this time round as a party and as a nation, we have to do things in a way that will not bring problems for us.
“So all the areas that we used to have some irritations we should avoid them and let’s work together and see that the next candidates we present for all levels of election from the least, the councillorship, to the highest, the presidency, should be candidates selected by the people.
“The party has to set up machinery to make sure that we resolve, at least, most of this crisis before the elections because I have mentioned several times that on my own part and on the part of the government, we will make sure that the votes of Nigerians count for the final election,” he said.
He also said he was worried about the security situation in the country, especially kidnapping in the Eastern states and announced the resolve of the administration to tackle the problem frontally.
According to him, “the issue of kidnapping is a problem that the government must tackle frontally and I have decided that I must tackle it frontally. We can no longer continue to live in a society where, even if your wife is going to church, you have to look for AFC to follow her. If your children are going to school, you have to look for machine gun-carrying security people to follow them. How many people can afford that?”
In his welcome address, the acting national chairman of the party, Dr Bello Haliru Mohammed, called on party members to prepare their documents such as tax clearance and party membership, adding that screening exercise would be carried out before they were selected as party candidates for any election.
Meanwhile, worried by the unending crisis at the top management level of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), the presidency, in concert with governors of the nine states in the region, gave an order to the feuding parties to sheathe their swords within 14 days or risk being sacked from the commission.
Specifically, the Managing Director (MD), Chibuzor Ugwuoha, as well as the Executive Director of Projects (EDP), Mr Eseotek Ibong Etteh, were given till the end of the month to show affirmative signs that they had reconciled their differences.
The resolution was the fallout of a meeting that dragged into the early hours of Wednesday between the presidency and the governors, even as President Jonathan ordered an investigation into the allegations bordering on due process infractions in the award of contracts at the NDDC.
The accusations and counter-accusations between Ugwuoha and Etteh had generated a lot of controversies in the past four months, just as the North-West representative on the board of the NDDC, Dr Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, resigned on Friday, last week.
He gave the board’s lack of firmness in handling the crisis as the reason for his action.
Although the Tuesday night meeting at the Presidential Villa was originally billed to receive briefing from the Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta Matters, Mr Timi Alaibe, on his post-amnesty preparations, the parley dragged into about 1.00 a.m on Wednesday, following an official briefing from the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Alhaji Yayale Ahmed, about Kwankwaso’s resignation from the board of the commission.
The SGF, who was said to have read the resignation letter of Alhaji Kwankwaso to the meeting, according to a source, reeled off the various efforts his office had made to broker peace in the NDDC.
He reportedly blamed the development on immaturity on the part of those involved in the crisis.
“Although the meeting was initially for the Special Adviser on Niger Delta to brief Mr President and the governors of the nine states in the Niger Delta on his readiness for the post-amnesty programme of the Federal Government, it was a very timely thing that the president and the governors were unanimous in condemning the crisis at the NDDC because it is absolutely needless.
“Some at the meeting were of the opinion that the entire place be cleansed if they cannot work together, but the SGF was quick to educate all present that it was illogical for the entire system to suffer for the sins of one or two officials who have shown deep immaturity in handling the affairs of the commission, maybe because they are overwhelmed by their offices.
“So at the end of the meeting, it was resolved that a seven-day ultimatum be given to the MD and the EDP for them to reconcile their differences or they face outright sack.
“Not only that, the president ordered that since the thrust of the disagreement between the MD and the EDP was the issue of violation of due process, a committee be set up to immediately investigate the allegations and that anyone found wanting should be sanctioned appropriately,” the source said.
Nigerian Tribune gathered authoritatively that the pleas of the Rivers State governor, Mr Rotimi Amaechi, to extend the ultimatum to one month was overruled by the meeting.
Apart from the president, who presided over the meeting, others in attendance, according to the source, were Vice-President Namadi Sambo, the SGF, Chief of Staff to the President, Deputy Chief of Staff, eight of the governors of the nine states of the region (governor of Imo State was absent) and Mr Alaibe.
Although no official of the NDDC was present at the meeting, the office of the SGF, it was learnt, was directed to convey the decisions of the parley to them.