INEC National Commissioner, Amina Zakari

The INEC has been in the eye of the storm over the announcement by its Chairman that Commissioner Amina Zakari will Head an in-house committee to oversee the management/ administration of the elections day facility/Collation Centre at the International Conference Centre. The main opposition party, the PDP in rejecting this appointment cited the fact of Amina Zakari’s relationship by marriage to the president.

Although the INEC Chairman has given extensive clarifications that the Committee’s work amounts more or less to a Floor Manager’s role during an event, the PDP is having none of that , instead hinting that the INEC Chairman was acting out some hidden script that was authored by the ruling party to undermine the outcome of the 2019 General Elections. Perhaps, this intervention would not have been necessary if the highly respected Timi Frank, a man not known to engage in frivolities, had not alluded to some secret meeting in the Villa attended by the INEC Chairman in the company of Amina Zakari with the Chief of Staff to the president wherein the INEC Chairman was "instructed" to appoint Amina to the said Committee and to ostensibly reverse the committee reshuffling that saw Amina lose her Headship of the Elections Operations and Logistics Committee.

The PDP and its surrogates banking on the conservative nature of the Elections Management Body(EMB), especially its resolve not to engage political parties in any media wars are fouling the already charged political air with outright falsehoods and the dangerous weaving of contrived conspiracies that are capable of eroding the credibility that every EMB should have as elections approach. While I do not speak for the INEC or indeed, its Chairman, I consider myself a stakeholder in the Nigerian project, especially on issues of elections given my membership of the PDP since 1998 and also my over two decades of participation in elections in Nigeria as an Observer and expert commentator on politics and democracy. 

I have therefore decided to take a moral stand to unwrap the real sinister intentions of those who resort to deliberately maligning institutions of State in the hope of gaining or scoring cheap political points. The purpose of this intervention will, therefore, be to unravel who the real Amina Zakari is and whose interests she has been protecting all through her career in the INEC. I will then posit that Amina's influence has been reduced not so much for the change in her duties at the INEC but as a result of the innovations that have been introduced in the system. 

Amina Zakari is an indirect niece of president Muhammadu Buhari, by marriage. This relationship has been and is still being exploited by the family. Indeed, Amina's brother is the minister of water resources in Buhari's government. These are facts. Amina benefitted from this relationship when she served as a consultant with Afri Projects Consortium, the lead company that drove the implementation of the PTF projects then Headed by General Buhari. However, Amina's foray into national consciousness was not influenced by Buhari. Between 2004 to 2007, Amina Zakari served as a Special Assistant to President Olusegun Obasanjo, who drafted her to the FCT. It is in this role that she amassed the political contacts that would later lobby for her to become a National Commissioner at the INEC. Let me be clear, by 2010, it was clear to everyone that General Buhari was going to take another shot at the presidency, there was no way that the PDP would take the advice of someone they knew would be on the ballot with its candidate in the choice of a National Commissioner in 2011.

How come Amina Zakari's membership of the Commission and her filial relationship with Buhari could not prevent a humiliating trouncing of her uncle at the polls in 2011? So, the talk of President Goodluck Jonathan consulting Buhari and accepting Amina as his nominee is baloney, but even if that was  remotely true, Amina's actions in the INEC has not served any purposes for the president but has benefitted my party, the PDP, to the detriment of the integrity of elections until the current helmsman in INEC came on board to restore sanity to the Commission. I will buttress this position with numerous instances, relying on my 20 years of engaging with INEC and insider knowledge of election operations in Nigeria. 

When in 2014 it became clear to the PDP that the technological innovations that Jega was introducing were going to be a bulwark against the tradition of votes allocation, a massive campaign was kickstarted to do away with the PVC and Smart Card Reader technology. This campaign played out in the media. Unbeknownst to many, the battle was not restricted to shaping opinions against the use of the PVC and SCR, it extended into the Commission. The arrowhead of those who called for the abandonment of the innovation was Amina Zakari. Amina Zakari, Prince Adedeji Soyebi, and another National Commissioner, Ambassador Lawrence Nwuruku, a card-carrying member of the PDP, led the groundswell of opposition against the deployment of technology in the 2015 elections which created a sharp divide in the Commission. In fact, Jega had to beat a retreat in implementing full use of technology in the transmission of results because of the opposition mounted by these Commissioners who were apparently carrying out the instructions of external forces. I was therefore amused that the same party raised hell when PMB wrongly rejected the Electoral Act Amendment on account of the electronic transmission of results clauses in the Bill.  

One of the issues the PDP raised against president Buhari's ill-advised and very vexatious withholding of assent to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill is related to the use of incident forms during elections. However, not many Nigerians may know that these forms were first muted by Amina Zakari to the Commission under Jega as a way of cushioning the effect of the SCR. We now know that the PDP, especially states in the South-South were the biggest beneficiaries of the extensive use of incident forms introduced by Zakari. Let us take a look at the numbers.  In Kano and Katsina, out of the 3,943,080 that were accredited to vote in both States in 2015, 851,062 used incident forms, representing about 22% of the total votes cast. Comparatively, in Rivers and Akwa Ibom States, out of the 2,717,479 persons that were accredited to vote, a whopping 2,525,460 used incident forms, representing an outrageous 93%. Amina's 'ingenious' contribution to democracy in Nigeria came through for the PDP.

Professor Jega was very much aware of Amina's unwholesome affinity with politicians and waited patiently until the last minute to neutralise her. Just a few days to the 2015 elections, Jega removed her as the Head of the Elections and Party Monitoring Committee of the INEC and moved her to the Planning Committee which had basically finished all its elections planning. Perhaps this deployment was instrumental to the success of the 2015 elections. 

Interestingly, with the advent of a new government and a new party, Amina's covert actions have always been in alignment with the interests that paved the way for her to come into the national limelight, the PDP.
As Acting Chairman of the INEC, following Jega's departure, Amina almost bungled the Bayelsa elections. Under her watch, over one hundred thousand ghost voters, many with almanack pictures as identification were introduced into the Bayelsa Voters Register.  It was not until the appointment of Professor Mahmood Yakubu as the INEC chairman that this anomaly was corrected through the deployment of the Automated Fingerprint Identification System(AFIS). Many of these ghost registrants were in areas that were considered the PDP's stronghold in Bayelsa.

While many were too eager to lampoon the INEC for the Kogi debacle in 2015, only a handful may be aware that the needless quagmire would have been avoided if Amina did not try to save the PDP from crushing defeat in the hands of the APC under late Abubakar Audu. The Kogi election was to be won at first ballot when Amina surprisingly decided to proceed to Kogi rather than remain in the INEC Headquarters as Head of the Elections Operations Committee. Amina drafted to the field another PDP appointee and someone she relentlessly lobbied to continue as national commissioner, Prince Soyebi. Amina would move to Dekina local government area which is the home of the PDP candidate, Idris Wada. It was the crises in Dekina that led to the declaration of the election as inconclusive. This writer was at the collation centre in Lokoja and witnessed first hand how the PDP Returning Officer and party agents were insisting that the election is inconclusive rather than be concerned about the victory of the Party's candidate.

Since the Osun election is already in court, I would refrain from commenting in details about it but, agent Amina was handy for the party in the first election. As an accreditated observer, I was left shocked to realise that Amina as Head of the Elections Operations of INEC chose to travel out of the country without waiting for the rerun election that was scheduled just about five days after the first one. At the Collation Centre in Oshogbo, Amina's man-Friday, Prince Soyebi could explain to the world which party's Returning Officer he was continually talking with on phone while collation was going on. 

Consequently, not too many followers of events at the INEC were surprised when the INEC chairman announced changes in the Headship of committees within the Commission, a move that effectively brought Amina's reign and influence over elections to an abrupt end. The question that jumps out of this narrative is: why is the PDP washing its hands off Amina since she is their creation and has paid back adequately? Instructively, Amina Zakari was the Head of the Collation Centre sub-Committee in 2015, the same sub-Committee that the PDP is now rejecting, there is no record of the party objecting to that appointment since she was related to a man that would be on the ballot with the party's candidate. 

The PDP's Press Release on the announcement of Amina's Headship of the Collation Centre sub-Committee cited a conflict of interest as its reason for rejecting Amina's appointment. This reason is just hogwash. A party that had no qualms in nominating card-carry members of her party into the Commission cannot now lecture the nation on ethics and propriety. I was disgustingly amused when I sighted Ambassador Lawrence Nwuruku, a former INEC National Commissioner, and Mr Nasir Ayilara, former  INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner representing Kwara State, at the last PDP National Delegate Convention in Port Harcourt, proudly hanging their delegate cards on their necks. It is not also hidden that the former Governor of Abia State, Ochendo Theodore Orji was once an INEC Administrative Secretary. The current governor of Bauchi State was an INEC Commissioner appointed by the PDP. In all these, where was the party's sense of propriety? 

If the PDP takes a critical introspective look at its position on Amina, they would realise that they are inadvertently conceding that President Mohammadu Buhari and by extension the APC are better character judges than the PDP ever was. Out of the 12 serving National Commissioners of INEC, only Amina and Prince Adedeji Soyebi were original appointees of the PDP. In castigating Amina, the PDP has tacitly admitted that the 10 National Commissioners appointed by Buhari have better character traits than appointees it sponsored initially to the Commission. The PDP cannot distance itself from Amina, they created her and turned her into what she has become today. She is their baggage, and they must embrace her. Perhaps, the improvements in elections management have ensured that the Party is no longer getting value for money from Amina leading the bigwigs to conclude that she has become a rogue agent. 

That the party would think that out of the 12 National Commissioners, 37 Resident Electoral Commissioners, 38 Returning Officers, and the hundreds of people that would be in the ICC, one woman has the powers to determine the outcome of elections tells Nigerians all they need to know about the quality of opposition in Nigeria.

The reality which any discerning person would know is that elections in Nigeria have drastically improved and has moved away from the ignoble days of votes allocation. Perhaps, the PDP is still holed up in the past and is refusing to ask some of us within its fold that engage with the process to enlighten its apparatchiks on current trends in elections management. Why would they not have this medieval mentality when rumours have it that they have engaged the discredited Maurice Iwu as one of their elections consultants.PREPOSTEROUS! 

To put it succinctly, not even the chairman of INEC, Professor Mahmood Yakubu can rig elections in Nigeria. What is the role of the Collation Centre in determining the outcome of elections in the current dispensation? The improvements introduced by the current chairman in the elections process and management has decentralised results handling and collation. So, the collation centre is merely a glorified viewing and tabulation centre. Let us not forget that president Jonathan conceded defeat even before pending results had made its way to the collation centre. That was possible because the results from the various polling units were already in the public domain. Any party with a functional situation room and parallel votes tabulation facility would know the outcome of the elections even before those at the INEC Collation Centre. So what is all the fuss with the appointment of Amina to oversee refreshments and welfare, a condescending floor manager position from her lofty height as the head of the Elections Operations Committee? 

This needless stoking up of tension within the polity makes many to wonder why the PDP is chasing shadows and engaging in irrelevant distractions rather than run an aggressive issues-based campaign to present a credible alternative to voters. The disaster that the APC has become means that any well-oiled opposition can wrestle power from it, but the pretenders to the throne seem to want to continue in this tactless pursuit of shadows-the party appears to be unconcerned that the Inspector General of Police, who in my opinion represents the greatest threat to its 2019 ambitions still has a job after attaining his mandatory retirement age. The end game will perhaps be to have an excuse for a defeat if its lacklustre campaigns come back to haunt it. 

Dr Chima Amadi is a public policy consultant and can be followed on Twitter @AMADICHIMA

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