The Federal Government might have shortlisted four national commissioners to take over from Prof. Attahiru Jega as the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission.
SUNDAY PUNCH reliably learnt that Jega might be asked to hand over to one of the commissioners in INEC and also proceed on a three-month terminal leave.
During a presidential media chat on February 11, President Goodluck Jonathan had reassured Nigerians that he had no plan to remove the INEC chairman from office. The President’s reassurance came at a time when speculation was rife that government had perfected plans to remove Jega. But some stakeholders who spoke after the interview had dismissed the President’s reassurances as needless, adding that the laws of the land do not confer on the president powers to remove the INEC chairman.
Speaking at a press conference on Friday, the Supervising Minister of Information, Mr. Edem Duke, had also said the President had no plan to sack Jega.
“On the issue of the INEC chairman, I align myself with what the President said that he has no plan to sack the INEC chairman.
“That is not to say that if it is time for the INEC chairman to naturally exit his office, then the natural course of things will not take place.
“It is like saying a civil servant has done 35 years or achieved the age of 60; we now begin to say that he must not retire or he must retire,” Duke had said.
However, the minster drew parallels between Jega’s conditions of service and those of civil servants, reigniting speculation that the Presidency might go ahead with the plan to remove Jega.
Earlier, there had been reports that Prof. Femi Mimiko, brother of the Governor of Ondo State, Olusegun Mimiko, had been pencilled in for the position but investigations by our correspondents showed that the former Vice Chancellor of Adekunle Ajasin University, Ondo State was no longer in contention.
Sources said the national commissioners that might take over from Jega could come from a list made up of Dr. Mohammed Wali from Sokoto State, Mrs. Amina Zakari from Jigawa State, Colonel Mohammed Kurmi Hammanga (rtd.) from Adamawa State and Dr. Ishmael Igbani from Rivers State.
It was learnt that the person that would take over would act as chairman till June 30 when the tenure of Jega would expire.
The Federal Government, it was learnt, had decided against appointing an ‘outsider’ because preparations for the elections had reached an advanced stage.
Investigations further showed that the FG had yet to decide on whether to appoint the acting chairman from the North-West, where Jega hails from or to take the post to another zone.
It was learnt that Wali and Zakari were shortlisted because they hailed from the North-West.
Igbani and Hammanga were included on the list because of the argument among some top government officials that the INEC chairmanship should not be subjected to the principle of zoning.
A top Federal Government official, who confided in SUNDAY PUNCH on Saturday, said, “None of the commissioners have been informed because the government has not decided whether to retain the post in the North-West or take it to another zone.
“The terminal leave letter that the All Progressives Congress senators were talking about has not been written, but I cannot deny the fact that government wants Jega to proceed on terminal leave.
“Anytime the letter is written and Jega gets it, it will contain the name of the person he will hand over to.”
It was learnt that the government officials, who advocated that one of the INEC commissioners should be appointed, argued that with less than three weeks to the elections, getting Jega’s replacement from outside of the commission could be complicated.
A top government official, who is privy to the discussions in government circles in relating to Jega’s fate, said, “Time is of the essence. The truth is, if you bring someone from outside, he or she will need time to understand the place and know what is happening. It will be difficult for such a person to fully understand what is on the ground.
“However, if we get someone who is already within the system, it will be easier for the person to identify areas where errors were made and correct them within the time left.
“There are also those who are making a case for a neutral person. This set of people argue that after all, Jega himself was brought in from outside and he did a good job of the 2011 elections.”
Several calls and a text message to the Special Assistant (Media and Communications) to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Sam Nwaobasi, were not replied. Reports have said Jega’s terminal leave letter was written by the SGF.
Also, attempts to reach the Special Adviser to the President on Political Matters Prof. Rufai Alkali and the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs, Dr. Doyin Okupe were unsuccessful. Calls to their mobile phone indicated that it was unreachable. A response to text messages sent to them were still being awaited as of the time of filing this report.
Similarly, the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, could not be reached as his telephone lines were not connecting.