The first casualty of yesterday’s judgment of the Federal High Court in Lagos that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as currently constituted lacks the required quorum to conduct elections is tomorrow’s governorship election in Anambra State.
But perhaps unknown to many, the court verdict has wider implications, which in the final analysis comes back to the problem the nation is facing at present. It’s like a long thread, which at the very end is connected to President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s health problem and medical trip abroad without transferring power to his deputy. This has left the country seemingly rudderless as it is now without a sovereign head that can legally take vital decisions. Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan has not been sufficiently empowered to take charge.
But let’s first dwell on the immediate implication if the judgment stands. The first is that the Anambra election will not hold as scheduled. If it does not hold tomorrow, it has to hold within the next one week otherwise the election may run foul of the law that says that elections must hold not earlier than 60 days and not later than 30 days to the expiration of the tenure of office of the occupant of the position being contested for. Not holding the election, however, will create a succession problem by March 17 when the tenure of Governor Peter Obi expires. Who will take over from Obi in the absence of a legally conducted election by a legally constituted electoral body? Perhaps the Speaker of the state House of Assembly or in the absence of the Speaker, the Chief Judge of the state. The tenures of office of the Speaker and his state House of Assembly members and Governor Obi are not lapsing at the same time. Obi was sworn in on March 17, 2006 after a long drawn legal battle for his 2003 electoral mandate spanning three years. The state House of Assembly members were elected in 2007 and took their seats on May 29, 2007 and as such their tenure will expire May next year.
The bigger problem, however, is in respect of INEC. INEC needs to be properly constituted so it can have the full complement of its 13 members. Can Vice-President Jonathan do this? It is doubtful. President Yar’Adua has yet to transmit a vacation letter to the National Assembly in line with Section 145 of the constitution, which would have empowered the Vice-President to step in as acting president and take vital decision like the constitution of the board of INEC.
Indeed, THISDAY in a front page story on March 25, 2009 titled “Dearth of Commissioners Hits INEC” had drawn attention to the commission’s quorum problem. The newspaper had reported that but for the early decision on the April 25 date, the governorship re-run in Ekiti State might have been put in jeopardy following the dearth of national commissioners which had hit the commission.
The commission’s board had been depleted to four including Chairman Maurice Iwu over the years and new members were not appointed to join them. The tenures of seven commissioners who came on board along with Iwu then in August 2003 had lapsed in August 2008 and they were not replaced. The commissioners were Ekpeyong Nsa from Akwa Ibom, Zetley Daze from Plateau, Mr. Abubakar from Bauchi, Reuben Farukanmi from Ondo, Bello Bala from Sokoto, Emmanuel Anuka Uchola from Kogi and Mrs. Esther Zala from Taraba. The tenure of Dr. Muhammed Jumare from the North-west, however, expired on April 21, 2009, thus leaving the commission with the four members at present. Apart from Iwu, the three other commissioners are Victor Chukwuani from Enugu State, Phillip Umeadi (Jnr) from Anambra and Mr. Solomon Adedeji Soyebi from Ogun.
Presidency sources had told THISDAY last year the commissioners were yet to be replaced because President Yar’Adua was planning to deal with all outstanding issues in INEC along with the implementation of the final decisions on the reform of the electoral process.