By G9ija

The temporary handover of chairmanship of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) by Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, last week, may have opened the election management body (EMB) to fresh intrigues. There are fears that pending confirmation of Yakubu by the Senate, some are bent on tampering with the independence of the body ahead the 2023 general election.

And that is linked to intense power play in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), which is stoked by key players within its leadership cadre. This cadre is divided into strong power blocks within the context of who holds which sphere of influence, preparatory to the 2023.

One of the signs of the power play emerged, following the announcement that the tenure of Professor Yakubu and some National commissioners were to be renewed. Despite that President Muhammadu Buhari made the announcement, some stakeholders said it was done in total disregard to the Constitution, which provides that the President, in the exercise of his power to make appointment to INEC, “shall” consult the Council of State made up of ex- presidents and all serving Governors of all political parties.

However, such announcements stakeholders say are usually made after the Council of State meeting through the instrumentality of a letter written to the Senate for a reconfirmation of a renewal of the tenure for such appointments.

The President of the Senate, the number three citizen, usually reads out the letter from the Executive Branch, signed by President Muhammadu Buhari, requesting Senate confirmation.

Informed sources within the government, the APC leadership cadre and the Senate, disclosed that the announcement was made “with a view to checkmating other moves by members of other power blocks angling to takeover control of INEC.”

Sources added that the contention in the APC over the timely organisation of its national convention, where members of its National Executive Committee, NEC, are to be voted into office, is not unconnected to the unfolding power game, which has INEC as its fulcrum.

Whereas, there were conflicting signals regarding what went into the renewal of the tenure of Professor Yakubu, and those for now outsmarted threatening to open up can of worms in the days coming, the process of confirmation in the Senate is now where the battle is being shifted.

While there are indications that the Senate may not resume its plenary sitting until January 2021, as a result of on-going work on next year’s budget by various committees, it is not likely that the power blocks in APC will try to explore the time between now and January to carry out some mischief regarding Prof. Yakubu’s reappointment. The pro- Yakubu group will try to push for the Senate to resume ahead of plan.

The push for the resumption of the Senate is reportedly being spare-headed by a very powerful member of its leadership whose hands is said to be fully in the plot for the retention of the chairmanship of INEC by Professor Yakubu.

From the Senate end, there are said to be two power blocks interested in not just the headship of INEC, but the fresh appointments of National Commissioners and Resident Electoral Commissioners who are either party members or sympathisers. This move will ensure that current experienced Commissioners who have acted truly independent and had exhibited neutrality in the conduct of elections may not receive fair hearing, whereas, they should ordinarily enjoy support of senators for their neutrality and independence.

Two very powerful officers in the Senate are said to be in opposing camps and both are of the APC.

While one is for the retention of Professor Yakubu, the other, said to be acting in concert with some other forces within the Presidency, is believed to be rooting for the appointment of one of the National Commissioners who hails from his own geo-political zone and an in-law to take over from the incumbent.

At the Executive Branch, a powerful minister from the North West may have penciled down his own chairmanship candidate nominee and those who should be Commissioners but has been outsmarted for now by one of the blocks behind Professor Yakubu.

Yet, a source within INEC made it clear that “the body could be overwhelmed by outside plots by those desperate to fill slots that would soon be vacant in North East – on account of tenures that have ended – as well as operational nuances that may alter long-held procedures of engendering elections that would stand the test of time.

“Some of the new people that Nigerians will begin to see within the Commission will likely signpost the type of election Nigerians will witness in 2023. All those whose faces represent a hopeful future for credible elections in the system at the moment may be eased out instead of been elevated as National Commissioners.x

“At least, the nomination of a known presidential aide as a National Commissioner was a clear indication of what is to come and meant to test the waters and Nigerians should not be fooled into believing that there will be an independent Commission but rather all efforts are being made to compromise the composition of the Commission with partisan individuals for total control,” the source lamented.

As of last week, there were ripples within INEC over the moves to bring in another National Commissioner nominee from the same state of Gombe where the acting chairman, AVM Mauzu (rtd) hails from within the North East geo-political zone.

This is apart from strange moves being made to upturn the balance in the ethnic configuration of the top management of the Commission, with an emerging plot to reverse a Federal Government’s circular, which suspended the tenure policy in the federal civil service. They aim might be to favour some persons and groups. This is said to be against another move to balance the top leadership, with a view to making INEC truly national in outlook.

However, at the headquarters of the Commission, the Acting National Chairman, Ahmed Mu’azu, is pushing ahead some postponed by-elections, whereas, others in the Commission prefer to wait until the return of Prof. Yakubu. A virtual meeting reportedly held last Thursday, wherein the idea of postponing the by-elections until the return of Professor Yakubu was floated. But it was agreed that the elections should be used to test capacity of AVM Mu’azu.

As all these are happening, Professor Yakubu has kept a respectable distance and is also said to be watching from the sidelines pending the expected confirmation of the renewal of his tenure. This, even as the contending camps continue their power play for the control of INEC in the quest to determine how the elections of 2023 would be conducted.