IDEAs Episode 114 Ikeazor Akaraiwe Esq. SAN on allegations against neutral election actors

IDEAs Episode 114 – 13th January 2023

Ikeazor Akaraiwe Esq. SAN on allegations against neutral election actors

Ezugwu Chukwudi introduced the programme with a reminder that the elections are now only 42 days away.  He referred to the role of election observers and the way some of them are treated and wondered whether that was a way of sending a message to the countries from which they come.  He said that when statements about outside interference and neutrality are made, they raise questions about the motives of those making them.  He introduced both Ayo and the guest on the programme, Ikazor Akaraiwe Esq., a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and former First Vice President of the Nigerian Bar Association.

Ayo Obe said that the practice of election observation took place in both developing and developed nations – referring to the situation in the United States with regard to its own presidential elections in 2020.  She said that our problem in Nigeria seemed to be accusations against those who were supposed to occupy neutral positions.  She referred the recent accusations against the Chair of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) who was not only expected to be neutral, but had been appointed on the basis that he was a person of unquestioned Integrity – a matter in which IDEAs (which stands for Integrity, Democracy, Ethics and Accountability) is deeply interested.  She spoke about the timing of calls on the INEC Chair to be Accountable so close to the election.  Ayo said that another key public officer under suspicion was the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria.  Although he is not a direct actor in the elections, but the CBN has a role – it used to have quite an important role because previously all the election materials would be stored securely in the vaults of the Central Bank of Nigeria in different state capitals.

She said that the question was whether, if we have the expectation of Integrity in such highly placed officials, allegations like these should be surfacing now, when we were so close to the elections (although she recognised that to certain countries, the remaining six weeks would be considered a long way away). 

Ayo then asked Ikeazor Akaraiwe whether – in the context of the elections – what we had seen in relation to the Chair of INEC and the Governor of the CBN might have an effect of the elections.

Ike recalled that in the dying months of the Jonathan administration, there was some talk about whether Professor Attahiru Jega should remain in position as the Chair of INEC when his term was due to expire a short while before the 2015 elections.  There was public debate about the signals that might be sent out if – two months to the elections – the INEC Chair was removed even for as cogent a reason as the fact that his tenure had expired.  The government of the day recognised that it would not be right to remove Jega a few weeks to the election and replace him with somebody new, because everything that might go wrong in that election would then be ascribed to that removal.

Ayo said that she was struck by the fact that in 2014 the government had come out and said something about Jega’s position.  She contrasted that with the situation where allegations had been made against the INEC Chair, and the courts had frowned on them, but the government had remained silent and the INEC Chair was still in position.

Ike said that silence was the major modus operandi of the current administration, which he described as ‘taciturn’.  He said that what that silence showed was that with the President not being as healthy as one might have wished, the buck did not stop at his table, and suggested that the affairs of government were being run by individuals.   The President ought to have spoken more about the direction of his administration on these issues, rather than leaving matters in the hands of a collective of individuals who appeared to be the ones taking decisions.  He regretted that the VP who ought to be able to act if the President could not, appeared to have been side-lined.  This was a problem, and it gave a very poor impression of governance in Nigeria, that someone as institutional, critical and crucial as the Chair of INEC could be under suspicion or facing plots to remove him, yet nothing was done, and everything was opaque.

Ayo remarked that the same thing had been seen in respect of the Central Bank Governor.  It was one thing when he was an aspirant for the Presidency and many felt that action ought to have been taken at that time, but that now, he had had to go to court and get an order against the Department of State Services on the allegations against him which the High Court had said didn’t amount to a hill of beans.  The fact was that the allegations the CBN Governor was involved in terrorism were still out in the public domain and he was still in position.  She said it all seemed so untidy, and contrasted it with what happened under President Jonathan when allegations were made against the then Governor of the CBN, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, he was suspended because the administration knew that he could not be unilaterally removed.

Ike said that section 11 of the CBN Act set out the circumstances under which the Governor of the CBN could be disqualified or removed, but that it did not specify whether he could remain in office while contesting for an election, but that was a matter that would probably need an Act of the National Assembly to clarify that.

Ayo said that the question whether the CBN Governor could remain in office and contest for elections was already in the past, but the situation now was that allegations of supporting terrorism – whether by acts of omission or by acts of commission – had been made, been deplored by the Court, yet nothing had been done and he remained in position.  That left the INEC Chair with a sword of Damocles hanging over his head, just like the CBN Governor.  She wondered whether these allegations were brought – not because they would be properly taken up, but to remind such officials that they could be controlled.  She how Ike read the situation  with regard to these unspoken threats in the light of the Integrity of the forthcoming elections.

Ike said that the preponderant view was that the threats of removal or arrest were made to tie the hands of the individuals targeted, to prevent them from doing the right thing … (Ayo interjected – or from doing the wrong thing?).  He said that there is a feeling on the street that the INEC Chair and the CBN Governor were being hounded so that they would not be as independent as the country needs them to be, saying that for instance, the whole issue of changing the colour of the Naira was believed by many to have been done to reduce the effect of money on the elections.

Ike agreed with Ayo that the idea of meeting the allegations against the two officials with silence was disturbing, and that the government ought to either speak out to express their complete confidence in them to do the right thing, or suspend them if there was really anything serious alleged against them, in order to reassure the Nigerian people that whatever the situation in respect of the two officials would not be allowed to affect the Integrity of the forthcoming elections. 

Ike said that this issue was the fulcrum of the matter, and the impression all this was giving was that the President was not in charge.  He recalled how the Minister of Finance had complained of not being consulted by the CBN over the change of currency.  In that case the President had stood up for his Governor and said that he had authorised the change.  But now, there were allegations of financing terrorism!  He said it was clear that someone was not happy with the change of currency, and that maybe they feared that they would not be able to sway the elections with money, and that this CBN currency change policy could undermine them.

Ayo said that the removal of the CBN Governor was not going to affect the change of currency, but Ike explained that there was the possibility that some people might want to intimidate him or force him to suspend or extend the deadline by three months or even six months.

As usual, the time was up very quickly, and Ayo thanked Ike for joining us from Enugu to share his thoughts and expertise on this matter which was of concern for Nigerians.

Is it a matter of concern to you?  Should the Government speak out?  Would it undermine their own security and law enforcement agencies if the President were to express confidence in the INEC Chair and CBN Governor, or would it undermine their positions if the government keeps mute?  Do let us know what you think by clicking on the link below.

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