Members of the All Progressives Congress in the Senate on Thursday alleged that there was a fresh plot by the Federal Government to prevent the Independent National Electoral Commission Chairman, Attahiru Jega, from superintending over the forthcoming general elections.
The APC senators, led by George Akume, told a news conference in Abuja that they heard from a reliable source that the Head of Service would direct Jega to proceed on his pre-retirement leave next week.
“We have received information from a very credible source that next week, the Chairman of INEC will be given a letter from the office of the Head of the Civil Service to proceed on a terminal leave,” they said.
The opposition senators alleged that the Federal Government was trying to use a circular from the HoS dated August 11, 2010 to place Jega on compulsory pre-retirement leave.
They said, “Whether the letter emanates from the HoS office or the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, it does not make sense. Even if we go by the terms of the Civil Service circular of August 11, 2010, (it) is not applicable whatsoever to the INEC chairman.”
The lawmakers explained that the circular, with reference number HCSF/CMO/1772/TI/11, talks about clarifications on pre-retirement leave, which is only applicable to tenured officers who are career civil servants.
They said anyone who has spent 30 years in service or has attained 60 years of age was bound to disengage officially from the service. The senators however said that the case of Jega did not fall into any of these.
The lawmakers claimed that Jega’s offence was his readiness to conduct the elections when the Peoples Democratic Party-controlled Federal Government was not.
The opposition senators insisted that using the issue of card readers to discredit Jega would not work because the National Assembly appropriated money for that purpose.
They said, “We want a credible election but in a situation where we are being informed that because the postponement of the elections attracted no reaction from the people, Jega could be removed for a plan-less person who will do the bidding of the government, doesn’t hold water.
“You cannot start a game which is about to end and suddenly you want to change the goalpost. You don’t want a referee that is fair to all. You want to have someone who will subvert the whole system for sinister, personal purposes.
“We will continue to say no to impunity. We will continue to say no to any attempt to undermine the credibility of the forthcoming elections.
“We therefore want to appeal to Nigerians to be steadfast to keep watch so that their labour will not be in vain. If Ghana and other countries can get it right, Nigeria can also get it right.
“We are opposed to the removal of Jega because it is criminal, illegal and unconstitutional. They want to remove him through the back door.”
Akume maintained that President Goodluck Jonathan reserved the right to remove Jega but that he could not unilaterally do so without seeking the permission of the National Assembly through a two-thirds majority.
The lawmakers added that Jonathan lacked the legal powers to suspend the INEC boss under whatever guise.
They said, “Section 157(1) clearly states that the president can only remove Jega with the vote of 2/3 majority of all senators. Under whatever guise; whether suspension, retirement or voluntary leave he cannot be removed.
“Section 157 (1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), the President cannot remove the INEC Chairman from office without getting approval of the Upper Chamber.
“Section 157 (1) of the Constitution reads, “…a person holding any of the offices to which this section applies may only be removed from that office by the president acting on an address supported by two-thirds majority of the Senate, praying that he be so removed for inability to discharge the functions of the office.”
The senators also reiterated their opposition to the clearance of Musiliu Obanikoro as minister and the deployment of soldiers for elections.
Giving further clarification on the fate of Obanikoro, their spokesperson, Babafemi Ojudu, said their position was that the ministerial nominees was not qualified to hold public office.
He said, “We are going to oppose that and the three senators from Lagos have written to Mark opposing that.’’[Punch]