The Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum has expressed fear that the Independent National Electoral Commission may not deliver free and fair elections in 2019.
It noted that “the bug of nepotism and sectionalism that this administration is renowned for has also eaten up the leadership of the commission.”
The forum demanded the removal of the INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu, noting that there were “accumulated indications” that he might rig the election in favour of President Muhammadu Buhari.
The Punch reported that the forum said this at a press conference in Abuja on Sunday attended by Chief Edwin Clark, representing the South-South, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, South-West; Chief Chukwuemeka Ezeife, South-East; Air Commodore Dan Suleiman (retd.), Middle Belt; Air Commodore Nkanga Idongesit, South-South, and others.
Idongesit, the Chairman of the Pan Niger Delta Forum, who delivered the group’s position, argued that retaining the service chiefs who ought to have retired and keeping Yakubu as INEC boss were suspicious.
He added that this was in tandem with the narrative that they would play partisan roles in favour of the President.
Idongesit said, “From 1960 till date, only President Muhammadu Buhari has been audacious to pick only people who are either his relations or of the same ethnic stock with him to lead the electoral body.
“The Balewa Government headed by a Northerner appointed Prof. Eyo Ita Esua from the South, who was in charge of the Federal Electoral Commission from 1960-66; Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, a Yoruba, set up the Federal Electoral Commission under Michael Ani (1976-1979). When Dr Goodluck Jonathan came in from the South-South, he appointed Prof. Attahiru Jega from the North-West (June 2010-Oct. 2015).”
The group contended that it was only President Buhari who appointed his relation from the North-West, Mrs Amina Zakari, as the acting INEC Chairman when he became President in 2015 before he appointed Yakubu from the North-East as a substantive chairman.
“The relationship between the powerful Amina Zakari and the INEC chairman is so strong that it has the tendency to influence the outcome of the elections in favour of the appointee,” the Southern and Middle Belt leaders stressed.
Idongesit flayed the Minister of Defence, Mansur Dan-Ali, for asking states that had enacted the anti-open grazing law to scrap it, describing it as an obnoxious directive.
He demanded the withdrawal of the statement, noting that the shielding of armed herdsmen by the Federal Government was the cause of tension in the country, which it said could result in anarchy.
The forum admonished the Federal Government to arrest the killer-herdsmen instead of shielding them.
The PANDEF leader said, “The shielding of Fulani killer-herdsmen remains the strongest flashpoint of invitation to chaos and anarchy in our country as people would not continue to fold their arms forever as they are being killed with the government unwilling to lift a finger in their defence.
“We demand the immediate withdrawal of this obnoxious directive and for the Federal Government to stop the killings going on and promptly arrest those behind the killings so far for immediate prosecution.”
Commenting on the police invitation to the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, over the April 5 Offa bank robberies, the forum frowned on what it called the media trial of the senator, insisting that the police threw away professionalism by their conduct.