Pressure mounted, weekend, on the presidency not to compel Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Prof. Attahiru Jega to proceed on pre-retirement leave as reportedly being canvassed by some concerned stakeholders in the polity.
The anti-Jega forces had been pushing the presidency to remove the chairman from office, a move that was last night described as dangerous by notable lawyers. The pressure came in the face of heightened tension in the commission over the alleged moves. The chairman’s five-year term comes to an end on June 30 and though he is qualified for re-appointment, the chances of such have become remote given recent allegations of bias against the chairman by campaign officials of President Goodluck Jonathan.
The mood at the headquarters of INEC, weekend, was that of resignation to fate, as most of the officials, adopted a ‘wait-and-see’ disposition over Jega’s fate following claims of surreptitious moves to force the chairman out of office ahead of the first of the national elections on March 28.
A top official of the commission told Vanguard, yesterday that they were still working with the hope that the elections would hold as rescheduled and that the chairman would be allowed to conduct it before going in June.
The tension followed claims by the All Progressives Congress, APC, Senate caucus of the discovery of a plot by the presidency to send Jega on pre-retirement leave as a way of clearing the way for the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, to emerge victorious in the forthcoming national elections.
PDP officials had in recent times kicked against the insistence of the commission to use the card reader and the Permanent Voter Cards, PVCs.
Among those who spoke against the alleged move to send Jega on pre-retirement leave were Prof. Itse Sagay, SAN, Mr Femi Falana, SAN, Chief Olisa Agbokoba, SAN, Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN and Prince Orji Nwafor-Orizu. Chief Fredrick Fasheun, who is also a supporter of the second term aspiration of the president, also opposed any premature exit of Jega.
Constitutional lawyer, Professor Itse Sagay said that any attempt to remove Jega from office through what he called “political retirement” would set the country on fire.
In a telephone interview with Vanguard, Sagay said the INEC chairman cannot be removed from office at this time under the pretence of retirement on two grounds.
He said: “The appointment of Jega as INEC boss was ratified by the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and his removal under the law must be ratified by two-third majority of the Senate.”
Besides, he opined that the appointment is political and that he is as such “not a typical civil servant who is expected to proceed on leave after spending 35 years in service or attained the mandatory retirement age. So any attempt to force him out of office through political means is an attempt to set the country on fire.”