A group, the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, on Thursday faulted the claim by President Goodluck Jonathan that he was vested with the power by the constitution to sack the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission.
President Jonathan, who made the comment during a special edition of the presidential media chat with some selected journalists on Wednesday, however said he never said he was going to sack the incumbent INEC Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega.’
The programme was broadcast live on television.
The President was responding to questions on his level of confidence in Jega to conduct a free and fair election and the speculations that he was planning to send the INEC boss, whose tenure ends on June 30, on a terminal leave before the general elections scheduled to hold on March 28 and April 11.
“I appointed him. If I feel he is not doing well, there are constitutional provisions on how to remove him, but I have not even contemplated it. I have never thought about removing the INEC Chairman, though I have the constitutional power to do so,” the president had said.
But the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, comprising lawyers and civil rights activists, said at a press conference on Thursday that though the President was vested with constitutional power to nominate persons as INEC Chairman and Commissioners for confirmation by the Senate, he lacked the power to sack occupants of such offices.
The group also said the president also lacked the power to compel them to proceed on pre-retirement leave.
The group’s spokesman, Clement Nwankwo, argued that the INEC, not being a civil service institution, was not subject to both the civil service rules and the control of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation.
Nwankwo said, “The Constitution (Section 157) is very clear on the appointment of the Chairman and members of INEC.
“The President makes the nomination, he sends it to the Senate and the Senate votes to confirm it. Once a nominee is confirmed by the Senate, the person remains in office until the last date, amounting to five years of his tenure.
“Such a person can only be removed by the Senate, voting on a two-third majority. Outside of that, the President has absolutely no powers to suspend, to ask a Commissioner or Chairman to proceed on a pre-retirement leave, or to remove them under any circumstance. Any purported removal would be a constitutional violation for which the President could be impeached.
“Apart from the constitutional question, the President, for the integrity of the electoral process, should be quite wary about what he says. It is important that the President realizes that INEC is a special body because of the special nature of its activities. And, the President is now a party in the electoral contest. So, he should be wary about the kind of things he says concerning the umpire in the election in which he is a participant.
“I am quite surprised that the President would say such things. It raises questions about the understanding in government circle about the special role of INEC.”
The group regretted the impact of the postponement of election on the people, noting that since the postponement was announced, “Nigeria has been in a state of suspended animation.”