The appointment of Amina Zakari as the committee chair in charge of the National Collation Centre for the 2019 presidential elections has sparked controversy. But no one honestly is shocked. Zakari who is a national commissioner at the electoral agency, INEC, has been at the receiving end of criticisms by the PDP following her appointment by President Buhari as the chairman of the commission in 2015 before the decision was reversed.
The word around political circles is that Mrs. Zakari is family to the President and so cannot be trusted to supervise a free and fair process. The presidency has said that there is no blood relationship between Buhari and Zakari although “an inter-marriage occurred in their extended families.”
Why it matters
The Peoples Democratic Party has gone to the market, railing against the appointment of Zakari and going as far as discrediting the outcome of the elections. “There is no way votes cast by Nigerians will count,” the PDP noted in the statement kicking against her appointment. In truth, the actual description of her duties fall far from the the PDP’s doomsday description which among others conferred her with the powers to “allocate votes.”
Zakari’s actual role has no such description neither does she possess such powers (or any other person at that) to allocate a vote.
INEC chairman Mahmoud Yakubu created two ad-hoc committees for the 2019 general elections – the one led by Zakari – if we could say so – is the least significant as it is largely “internal” and administrative in comparison to the other one, the electoral logistics committee which is highly operational and across the states.
“It will serve as the secretariat for collation of results and venue for briefing of international observers and the media. It will also be accessible to agents of the seventy-three (73) political parties fielding candidates in the presidential election,” Prof. Yakubu said about the Zakari-led committee in his briefing.
The PDP – and other opposition parties – should be excited about this as a matter of fact. The party blamed Mrs. Zakari, who at the time was in charge of electoral operations and logistics as the reason behind their electoral losses in three key southwest states: Ondo, Ekiti and the most recent controversial election in Osun. As a result of the pressure from the PDP, Zakari was redeployed to a redundant health and welfare department at the commission. (She still remains in this department till now).
But those familiar with the previous general election would have observed that Amina Zakari served in the same role – managing the collation centre under the PDP administration in a largely televised process which was observed by interested parties.
Would you like to understand the collation process? Watch this video from TheElectionNetwork.
What Insiders are saying:
A source in the office of the INEC Chairman wrote to us: “The collation centre committee has no role in processing results collated from the states and presented to the chairman by vice-chancellors who serve as collation officers.”
A PDP Presidential Campaign Council member said that the idea is to distract and confuse the Presidency. “We believe we are starting to have our way with INEC,” he said.
We are also hearing from INEC insiders that there are internal power struggles between the INEC chair Mahmood Yakubu and Amina Zakari who wields her presidential backing. Mrs. Zakari’s appointment is not what she hoped for, as she would have preferred to be in charge of electoral logistics – an outcome she unsuccessfully lobbied for. The idea according to one of our insiders is more about the money as there are a lot of contracts in the logistics committee than any desire to sway the elections in favour of any candidate.
Bottomline: Amina Zakari is undoubtedly an elephant in the room. A number of controversial elections has held under her watch as the commissioner in charge of electoral operations and logistics and should be judged on that. However, the rhetoric from the opposition PDP about the integrity of the elections based on Zakari’s role in the collation centre is too much of a stretch and quite dangerous at the moment. The recent report from the International Crisis Group identifies among others, this kind of rhetoric as potential trigger of electoral violence. This is why the PDP must be responsible and emulate its former leader, President Goodluck Jonathan who espoused the ideals of political sportsmanship. While the PDP might not necessarily seek to bring down the state with a crisis, it considers its attacks on electoral integrity as a major plank of its strategy (just like the APC did in 2015). But shouts of a rigged election could potentially demotivate both its base and casual supporters.