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Amina Zakari: Much Ado about Buhari’s Step Niece

Amina Zakari

The writer, Buchi Obichie, delves into the recent appointment of Amina Zakari as the chairperson of the national collation centre for the 2019 elections, and the outrage that ensued afterwards. She opines that the move, whether right or wrong, would only cast aspersions on INEC's ability to conduct credible elections; and may indeed affect the outcome of the polls!

Would you ever allow an opponent in a contest 'choose' an umpire who may be biased in his/her favour? If you're like me, the answer is no; and that's why there has been strong opposition to INEC's appointment of Amina Zakari as the chairperson of the Presidential Election Collation Centre Committee.

Mrs Zakari had initially been appointed by the immediate past president, Goodluck Jonathan, as INEC's resident commissioner for the north-west (allegedly with input from then Gen Muhammadu Buhari) in 2011.

Upon the retirement of Prof Attahiru Jega in 2015, Zakari was then 'surprisingly' appointed as acting INEC boss after the retiring chairman had initially picked Ambassador Ahmed Wali. However, the new president, Muhammadu Buhari, eventually buckled to public pressure and appointed Prof Mahmood Yakubu to head the electoral commission.

Now, Amina Zakari is back in the news and the PDP, other opposition political parties, groups and concerned individuals have been lambasting the president and INEC for her latest appointment.

The PDP stated: "With Amina Zakari at the head of results collation, there is no way votes cast by Nigerians will count.

“We, therefore, call on all Nigerians, and particularly, the National Peace Committee to note that with the appointment of Zakari, as head the collation of presidential results, the INEC chairman is setting the stage for a very huge political crisis, which is capable of derailing our democratic process.

“We also urge the United Nations and other global democratic institutions to take copious note of this noxious appointment by the INEC chairman. If the INEC chairman wants a peaceful presidential election, he should, with the speed of light, reverse himself on this appointment."

On its part, the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) stated: "This aberration of this heavily compromised INEC is like making a sister of a goalkeeper of one of the two competing football teams as the central referee of the most competitive finalists' match and you expect that there will be fair play and justice. Doing such a morally damaging action is like match-fixing.

"What has happened today in INEC, with the ill-advised decision of Yakubu Mahmood to give the most sensitive appointment to the biological sibling of a major contender in the same electoral contest, amounts to the electoral equivalent of match fixing."

They are all angry...and rightly so; for it seems like this is an indication that the Buhari administration is only concerned about moving things in its favour, damning the consequences.

However, let's put emotions aside and try to analyse this matter logically. Is Amina Zakari really Buhari's niece?

Well, going by the dictionary definition of the term, she isn't really. The Cambridge English Dictionary defines the word 'niece' as "a daughter of your brother or sister, or a daughter of your husband's or wife's brother or sister."

Amina Zakari's father reportedly got married to Buhari's elder sister, which technically makes her the president's 'step niece'...not related to him by blood. However, the president and Mrs Zakari are said to have had a really close relationship over the years, something akin to that of godfather and goddaughter.

In any case, they do have some sort of familial relationship. But is this enough to justify calls for her resignation as demanded by the opposition parties?

First of all, I would start by saying that INEC made quite a serious mistake by making such a sensitive appointment, which they should have known was certain to ruffle feathers. Surely, they should have known that Zakari's appointment would only lead to an outpour of anger from many quarters; even if as the commission has pointed out, she would only be in charge of the collation center, not the actual act of votes collation itself.

However, putting her in close proximity with anything relating to votes collation was sure to be seen as a red flag, regardless of the specifics of her duties. Knowing this, would it have been too much to appoint someone else?

On the other hand, Amina Zakari is no newcomer to INEC. She certainly seems to have garnered some measure of experience over the years, which should make her quite qualified to handle her recent appointment - even though the fact that she was initially overlooked by Jega, certainly raises questions about her 'competency'. Then again, she is who she is...the president's step niece!

So, what happens now? Well, I think Amina Zakari would be kept on...despite the huffing and puffing from various quarters. Do I think this is right? No. Regardless of whether or not Amina Zakari is qualified for her latest appointment, INEC, in the interest of fair play (or at least, the 'optics' of it) should have rescinded the decision and offered the position to someone else without any connection to the president!

At the end of the day, this brouhaha just underscores the fact that a (significant) portion of the public has lost faith in the electoral commission and its ability to deliver free and fair elections. One would think that the commission would want to prove its integrity, especially in light of the outrage that followed the shenanigans which unfolded during the Osun gubernatorial elections. But it seems like the electoral commission just doesn't care!

Nigerians will also no doubt, view the Buhari government with increased skepticism, as it has been alleged that INEC's decision may have been 'influenced' by the presidency. This would only serve to fan the embers of allegations that there is a well-coordinated plan by the federal government to rig the elections!

Only time will tell, if the federal government indeed delivers free and fair elections. However, in view of the Zakari situation, I am not holding my breath!

We are in for one heck of a ride!

This opinion piece was written by Buchi Obichie.

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