Abuja – President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday inaugurated the new INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, and five national commissioners of the commission.
Speaking at the inaugural ceremony at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, Buhari enjoined the new INEC chairman and the national commissioners to resist undue external influence.
The President, who enjoined them to respect the Rule of Law, pledged to respect the independence of the commission.
He said, “You must respect the law and we will hold you bound by the oath, which you have just taken. The nation has reposed a lot of trust and confidence in you. You cannot afford to fail.’’
Buhari also stressed the need for urgent reform of the State Electoral Commissions to ensure free and fair elections and for the protection of democratic values.
According to him, the Federal Government is considering a different strategy of engaging state governments on how to make state electoral commissions much freer than many are today.
He said that he was aware of the Federal Government’s constitutional constraints in relation to its engagement with the state electoral bodies.
He, however, said that it was the responsibility of the government to protect the democratic rights of all citizens, adding that hiding behind the technicality of law to deny the citizens rights, was totally unacceptable.
“I am aware of the Federal Government’s constitutional constraints in its engagement with the State’s Electoral Bodies. But the government has a social responsibility to protect the democratic rights of all.
“I am of the view that it is totally unacceptable to hide under the cover of the technicality of law to deny the citizens’ rights.
“Accordingly, the Federal Government is considering a different strategy of engagement with State Governments on how to make state electoral commissions much freer than many are today.
“In almost all the states, the party of the sitting government wins all the Council Elections while there is nothing wrong with that if it is the true wish of the people – but majority of Nigerians more often than not think it is not, hence, have little respect for the outcome of our council elections.
“This is responsible for questioning the integrity of such election winners throughout their tenure.’’
On electoral petitions tribunal, Buhari noted with concern the justice being administered by the judicial officers, saying that “it is long overdue that our justice system addresses these shortcomings.’’
He stated that it is not just enough for an election to be cancelled and a new one ordered, but added that perpetrators of electoral malpractices, violence and thuggery should as well be sanctioned.
Buhari said that it would be much better if all whose actions or inactions led to the cancellation of such election to be investigated and if culpable prosecuted whether they were individuals as candidates or party agents, institutions such as political party, electoral body, or public officers as electoral staff or security agents.
“Unless our system stops covering up all forms of electoral malpractices we can hardly get it right. No system endures with impunity,’’ he said.
Speaking to the State House correspondents after the swearing-in ceremony, Yakubu pledged that the operations of INEC will be guided by the Nigerian Constitution and the Electoral Act.
“Well, the job is very clearly cut out; the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is very clear and also the Electoral Act.
“These are the two documents that will guide the operations of INEC under my chairmanship.
“We have attracted universal accolade for the success recorded in the 2015 elections. I think is prudent to say that we are going to consolidate on these achievements so that what counts ultimately is the will of the Nigerian people.
“Whoever Nigerians vote for, they should be rest assure that their votes would count and those they vote for would be their representatives at all levels.’’
In his contribution, Senate President Bukola Saraki expressed confidence that the new INEC will not let the country down.
He noted that they gave “a good account of themselves’’ during their screening and confirmation in the Senate chamber. (NAN)