By Yinka Odumakin
Mrs Amina Zakari, the controversial National Commissioner at the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, whose name raises the blood pressure of opposition politicians in Nigeria today is an employer’s delight. But like the bat whose only affliction is that the arms are longer than the legs, her major drawback is that she does more than a day’s work for a day’s pay.
Her ways in the electoral body and the manner she has deployed her influence with the highest levels of power in the country within the commission has been legendary and which has made her the sorest finger in INEC operations. Her roles as INEC’s Director of Operations allegedly created a lot of credibility crisis for the electoral umpire in elections conducted in Edo, Ondo, Ekiti and Osun States, to mention a few.
It has been said by even international observers of the recent governorship election in Osun State that in spite of a clear winner having emerged from the first ballot, the election was dragged into a supplementary option which made it possible for the ruling party to perpetrate electoral heist of unimaginable proportion. This reportedly drew the ire of the US, UK and EU who had the highest level representations of their missions on ground.
It was shortly after the electoral coup in Osun State which created credibility crisis for the electoral umpire that some reorganisation was carried out by INEC Chairman, Prof Mahmoud Yakubu, which saw Zakari moved as head of electoral operations and logistics to the department of health and welfare. It was in her new capacity that the INEC boss announced her as being in charge of the collation centre which would see her attending to issues around the administration of the venue, Internet facilities, water, briefing rooms, etc. A country on edge and in fear of Amina Zakari interpreted that to mean that she would take over the role of the INEC Chairman as the head of the results collation committee /secretariat .There was angst all over the land. Indeed, Amina Zakari’s name would probably pop up today if you google electoral complications in Nigeria.
Who is Amina Zakari and why has she become the red flag in INEC? Let us clear some facts at this point about her. Even the Presidency in its feeble denial of her being a blood relation of President Muhammadu Buhari has admitted her relationship with him through inter-marriage. And this is the only reason he would announce her as Acting Chairman of the electoral body in 2015 until public outrage made him to drop her. But even at that, he retained her in the commission where she has been alleged to be throwing her weight around as if she is the commander-in-chief.
The above is what separates President Buhari from his predecessor, Dr Goodluck Jonathan. Whereas it was possible for Jonathan to clandestinely bring in an Orubebe as INEC Chairman in 2010 when he came in as President on the crest wave of popular agitations against the Yar’ Adua cabal led by the Save Nigeria Group, SNG, Jonathan was more interested in building the institution. So, the recent claim by the APC that the PDP appointed Amina Zakari may not capture the whole story.
Jonathan who did not meet Prof Attahiru Jega before his appointment as INEC chairman did not know of Amina Zakari more than her name being on a piece of paper. Shorty after his emergence, my late friend and brother, Oronto Douglas, who had a strong civil society history had met some of us who played leading roles in the civil society showdown with the cabal at Transcorp Hotel in Abuja and conveyed his principal’s desire to have men and women of integrity managing the elections. And for that reason he would leave the suggestions to him on INEC composition to the civil society and not politicians. That was how the search began and a lot of credible men and women were nominated which Jonathan accepted.
The group that was head-hunting had a session where former FCT Minister, Nasiru El-Rufai, who had also worked with the civil society coalition against the Yar’ Adua cabal was present.
It was at that meeting he mentioned that he had this very efficient lady who worked with him as Health Secretary as FCT Minister who would be a good nominee from the North West. His arguments about her skills were so persuasive that she was accepted by the Committee. It took him some days to get her CV as she was out of the country at the time. I collected the CV from him eventually which was handed to Oronto Douglas.
So the APC is partly right that Jonathan appointed her; but she was nominated by El-Rufai, and Buhari who is her relation wanted to surreptitiously make her the chair of the Commission when he became President. Her nomination by El-Rufai could probably not count much against her if she had allowed a higher sense of responsibility to guide her conduct by putting national interest above her affiliations. Alas, she has not shown such sense of being able to rise beyond her fraternal links. There is hardly any election where she has been accused of playing some controversial roles that her benefactor El Rufai has not been in the loop.
Her position in INEC has become untenable as many citizens would not be comfortable with her being in charge of traffic flow around the collation centre. If she is not on a mission she should honorably resign and save the image and integrity of the commission. Her declaration that she would not resign should see a sustained campaign for her removal from the electoral commission without delay. It is not within the powers of INEC to remove her but the President who had admitted their relationship in some way.
Honesty, probity, and trustworthiness
As I was concluding this, I saw a piece by Farook Perogi on Amina Kazaure and it is interesting “Mrs. Amina Zakari just said to the BBC, “I’m not [Buhari’s] niece.” That’s flat-out mendacious. And it puts a huge question mark on her honesty, probity, and trustworthiness. A person who can lie this casually about something as basic and as verifiable as her relationships is unworthy of the responsibility she’s been entrusted with at INEC.
So what is the truth? In a December 27, 2018 article, Mohammed Haruna, former Daily Trust columnist and current INEC commissioner, confirmed that President Buhari’s biological sister was once married to Mrs. Amina Zakari’s father. That makes Amina Buhari’s niece.
This is the definition of a niece in the Oxford English Dictionary: “A daughter of one’s brother or sister, or of one’s brother-in-law or sister-in-law.” Amina’s father was Buhari’s brother-in-law. So Amina IS INDEED Buhari’s niece.
But that’s not all. At some point in his youth, Buhari, who lost his father at a young age, came under the guardianship of Amina’s father, the late Alhaji Hussaini Adamu, who was emir of Kazaure, Daura’s “next-door neighbour.” I had the pleasure of interviewing Mrs. Amina Zakari’s brother, Alhaji Najib Hussaini Adamu in early 1999 shortly after he became emir, when I was a reporter for the Weekly Trust. I stayed at the palace for days. So I have some familiarity with the family.
Buhari has never severed his relationship with Amina’s father’s family even after Buhari’s sister’s death. When he was chairman of PTF, he got Amina a consultancy contract with Afri-Projects Consortium, APC, “the sole manager of the PTF projects”.
In Ray Ekpu’s widely shared June 2018 article titled “Petroleum Trust Fraud,” we learn that the late Salihijo Ahmad, the Adamawa-born boss of APC and relative of Buhari’s current wife, “admitted to Newswatch in an interview published by the magazine in its April 19, 1999 issue that it was APC that wrote the proposal which defined the mandate of the PTF.”
It has also been established by several people I spoke with today that Amina Zakari was nominated to INEC commissionership by Buhari. This fact, as I pointed out in my Saturday Tribune column, isn’t enough to vitiate her neutrality. After all, Jonathan defeated Buhari in 2011 while she was INEC commissioner. But deceiving the world by concealing the nature and depth of her relationship with Buhari shows that she’s up to no good this time around.
Another evidence of Buhari’s continuing relationship with Amina’s family exists in the fact that Mrs. Amina Zakari’s biological brother, Alhaji Sulaiman Adamu, is Buhari’s Minister of Water Resources. In both African and Western kinship dynamics, Buhari and Amina Zakari are related. If Nigeria were a functioning country, Amina would have recused herself from her current role at INEC in view of the widespread concerns raised by several stakeholders about her ties with Buhari. But Nigeria is an anything-goes banana republic.
A good brother of mine, Dr Lasisi Olagunju, would say hmm! The only thing I will correct in the above is that El-Rufai nominated her and not Buhari.
This article written by Yinka Odumakin, Spokesman of Yoruba sociocultural group, Afenifere, appeared originally in the Vanguard Newspaper yesterday.