Amina Zakari: Beyond the controversies

Zakari

Once again, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), National Commissioner in charge of Health and Welfare, Mrs Amina Zakari, is in the eye of the storm. ABDULRAHMAN ZAKARIYAU and TOPE SUNDAY take a look at the ordeal of the most topical female in the run-up to the general elections.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), National Commissioner in charge of Health and Welfare, Hajia Amina Zakari, has come under heavy criticism over her alleged relationship with President Muhammadu Buhari.

On January 3, the INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, in a bid to assure Nigerians that all was set for the general elections announced the composition of a committee that would collate the results of the presidential election. He named Hajia Amina as head of the committee.

This development was greeted with strong objection by the leading opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and some other Nigerians, who claimed that her appointment was an attempt to subvert the wishes of the people during the polls, given her alleged relationship to President Buhari, who is said to have nominated her as commissioner.

However, the embattled INEC national commissioner, who has been battling with credibility questions following the role she is alleged to have played in the Osun state governorship election as head of electoral operations and logistics.

Nomination saga

Amina was born on June 23, 1960, to the late Emir of Kazaure, in Jigawa state, Hussaini Adamu. Upon the completion of her elementary education at Shekara Girls Primary School, Kano in 1971, she proceeded to Queens College, Lagos for her Secondary school and later got admitted into Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, where  she bagged  a Bachelor of Science degree in Pharmacy with Second Class Upper as best graduating student in 1980.

She became a known name in Nigeria’s political sphere when she was appointed by former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo as Special Assistant from 2004 to 2007. She was posted to the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA), where she worked as Secretary, Health and Human Services; Secretary, Social Development and acting Secretary, Agriculture and Rural Development.

Amina was appointed the INEC national commissioner by former President Goodluck Jonathan, reportedly, following recommendation of President Buharki.

However, contrary to widely held opinion that she was recommended by President Buhari, Spokesman, Afenifere, Yinka Odumaki, has maintained that Jonathan considered her because of his determination to conduct credible, free and fair election in 2015.

He said: “I have read of accounts where it was stated that President Buhari nominated her. It was not the President. It was the Governor of Kaduna state, Nasir el-Rufai, who nominated her.

“I won’t know for certain about her relationship with Buhari but I can say authoritatively that it was El-Rufai who nominated her into INEC under the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan. She worked with under the then FCT Minister and was in charge of health. I say this authoritatively and I want El-Rufai to deny that he wasn’t the one who nominated her into service.”

Nepotism allegations

What is certain is that after the expiration of the tenure of the former INEC Chairman, Professor Attaihiru Jega, President Muhammadu Buhari appointed Amina Zakari in 2015 as the first ever female chairperson of the commission, though on acting basis. This was reportedly based on the fact that she was one of the most senior INEC commissioners at the time. Notably, since this appointment, she has been in the eye of the storm.

Amina was allegedly first described as Buhari’s niece on July 27, 2015, in a report by Nigerian Tribune, which claimed that President Buhari was related to Amina Zakari. It had quoted a supporter of President Jonathan, Alhaji Tanko Yakassa, as stating that, “I know that the woman from her childhood. Her father worked with me as my permanent secretary before later he became the Emir of Kazaure.

“We maintained a cordial relationship until he passed on. However, the relationship between him and Buhari is something that I know of. Anybody around during that time also can confirm this. He (the late Emir) married the senior sister to Buhari and he (Buhari) started his childhood in the late emir’s house.

“The mother of this woman (Zakari) was either the first or second wife. Aside from that, Buhari stayed with him for sometime in Kazaure. I know that the relationship is true.” However, Yakassai had, on September 8, 2015, in another interview on Channels TV, denied Amina Zakari’s relationship with Buhari. He had said that his actual words were manipulated by some parties.

He claimed that, “Somebody added something because I did not criticise her or her appointment. She is my daughter and a friend to her father was at one time my permanent secretary.

“Her mother is a friend to my senior wife. She is a friend to some of my children. I see no reason why I should criticize her.”

He had also said that Amina’s “neutrality should not be contested on the grounds of familiarity with the president because she is entitled to the post as a Nigerian and a qualified professional.”

Before the most recent appointment, Amina was at a point the chairman of the INEC, Planning, Monitoring and Strategy Committee but was later moved to Health and Welfare after series of protests that followed the governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun last year.

The gang up

One of the leading voices in the call for her removal is the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Presidential Campaign Organisation (PPCO), notwithstanding the fact that both the President and the embattled commissioner have denied having blood relationship.

Despite their denials, the National Publicity Secretary of PDP, who is also PPCO, Director Media and Publicity, Mr Kola Ologbondiyan, has insisted that Amina’s continuous stay at the commission may jeopardise the outcome and the credibility of the elections.

According to him, “Our position is predicated on the fact that it is clear to all, that Amina Zakari’s uncle, President Buhari, having been rejected by Nigerians, is now using her as virus to compromise the independence of the commission, manipulate the electoral process and rig the Presidential election for him.

“The Buhari Presidency has been using Amina Zakari to bear pressure on INEC even to the extent of brazenly foisting her as the collation officers for the presidential election to enable President Buhari announce himself as winner.

“A credible electoral commission must be completely impartial, transparent, totally independent and immune from external control by interested entities. These are qualities INEC can no longer lay claim to as long as Amina Zakari remains a member of the commission.”

He further stated that, “By foisting Mrs. Amina Zakari to lead the final process of the election, President Buhari is seeking a way to annex INEC, practically, take over the collation of results, and announce himself the winner.

“This is a clear invitation to anarchy and a huge political crisis capable of derailing our democracy because Nigerians, across the board, are already in vehement rejection of this self-succession plot and are now, more than ever before, ready to use every necessary means available and accessible to them in a democracy to protect our democratic process.

“We have been informed of how Mrs. Zakari led other top INEC officials to a secret meeting with some top officials of the Buhari Campaign Organization (BCO) in Abuja on ways to introduce the controversial Incidence Form under a new name and use such to manipulate the collation of results.”

Other opposition parties and as well as some candidates in the forthcoming elections, are also calling for her removal. However, this medium reliably learnt that the calls may not be unconnected with the ploy of some powerful Nigerians to frustrate her and coerce the INEC chairman to appoint another national commissioner, who may have sympathy for them and their course.

A source close to the seat of power, who spoke to our correspondent, said that: “You will recall that former President Goodluck Jonathan, who appointed Hajia Amina Zakari, also appointed some nominees of some of those who are now championing the ouster of President Muhammadu Buhari.

“So, the call for Hajia  Zakari is targeting at mounting undue pressure on the INEC chairman to remove her and appoint of their loyalists, who may dance to their tunes,’’ the source who did want to be named alleged.   

It’s violence against women

Amidst of these controversies, Women in Politics Forum (WPF) has described uproar against the appointment of Amina Zakari as the Head of National Collation Center, as violence against women.

WIF, President, Barr Ebere Ifendu, who spoke to Blueprint Weekend, also queried why people should be calling for her head because of her alleged relationship with the Mr President.

She alleged that a card-carrying member of the PDP, who contested for an elective position, was appointed an INEC commissioner during the 16-year-rule of PDP.

“The situation in this country affects not just women in politics, but also women as umpires. It affects women as candidates and it also affects women as observers. So, this is a clear case against women in our elections.

“I am aware that some time ago, the last commission, a member of PDP, somebody who contested election was appointed as an INEC commissioner under PDP to represent the South-east. He is from Ebonyi state, and a card carrying member of PDP and nobody condemned it.

“There was a time also Regina Omo-Agege served as INEC,  director election and party monitoring and her blood brother, Ovie Omo-Agege, who is now a Senator contested for the gubernatorial election in Delta state. And that did not change anything; he still did not win that election.

“However, if there is anyone they need to put search light on, who has the powers and capacity to influence anything, I think it should be the INEC Chairman, Professor Yakubu Mahmood, and not Amina Zakari. How can she do that as an individual? This is violence against women and women in politics condemn it,” she said.

She’s eminently qualified

In the same vein, a Lawyer, Mr Ralph Agama, who told our correspondent that Amina Zakari’s appointment is in line with the constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria, warned that the constitution must be followed if she must be removed for any reason.

“Her appointment is in line with the constitution, but I want to say, Amina Zakari, is a citizen of this country. So, when her appointment came, she was screened on merit, publicly screened, both security and otherwise. And if there is any legal impediment, or any way she constitutes a security risk she would have been disqualified before now.

 “Even now, the groups that are faulting her appointment are not coming up with any security report against her. It is only on the basis of political reasoning. Even if she is in any way related to the President, which she is not, it does not in any way disqualify her because the constitution does not say so.

“She is a citizen of this country. So, all they have been saying about her is on the basis of politics. Has she been found wanting for any misconduct? If she was appointed on merit and thereafter she is not found wanting in the cause of discharging her duties, so on what ground do they want her removed?

“Until they are able to establish an act or conduct that constitutes what we call misconduct on the part of the appointee, even the National Assembly cannot remove such an appointee,” Agama stated.

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