Southern, Middle Belt leaders meet Friday to push for INEC chair removal

The Southern and Middle Belt Leaders’ Forum will on Friday meet to discuss critical national issues, including its demand for the removal of the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu.

The Joint Secretary of the forum, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, who disclosed this in a telephone interview with our correspondent on Wednesday, said the leaders would not back down on their demand for the removal of Yakubu and the service chiefs before the 2019 elections.

The SMBLF, had at a press conference in Abuja on Sunday, called on President Muhammadu Buhari to remove the INEC chairman and the service chiefs.

The forum had said that there were “accumulated indications” that he might rig the 2019 elections in favour of Buhari.

Odumakin, in the interview with our correspondent, said that the four geopolitical zones that constituted the forum had no confidence in Yakubu.

He said, “The meeting is a continuation of our normal consultations on the issue of restructuring to have a just and fair Nigeria. Those issues continue to dominate our agenda. We have put our demand for removal of the INEC Chairman and the service chiefs as a cardinal issue. We are not going to back down on them. We would continue to press on them. They would form part of the issues for discussion on Friday.”

Faulting Buhari, Odumakin stated that 15 out of the 17 security chiefs were from the northern region.

He said, “The impediments (to the 2019 elections) are so many. The major impediment is the security architecture in the country, the way the President has organised the security architecture, having 15 out of 17 service chiefs from his region.

“The tenure of the service chiefs has expired, but he kept them. This is geared towards the 2019 elections. Again, the composition of INEC does not give us confidence about the elections.

“The former acting Chairman of INEC, Amina Zakari, appointed by President Buhari happened to be his relation. Our information indicated that Zakari is more powerful than the INEC chairman. The nepotism that had crept into INEC does not give us confidence that there would be free and fair elections,” the forum insisted.

The forum observed that the alleged violence that attended the congresses of the ruling All Progressives Congress was an indication that the election might be turbulent.

The forum, according to Odumakin, had learnt that foreigners including Nigeriens were being registered by INEC to vote in 2019, adding that the electoral commission had refused to release the report of its findings into underage voting in Kano.

“We also learnt a lot of foreigners had been brought in from Niger Republic to register so that they can vote in 2019 and INEC has not responded to this.

“Underage voters were registered in Kano and they voted and INEC set up a committee to look into it, but up till now, it has refused to release the report, why? These are some of our fears for the election in 2019 and if they are not addressed, it is going be so turbulent,” it noted.

Efforts to get a response from INEC on the alleged registration of foreigners proved abortive as the Director for Publicity and Voter Education, Oluwole Osaze-Uzzi, neither responded to three telephone calls nor to a text message on Wednesday.

Explaining the concern of the SMBLF, the secretary, Odumakin, stated, “Even the way the APC has been conducting its congresses does not give us confidence that they will conduct credible polls. They are killing people in their own party, what will they do when they face the opposition?”