Anthony Cardinal Okogie and other prominent Nigerians yesterday berated President Goodluck Jonathan over the alleged plan to force the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega, to go on terminal leave.
They warned that such a move would have a devastating effect on the nation’s democracy.
The warning comes on the heel of the alarm raised on Thursday by the All Progressives Congress (APC) Senate caucus about the alleged plot.
Cardinal Okogie said it would be wrong for government to get rid of Jega at this point in time.
His words: “If he is not due or not meant for terminal leave, which then would be an illegal move, then the court will have to look into it. Prof Jega has his fundamental human right. If he is not meant to be on terminal leave, then he can fight for his fundamental human right.”
Prominent jurist, Professor Itse Sagay ( SAN), said it would be rash and irresponsible of government to remove Jega.
He said it would not be in the best interest of the ruling party to allow this to happen.
“If they do that, they will scuttle the election and that will slide the nation into a political and constitutional crisis.They should leave things the way they are. The polity is not owned by one person. It is owned by all of us,” he said.
Retired Police Commissioner Abubakar Tsav also feared that forcing Jega out “will create a lot of problems.”
“ If Jega conducted elections in other states very well, especially Ekiti State and the PDP hailed him, why are they scared about this?” he said.
“If that happens, it means the PDP is out to rig the elections and obviously sees Jega as a stumbling block to the plan. They should believe in God and allow the INEC its independence to carry out this election.
“Any attempt to remove him will create confusion in the country. It will make the international community to see the country as unserious. In fact, it appears the ruling party is scared of General Muhammadu Buhari’s popularity.”
Lagos lawyer, Festus Keyamo, said of the alleged plot: First of all, Prof Jega is not subject to civil service rules. So it will be wrong to send him on terminal leave based on civil service rules.
“Second, this would be the second brazen attempt to destroy the sanctity of the forthcoming elections,the first one being the postponement of the election, and this would be the second brazen attempt. And it will be a second one too many.”
He said any such move would cause trouble in the country.
“The civil society, the opposition party and Nigerians as a whole, will resist such a move. I am very sure of that, and they will protest against it on the streets of Nigeria,” he said.
He asked President Jonathan “ not to use his ambition to destroy the country.”
Barrister Fred Agbaje, a constitutional lawyer berated Federal Government for not debunking the rumours which, according to him, has been flying around for over a month.
He said: “The story has been flying around in the last one month. Unfortunately, the Federal Government has done nothing to douse that perception. There is need to hear from the Federal Government about what they are really planning to do.
“The citizens are justified in their perception of the intention of the government to remove Jega under the guise of terminal leave. It has grave implications for the country. The fears are justified going by the antecedents of the government at denying things of this nature or matters that bother on national interest.”
Comrade Debo Adeniran, a civil and human rights activist, said “the speculation is likely to be true because it appears the ruling party does not like Jega’ s position on the electoral process as he is not compromising”.
In planning to remove Jega, he said, “the Federal Government may be trying to create chaos in order to extend the election by another six months and put the country in a state of limbo.”
But he warned that : “the civil society will not tolerate such as we have already spoken against it. If they do this, the people will be enraged.”
His view was shared by Comrade Shettima Yerima, President, Arewa Youth Consultative Forum, who said: “The plan is not good for the country. If going by the constitution, his tenure is over, there would be no story about it. But if it is otherwise, it is unacceptable and we will resist it.”
Meanwhile, the Federal Government has denied that the presidency was planning to sack Prof. Jega.
Speaking yesterday, the supervising Minister for Information, Edem Duke, said the Federal Government was not planning to remove the INEC boss before the general elections.
Duke said the INEC boss would leave office in accordance to laid-down service rules.
He said: “On the issue of the INEC chairman, I align myself with what the president said that he has no plan to sack the INEC chairman.
“That is not to say that if it is time for the INEC chairman to naturally exit his office, then the natural course of things will not take place.
“It is like talking of a civil servant who has done 35 years or achieved the age of 60; we now begin to say that he must not retire or he must retire. I think all of that is in the terrain of the presidency and he has spoken.”
Duke also pleaded with the media to continue to do things that will foster peace and national unity, stressing that the media needed to be guided so as not to set in motion things that could endanger the unity of the country.
SOURCE: The Nation