One Step Forward, One Step Back for the Appointee Scandal

For just a brief moment, it seemed like President Muhammadu Buhari had finally taken decisive steps to end the largely self-inflicted scandals plaguing the APC’s most prominent presidential aspirants. Not so fast.

The scandals revolve around the ability of political appointees (mostly cabinet members) to run in party primaries while holding their job, and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor Godwin Emefiele’s ability to do the same. Section 84 (12) the Electoral Act of 2022—which Buhari himself signed in February this year— mandates that political appointees resign before standing or voting in a party primary election, in pursuit of an elected office.

A court ruled in March that the provision unconstitutionally restricted an individual’s ability to run for office and yesterday an appeals court voided that judgement on a technicality, but nonetheless reaffirmed the unconstitutionality of the provision.

For his part, the CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, has his own category of headaches. In addition to questions as to whether the Governorship constitutes a “political appointee,” Emefiele is facing mounting public criticism over his interest in seeking the presidency, and his now-revealed membership of the APC, due to the required apolitical nature of his role, per the CBN Act.

In both the cabinet and CBN cases, there are concerns that, at best, appointees can misuse their office’s security and transportation to give them an unfair advantage while canvassing. At worst, they could use their position to distribute public resources or favor to aid their campaign. Moreover, the CBN physically houses electoral material for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), opening up yet another avenue for potential impropriety.

To add insult to unforced political injury, the ruling APC’s own electoral guidelines demand that appointees stand down at least 30 days before a primary election. At the time of writing, INEC currently requires that party primaries be over by June 3rd, well within the APC’s 30-day window.

To rectify the situation, per wide media reporting, the President ordered political office holders to resign by May 16th if they intend to run in the primary. That would otherwise clarify the situation and, in a very welcome way, offer voters clarity over who is standing, who is violating Buhari’s interpretation of the law and party rules, etc.

This is relevant not because Buhari is the supreme authority on political morality or legality but, rather, the president has the power to sack cabinet members and, with 2/3 of the senate, the CBN Governor (per s11 (2)(f) of the CBN Act). A circular issued by Boss Mustapha, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, was addressed to (among others) the “Honourable Ministers/Ministers of State” and the “Governor, Central Bank of Nigeria.” The circular is uploaded below.

A simple reading of the circular would suggest that all of those addressed should be included in its purview. Unfortunately, the opportunity to sow confusion was too tempting. When asked by reporters as to whether the directive applied to the CBN governor, Minister of Information and Culture Lai Mohammed demurred and said that his mandate was only to speak about cabinet members.

What began as an effort in leadership, transparency, and ending the scandals was eventually muddled by Buhari’s point-man on information. The risk is that any gap in Buhari’s policy—real or even vaguely insinuated—will be torn wide open by political ambition, dragging-on a series of scandals that could have been rectified by decisive leadership.

Nigeria is facing tough economic and security issues, that much is undeniable. Every day spent discussing self-inflicted scandals and ‘creative’ interpretations of the law and party rules is a day not spent discussing policies to fix the country. Buhari’s directive was only announced yesterday, and the deadline for resignation is still a few days away. Hopefully there will be an unequivocal reiteration of the policy and the consequences for those not in compliance.

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