President Goodluck Jonathan has reassured Nigerians and the international community that he has no plan to sack the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Attahiru Jega, ahead of Nigeria’s general elections slated for March 28 and April 11.
Mr. Jonathan’s reassurance came amid speculation that the Federal Government, through the office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation, is plotting to send Mr. Jega on terminal leave before the elections.
Mr. Jega’s tenure ends in June but there are claims the administration plans to send him on a three-month pre-disengagement leave before the election.
The speculation were fuelled by allegations by the opposition All Progressives Congress and the anti-Jega posturing of the Peoples Democratic Party as well as groups and individuals rooting for Mr. Jonathan.
Last Thursday, senators of the APC, led by George Akume, said they had reliable Intelligence that Mr. Jega would be asked to proceed on pre-retirement leave this week through a letter that would emanate from the office of the Head of Service of the Federation.
But speaking on Monday in an interview with Aljazeera, Mr. Jonathan dispelled the speculation.
The president said INEC is a sensitive and important institution and that removing its chairman arbitrarily would spark public outcry.
“Except somebody is insinuating that the Chairman has done something wrong. You cannot change an officer, except the person has done something wrong,” Mr. Jonathan said in response to a question on Mr. Jega.
He continued, “Government, whether at the federal or state level, president or governor, does not wake up and change somebody, especially somebody like the INEC Chairman, except that person has done something wrong.
“INEC is a very sensitive body. For me to change INEC Chairman Nigerians will ask questions. So, you cannot wake up and change INEC Chairman.”
He added that he had never discussed with “any human being on earth about changing INEC Chairman”.
While the PDP has alleged an unholy link between the APC and the INEC boss, Mr. Jonathan’s presidential campaign has outrighly accused Mr. Jega of involvement in “grand conspiratorial alliance” with the opposition party for “electioneering permutations” and deliberately skewed distribution of permanent voter cards against states believed to be PDP strongholds.
Mr. Jega has strongly rejected the allegations.
Mr. Jonathan has in the past repeatedly committed to free and fair polls, devoid of any form of violence.
But his campaign has been especially critical of INEC of late, accusing it of partisanship, and opposing the use of card readers in the elections.
INEC plans to use the card readers to accredit voters on election day to check multiple voting and voting by proxy.