Outrage as Buhari’s niece heads INEC’s collation centre

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…Tropical storm’s rain, surging seas strike southern Thailand***

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has come under criticism over its appointment of Mrs. Amina Zakari as head of the agency’s collation centre committee for the 2019 presidential election.

Zakari is widely believed to be President Muhammadu Buhari’s niece.

The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) yesterday rejected the appointment of Zakari who had been INEC’s national commissioner in charge of welfare and health.

Addressing a press conference in Abuja, the party said the appointment would compromise the presidential election, particularly on account of “her blood relationship” with Buhari who is a candidate in the poll.

PDP’s national publicity secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, described the appointment as a step towards destroying the future of democracy in Nigeria.

INEC chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, had earlier, yesterday, announced that Zakari would chair the committee.

“Today, we have been informed that the chairman of INEC, apparently in furtherance of the plots to rig the presidential election, has appointed Mrs. Amina Zakari, a blood relation (niece) of the APC candidate, President Muhammadu Buhari, as the chairperson of INEC advisory committee and presidential election collation centre committee.

“The PDP Presidential Campaign Organisation (PPCO) vehemently and unequivocally rejects, in its entirety, the appointment of Mrs. Amina Zakari, President Buhari’s blood relation, as the head of the collation of results, in the same election in which her uncle, President Buhari, as a candidate, has displayed a huge desperation to win,” the PDP said.

“The appointment of Mrs. Amina Zakari, who had been openly accused in various quarters as being the link person between INEC and the Buhari presidency in their schemes to rig the election for President Buhari, constitutes a direct violence against the presidential election and the PDP will not, in any way, whatsoever, accept it.”

Recall that last month, the PDP, with a view to getting fairness at the polls, had urged INEC to grant international and local observers access to its situation room during the elections.

It said the call became imperative because of Buhari’s refusal to assent to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill and alleged manipulations during the Osun State gubernatorial poll.

Also, a pro-democracy group, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), condemned INEC’s move, saying: “What has happened today, with the ill-advised decision of Yakubu Mahmood to give the most sensitive appointment to the biological blood sibling of a major contender in the same electoral contest, is the electoral equivalent of match-fixing.”

But a source close to Mrs. Zakari and the commission explained: “Amina Zakari is not the head of the presidential election collation centre of INEC. She is in charge of setting up the Situation Room and National Collation Centre for the upcoming elections. This includes creating an environment conducive to national and international election observers, INEC staff and civil society organisations for the duration of election activities.”

Meanwhile, the presidential candidate of the PDP, Atiku Abubakar, has “noted with deep concern, reports that contrary to its promise of 2018, made at different times and in multiple locations, that it would not use the controversial incident forms, INEC has backtracked and decided to allow the use of the unreliable incident forms.”

According to a statement signed by Paul Ibe, media adviser to the candidate: “This is unacceptable to the PDP and Atiku Abubakar. Any decision to use incident forms in the February 16, 2019 elections is an attempt to toe the line of President Muhammadu Buhari, who thrice refused to sign the amended Electoral Act, for fear of the use of card readers, which would prevent rigging by desperate power mongers.

“Atiku Abubakar notes that data from the 2015 elections show that 75 per cent of the almost 14 million people who voted without biometric accreditation in 2015 were linked to Muhammadu Buhari. There are no reliable and accurate means of knowing who those voters were and whether they were genuine voters or sham voters.

“This disproportionate number of voters who voted without biometric accreditation in 2015 affected the integrity of those elections and we hold the INEC to its oft-repeated promise not to use anything but the smart card readers and PVCs for the 2019 elections.

“We know that the Muhammadu Buhari administration has been desperate to avoid the use of smart card readers and PVCs for the 2019 elections and the reported volte face by the INEC can only raise concerns about the voice of Jacob and the hand of Esau.

“Atiku Abubakar reminds INEC that the world is watching and Nigerians are alert to see if the present chairman and board of INEC would place national interests above narrow oligarchic interest.”

Similarly, opposition Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) accused the presidency of plotting to rig the elections.

In a statement signed by one of its spokespersons, Ikenga Imo Ugochinyere, yesterday, the CUPP raised the alarm over ‘‘the unholy collaboration among the presidency, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the leadership of security agencies to rig the presidential election, announce fake results and deploy lethal force to quell the expected popular resistance.”

It said: “This has come to light with the unprecedented move of the Nigerian Army to put the entire country on military lockdown from December 28, 2018 to February 28, 2019 in a manoeuvre termed Operation Python Dance III.”

Buhari nevertheless maintained he was grateful for the confidence reposed in him by Nigerians, promising: “I won’t disappoint.”

He spoke yesterday at the State House, Abuja, as he was decorated Grand Patron of the Nigerian Media Merit Award (NMMA).

A statement by Special Adviser on Media and Publicity Femi Adesina said Buhari described the investiture as “a timely honour,” adding that he had known a good number of the members of the NMMA board, “since the time I didn’t even know I would be here.”

Also, while receiving a delegation of members of the Buhari Support Group Centre (BSGC), the president maintained that the intention of his administration was to “leave a better country for our children and for coming generations,” adding that those who partake in such national effort would be rewarded with honours.

In the meantime, rain, winds and surging seawater buffeted coastal villages and world-famous tourist resorts Friday, as Tropical Storm Pabuk made landfall on southern Thailand’s east coast.

The storm, with maximum sustained winds of 70 kph (42 mph), hit the shore of Nakhon Si Thammarat province Friday afternoon and was roaring westward at 20 kph (12 mph), said Phuwieng Prakhammintara, director-general of the Thai Meteorological Department.

“We can expect heavy rain and downpours, flooding and flash floods in the area throughout the night,” he warned at a news conference.

Earlier Friday, authorities in Nakhon Si Thammarat province, about 800 kilometers (480 miles) south of Bangkok, drove trucks through flooded streets with downed power lines, urging people to leave.

“Anyone still inside. Please make noise and officials will help you out. You cannot stay here. You cannot stay here. It’s too dangerous,” they said from truck-mounted loudspeakers.

While torrential rain and strong winds are expected to affect more than a dozen other provinces, Nakon Si Thammarat and Surat Thani, home to the tourist islands of Koh Samui, Koh Tao and Koh Phangan, are expected to be the hardest hit.

The Meteorological Department said Friday morning that waves 3 to 5 meters (10 to 16 feet) high were possible in the Gulf of Thailand on the east coast, and 2 to 3 meters (6 to 10 feet) high in the Andaman Sea on the west coast. It warned of strong winds and storm surges on the gulf side and said all ships should stay berthed on land through Saturday.

In Nakhon Si Thammarat’s Pak Phanang district, where the storm later made landfall, a father and a son rushed off with their belongings on their pickup truck, quickly telling reporters the roof of their house was already damaged.

Officials used trucks to help fishermen move boats off the beach, which was being beaten up by strong waves.

“You can’t stay around here,” local official Dahloh Bin Samah said in a beachfront interview aired on local TV. “These will be all razed down. Every monsoon, beachfront restaurants around here are damaged every year. But this time, we got a tropical storm coming. There won’t be anything left. Nothing.”

Thai authorities suspended ferry services in the Gulf of Thailand and flights to Nakhon Si Thammarat and Koh Samui were canceled.

On Koh Samui, beach guards hoisted red flags to warn people to stay out of the sea. Police patrolled beaches, although many were almost deserted.

There are fears that the storm will be the worst to hit Thailand since 1989, when Typhoon Gay left more than 400 people dead. A tropical storm in 1962 killed more than 900 people in the south.

Two natural gas production platforms in the Gulf of Thailand directly in the path of the storm suspended operations and had their personnel evacuated to shore, said the exploration and production arm of the Thai state oil company PTT. It said drilling rigs and vessels had been moved to unaffected areas, and gas production at a third platform remained operating to help meet energy needs.

Guardian NG with additional report from ABC