Up until this week, many Nigerians never knew the name Mahmood Yakubu. In the last few days, though, he has taken centre stage. Yakubu has been cast as a villain for what may go down yet as Nigeria’s most controversial election

[INEC Chair, Mahmood Yakubu/Punch]

If anyone doesn’t know, Mahmood Yakubu is the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) chairperson. The position of the INEC chair is sensitive, and it’s a requirement that whoever holds that office must be nonpartisan. Typically, and for reasons unclear, INEC chairs tend to be academics. 

In a joint press conference on February 28, opposition parties called for the removal of Yakubu for conducting what they described as a “sham” election.

One then begins to wonder how he got there in the first place. Here’s how.

What the Constitution says about appointing the INEC chair

The Nigerian Constitution guides how an INEC chair is appointed. We start with section 153, which provides the basis for such an appointment. Fourteen federal commissions and councils are backed by law under this section, including, among others, the national judicial council, the council of state and INEC. Make a note of the last two.

Section 154 goes into detail on how the INEC chair is selected. Here’s what the Constitution says in subsection 3:

“In exercising his powers to appoint a person as chairman or member of the Independent National Electoral Commission, National Judicial Council, the Federal Judicial Service Commission or the National Population Commission, the President shall consult the council of state.”

Is that it?

Not quite. After the president picks their nominee following consultations with the council of state, the president’s nominee is subjected to the Senate for screening. Only after they pass the screening are they confirmed for the position. The screening process can be tough as it often requires bi-partisan support for nominees to scale through. 

This is usually the case if the ruling parties and opposition have equal representation. You want to make sure whoever you’re picking has no political allegiances. Former INEC chair, Attahiru Jega, faced tough scrutiny before securing the position.

Remember, the president has the power to appoint the INEC chair, but only after consulting with the council of state — before the Senate confirms. So who makes up the council of state?

Council of state

The council of state

is an organ of the government whose role is to act in an advisory capacity to the executive, that is, the presidency. It comprises the president, who is the chair, the vice president who is vice-chair, former presidents and heads of state, senate president, speaker of the house of representatives, minister of justice, attorney general of the federation and all state governors.

The whole house. But remember, the president is the chair of this council, so their say is final.

Should the president have such powers?

It’s clear now that being president of Nigeria is a big deal. This explains why 18 people are vying for a seat that can only take one person.

[Seat of the president. The Cable]

That said, there have been debates in the past on whether the president should hold the power to appoint the INEC chair. The chief argument against it is that INEC, by definition, should be independent. It is, therefore, unfair if the president sets the chair of this commission, especially when they can still contest. It’s like a football team getting to pick the referee that officiates their match.

Then again, a counter-argument was made in 2015 when Attahiru Jega, the INEC chair handpicked by President Goodluck Jonathan, oversaw the election that kicked Jonathan out of office. 

Ultimately, it comes down to the president’s will and generosity in allowing the INEC chair to perform their duties without undue interference or pressure. As the Nigerian Constitution allows, the president reserves the right to appoint or replace the INEC chair as they see fit.



Zikoko amplifies African youth culture by curating and creating smart and joyful content for young Africans and the world.