Amina Zakari’s appointment as Head of the Collation Center of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) ahead of the 2019 elections should have been widely celebrated, given her experience on the job, her famed proficiency and expertise.

She comes fully made. She's paid her dues and in full.

Instead, she has been rejected by the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and her supporters. Her relationship with President Muhammadu Buhari has been called to question. She has been labelled a niece, in-law and sister of the president and her position, the opposition claims, is a classic example of conflict of interest, read nepotism. She has been declared persona non grata. The PDP says her position is untenable.

It doesn’t matter that as Chairperson of the INEC Advisory Committee and Presidential election Collation Center Committee, Zakari would have no direct bearing on election results or vote collation. Her job description as it pertains to the election is primarily administrative and nothing more. 

“I am absolutely responsible for the coordination of the secretariat for the collation of results”, says INEC Chairman Mahmood Yakubu, as though anyone needed reminding.

“But somebody has to prepare the venue for the conduct of the election, the internet service that we have to provide, accreditation of international observers and the media,” he adds. 

But when one of the contenders in a battle calls the umpire’s credibility and fairness to question, something certainly has to give.

President Buhari won the 2015 election after 3 previous unsuccessful attempts (Reuters)

Zakari and Buhari are certainly related in some way, make no mistake. The president may not be her uncle, but the presidency has admitted that there are familial ties in there somewhere.

“President Buhari and Commissioner Amina Zakari do not share a family relationship. An inter-marriage occurred in their extended families, so the imputation of blood relationship between the president and the electoral commissioner is a lie”, the presidency said in a statement issued on January 4.

The problem here is that no explanations will suffice for the PDP and its horde of talking heads at the moment. Zakari was assailed with similar allegations when she was appointed acting INEC Chairman in 2015. She has been a senior INEC commissioner for a while now. She is no newbie plucked from obscurity to oversee Buhari’s triumph at the ballot in 2019. INEC is where she calls home, more or less. INEC is where she has called home for a decade now.

Amina Zakari denies any kind of relationship with Buhari (The Nation)

However, to the extent that her neutrality in the forthcoming election has been called to question; and to the extent that she has become a target of one or more political parties ahead of the vote, Zakari should recuse herself from her role and be redeployed elsewhere within the organization; or she should be asked to embark on an involuntary leave of absence until the elections are over. 

It may be a huge price to pay for her career, but a price worth paying at this time, no less. Nothing Zakari says at this time will appease the PDP arm of the political spectrum. The last piece of distraction this nation needs in the coming weeks is to call the 2019 presidential election to question because of a Collation personnel. 

Zakari can save us all the trouble by taking a walk. A dignified walk from this needless controversy and drama.