On Thursday, January 3, 2019, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, Director, Media and Publicity of the PDP Presidential Campaign Organisation, labelled Mrs. Amina Bala Zakari, a niece of President Muhammadu Buhari.

In a statement sent to Pulse by the PDP spokesperson, Ologbondiyan said: “we have been raising the flag on how the Buhari presidency, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and some individuals at the echelon of INEC (Independent National Electoral Commission) have been seeking ways to compromise our electoral processes and open the way for the allocation of fictitious votes to President Muhammadu Buhari, having realized that he cannot win in a credible, free and fair polls.

“Today, we have been informed that the Chairman of INEC, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, 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 Center Committee”.

PDP's National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, says Buhari's niece will count election results (Punch)
PDP's National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, says Buhari's niece will count election results (Punch)

Moments after the PDP’s press statement found its way into numerous online news platforms and social media pages, the name Amina Zakari was competing with Burna Boy and Manchester City as one of the top trends of the day. 

But is Amina Zakari really President Buhari’s blood relation (niece) as the PDP wants everyone to believe?

And will Zakari collate results or votes as the PDP claims in its statement?

Who is this Amina Zakari everyone is now talking about?

Amina Bala Zakari, Nee Husaini Adamu, was born on June 23, 1960.

That makes her 58 years of age. 

Zakari hails from Kazaure Local Government Area of Jigawa State. She is a Princess of the Kazaure Emirate in Jigawa.

She attended primary school in Kano, secondary school in Lagos (Queens College) and graduated from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria in 1980 with a Second Class upper.

She holds a Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) Degree in Pharmacy from the above University.

She is a widow with 5 children. 

How did Zakari end up at INEC?

Zakari worked as a Special Assistant to then President Olusegun Obasanjo.

She was also Secretary, Health and Human Services, Secretary Social Development and Acting Secretary, Agriculture and Rural Development under the Federal Capital Territory Administration at different times. 

It was former President Goodluck Jonathan who appointed Zakari INEC Commissioner. 

Amina Zakari's appointment has been questioned by Nigeria's major opposition party (Sahara Reporters)
Amina Zakari's appointment has been questioned by Nigeria's major opposition party (Sahara Reporters)

In an interview she granted PM News in 2015, Zakari said; “When President Jonathan came, he was looking for people that had integrity. That was what I was told, and I found myself in the commission and did my best”.

In 2015, as one of the most senior INEC Commissioners, President Buhari appointed Zakari acting INEC Chairman following the expiration of the tenure of Prof Attahiru Jega who oversaw the 2015 elections.

It was an appointment she didn't see coming.

Zakari had packed out of her office to commence her leave of absence; and was driving home when she received the phone call to return to head INEC in an acting capacity.

She recalls how she got the big job in that PM News interview; “I had packed all my things out of INEC and wanted to take a leave for the remaining three weeks. I felt that as the commission was being depleted, I had a responsibility to sit out my three weeks. Then I was called on my way home after the chairman (Jega) had handed over to Ambassador Wali. 

“I was told that the head of service was looking for me, and I said what for? I just continued driving. I was almost home when they said, ‘Come back, you have a letter to be the acting chairman.’ I said, ‘but somebody was appointed in the morning, take the letter to INEC.’ But they said, ‘It is in your name. You have to come and receive it. Just turn round.’

“While I was still arguing, my driver decided to turn round. I called the ambassador and told him, and he said, ‘Go pick your letter.’ I called the former chairman and he said, ‘Go pick the letter.’ I was confused and worried because it is an enormous responsibility and I wasn’t really expecting it. I picked the letter and came back to the office the next day in a sober mood”.

So, is Amina Zakari really President Buhari’s niece?

In the strictest definition of the word “niece”, it would be a stretch to tie her to the president in that familial manner.

The Cambridge English Dictionary defines a Niece as “a daughter of one's brother or sister, or of one's brother-in-law or sister-in-law”.

Wikipedia defines a Niece as the “daughter of a person’s sibling”.

Buhari’s sister married Zakari’s father, according to people in the know who spoke to Pulse. In which case we can say that Zakari is no “blood niece” of Buhari like the PDP would have everyone believe. Marriage across states brought both families together, for want of a better expression. 

However, if a niece is “the daughter of one’s brother-in-law or sister-in-law”, according to the second part of Cambridge’s definition above, then she is Buhari’s niece or relation.

Having risen through the ranks of the electoral commission; heading the ICT, political parties and business units in INEC, she appears eminently qualified for whatever role she is handed in the organisation--irrespective of who her family members are.

Zakari was peppered with the same question of family ties to Buhari in 2015 after the PDP railed against her appointment as acting INEC Chairman because she was "Buhari's in-law".

Her answer was: “For somebody to now say Gen. Buhari knew me and gave me the job, obviously he knew I am a hard worker and he is a principled person. I have never known him for nepotism. He is a very principled person.

“If there are familial ties, the principle would have rubbed off on that family. I come from a very principled family. My father survived two regimes that were jailing and sacking people, and he survived both. And for that, I don’t think I would do anything that would jeopardize that principle. 

President Buhari is seeking re-election in 2019 election (Punch)
President Buhari is seeking re-election in 2019 election (Punch)

I can’t say Buhari is my in-law. I am not married to his son and my daughter is not married to him. That is what I understand about being an in-law. But obviously, in life, you have acquaintances, people you have known. But I think people should not get distracted by this ‘family or no family’. Am I competent? Can I deliver? Can I conduct my affairs with integrity? The president’s message is for people to be honest and to have integrity. This is a statement he sent to me. ‘Don’t do anything against your principle.’ Already, I have that principle and I will maintain it”.

Will Amina Zakari be collating results of the 2019 presidential election?

Not really. 

As Chairman of the Collation center, Zakari’s job would have nothing to do with counting votes or announcing results. 

The PDP says Mrs. Zakari will head results collation. That is entirely misleading. Mrs. Zakari will only be in charge of the administration of the national collation center and nothing more. It's essentially setting up the place for the day's business.

Yakub Mahmood is INEC boss. The PDP doesn't seem to trust him. (The Nation)
Yakub Mahmood is INEC boss. The PDP doesn't seem to trust him. (The Nation)

Her job description as provided by the PDP, situates her outside of the result collation and vote counting loop.