Without prejudice to whatever willful inadequacies of every mortal, Attahiru Jega, a professor and out-going National Chairman of Nigeria’s election management body, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, deserves to be commended. As he exits that office, there is going to be a fierce battle to fill the slot.
And were President Muhammadu Buhari be committed to sustaining the transformative underpinning of Jega’s tenure, he would not need to look beyond the suggestions contained in this piece.
More importantly, Mr. President would need to divorce himself of any shade of nepotic and prebendal inclinations in appointing a replacement for Jega so that he, too, would keep faith with the need to build on what Jega started.
By Jide Ajani
There are moves being made in some quarters by some prominent Emirs to compel President Muhammadu Buhari to appoint another northerner to fill the position of the National Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.
Sunday Vanguard learnt that as the battle rages, Mr. President has come under considerable pressure by some traditional rulers from the North directly and, in some instances, using proxies to make a case for one of the National Commissioners.
Interestingly, the Commissioner is also from the North West geo-political zone like out-going Attahiru Jega.
And in what appears to be a direct unintended though predictable consequence of appointing retired civil servants and old men and women into the Commission, a 75-year old national commissioner (name withheld) was rushed to the Intensive care Unit, ITU, of an You, Akwa Ibom hospital recently while the Commission was having a retreat in that state.
Sunday Vanguard was made to understand that even while in a state of coma, he was flown in an air ambulance to an Abuja-hospital.
He is still in a coma.
The impending exit of the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Professor Jega, and his peers of national and state Electoral Commissioners brings to a potential an expected finale a remarkable period in the history of the Commission. They are the first crop of electoral Commissioners to midwife the affairs of the Commission after the significant reforms enacted from the recommendations of the Mohammed Lawal Uwais Committee on Electoral Reforms.
Professor Jega and the Commission he led conducted two elections, considered largely credible and acceptable globally.
Both elections were principally between two main candidates, former President Goodluck Jonathan and incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari, both men won one out of both contests, making any claims of bias to either difficult to sustain.
The Commission, under Jega, can therefore be said to have creditably acquitted itself in terms of the independence which the reforms were meant to attain and sustain, but maintaining the relative credibility that the current peer of Commissioners have engendered under the leadership of Jega will require a new INEC Chairman with remarkable and exceptional qualities.
Such qualities must be the focus of the incumbent president as he adds this task to the list of appointments on his to-do list. The very important role played by the Commission in consolidating democracy in Nigeria, therefore, impels a closer examination of the qualities of Professor Jega’s potential successor.
Among those who appear to be in the running for the office are some national officers who, rather than make genuine contributions to meetings, would simply cow-tow and flow with the tide. Because of the nature of the nominations to the Commission – some state governors actually nominated most of the commissioners – it is very important that President Buhari remains mindful of the need to allow merit take precedence over relationship and patronage.
The Commissioner, being pushed by the Emirs, once worked with PMB when he was the Chair of Petroleum (Special) Trust Fund, PTF. As a Commissioner in INEC, the individual had been reported severally in the newspapers of a breach of oath of impartiality in respect of a political party.
During the 2011 presidential election, specifically, the individual was reported to have encouraged a protest letter from a campaign organisation to INEC during collation of the results with a view to stopping the exercise.
Even at that time, the out-going Chairman stopped collation and set up a committee to carry out investigation relating to the contents of the petition.
This development, Sunday Vanguard gathered, unknown to most Nigerians, almost returned the country to the June 12 debacle.
It was the protest of other National Commissioners, one of whom confirmed the story to Sunday Vanguard, that averted another annulment as report had it that a court injunction was already being procured to stop further collation. This was in 2011.
In the build up to the 2015 elections, the Commissioner featured prominently with a few others, also from the North, who pushed for the implementation of the criminally lopsided 30,000 polling units’ allocation that put the whole of southern Nigeria almost at par with North-West Zone where the said Commissioner hails from – such an individual is not fit to become INEC Chairman.
Appointing such an individual would engender loss or erosion of public confidence, a clear reversal of public trust in an umpire that needs to work harder to gain more public trust.
This is even more imperative because the 2015 presidential election, free and fair as it appeared, suffered some discounts which Nigerians were willing to overlook.
Apart from having worked with PMB, the president is perceived as an uncle, from the same North-West, which boils down to the Nigerian problem of nepotism – that is if the individual is appointed.
This all important decision of PMB would show whether he is a statesman or a regional champion.
President Jonathan acted statesmanly and in the national interest and set an unprecedented record of appointing Prof. Jega, from the North-West, the first northerner since independence, to the position of the Chairman of INEC.
His appointment was made despite the fact that northerners, mainly from the North-West, opposed President Jonathan from assuming the office of the president even in acting capacity and equally opposed him in the 2011 elections by not voting for him.
The appointment of Prof. Jega by Jonathan was based on merit devoid of ethno-religious or political considerations and party interest as most members of PDP were opposed to the decision. But Jonathan placed the national interest of credible elections above his party interest. Would PMB fall below the standard set by Jonathan by putting his regional, APC and his personal political interest above that of the nation in the choice he would make of who succeeds Jega in the light of the disturbing reports?
As Professor Jega and several national Commissioners bow out of INEC next week, with many Nigerians expressing concern that the higher benchmark they are leaving behind, regarding the conduct and credibility of elections may fall drastically. This fear was heightened during the week as the ruling All Peoples Congress (APC) and its members displayed undisguised desperation for political offices at the National Assembly. With such unresolvable tendency to win at all cost and disregard for any form of conciliation, many fear that the days of “do or die” elections may be upon the country again come 2019.
To assuage the fears of Nigerians that the electoral ambiance will be conducive for both ruling and opposition parties, to contest and win elections fairly and acceptably, heightened curiosity and anxiety now pervades the expectations of Nigerians on the caliber of people who will succeed the outgoing election commissioners. Appointing people with questionable competency, integrity and credibility, will do untold and foreseeable damage to the election integrity which the Jega team have toiled to build since 2011, and which Nigerians now come to expect to get better.
The anxiety that attends the exit of Jega and this crop of commissioners is worsened by the fact that, by next week when Jega and most of the team at national and state levels would have gone, will leave the Commission under the leadership of two National Commissioners, both of whom were appointed under controversial conditions. One of them was accused of partisanship, because he had been an obvious beneficiary of the former ruling Party the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), as a former ambassador and the other recently appointed retired vc just before the election regarded as too old for the strain of leading such a dynamic organization.
Hence, insiders within the Commission question how these men can meet the often high pressure tasks that is often required of the Commission’s leadership given these limitations. These issues of doubt were raised against the background that one of the national Commissioners that will be left is too old, and is described by insiders as “narcoleptic” meaning that it is not uncommon to find him asleep even in public engagements, in full glare of media Kleiglights which has prompted hurriedly arranged “public relation positioning” of the Commissioner in some public engagements to avoid such embarrassing incidents.
Given the current atmosphere of political uncertainty that is creeping into the party structures at national level, it is believed that the 2019 electoral firmament may present new formations and possible party restructuring, in the light of post-election developments, hence it is expected that much more consideration will be given to the abilities of those who will man the Commission further down the road, to ensure that they will be people that are widely accepted by the Nigerian public as independent and competent, but that can be trusted by all stakeholders not to be unduly unctuous to political interests.
Given this scenario, many have set their sights back to a short-list of people who have been described as independent, competent but not politically unpredictable. Who are the men and women that will fit this description and meet the expectations of Nigerians? Answers to these questions are now more germane as Nigerians are currently beginning to doubt the sincerity of the ruling party to institute credible changes to national institutions. Hence, Nigerians are eagerly waiting to see how these appointees will emerge.
Maintaining the autonomy of the Commission means that a significant quality of Professor Jega’s successor will be the ability to be assertive of the Commission’s independence, which, therefore, requires an individual who will not return the Commission to the era when it was the smarmy appendage of the executive.
In addition to such flare for independent thinking, sustaining the current momentum in INEC will require someone with requisite knowledge, strength of character, integrity, untainted by electoral scandals, vibrant and energetic enough to meet the physical strain the office requires, and can demonstrate courage to take tough decisions without being needlessly emotive.
In addition, the individual should have a good working knowledge and understanding of the electoral system and should be able to command public confidence across all strata of the Nigerian society, particularly amongst political stakeholders, the electorate, the civil society, professional groups, development agencies, academics and other principal actors in the electoral process.
Such qualities, particularly the quality of having a very good working knowledge of the electoral system and the reforms that have allowed the Commission to attain its current credibility, are not widely common outside the Commission, a chief reason many observers are looking more internally than externally for possible successors of Professor Jega.
However, while there are many in the Commission who have participated in the implementation of the reforms, the allegations that bedevil the conducts of many Commissioners during the period narrow any potential internal successors to only a handful of untainted and credible Commissioners who distinguished themselves in INEC throughout their assignments. This is an important consideration given the avowed commitment of the current government to meritorious public service and its anti-corruption posture.
With the contemplation of such qualities dominating the discourse on the future of INEC and its potential leadership in the near future, many observers are keen to find out if President Buhari would foot-drag on constituting a new INEC Board given that, on or before the end of June 2015, INEC would be left with just two National Commissioners, one of whom was appointed just few weeks to the general elections and whom insiders say has not spoken a word in any meeting held so far and hardly expresses his opinion despite being a former Vice-Chancellor . The other one, albeit relatively longer in the system and also a one-time INEC Commissioner, and hence could be in acting capacity, has been described as “a former card carrying member of a party”, whose appointment was protested against for being a party-nominated minister under the Obasanjo regime, as well as also having been an Ambassador to Mexico as a potential party patronage before his controversial appointment as an INEC Commissioner?
Given this background, therefore, not a few people are pondering if President Buhari will exhibit the kind of states manly disposition of former President Jonathan who pressed the case for credible elections and who, despite the pressure from his party and the concern for electoral victory, appointed a northerner, considered by many as a leftist, and an activist professor to be the Chairman of INEC.
Hence, those who ponder such question also wonder if the next Chairman of INEC will be appointed from outside or from within the current crop of Commissioners? Also, such speculations lead to questions on what the advantages and disadvantages of appointing from outside or from amongst the current Commissioners would be, having regard to innovations like the Card Readers and a whole regime of innovations like customized ballot papers introduced by the outgoing Jega-led team that would obviously need consolidation?
If, however, as suggested in several quarters that, appointing a new Chairman from amongst the current set of Commissioners is best for the sake of continuing, perfecting and consolidating various innovations introduced by the Commission, and which have renewed public confidence in the electoral process, then the search will have to be narrowed down to a very credible few Commissioners in the system who have distinguished themselves.
Such a search must, therefore, have behind it, those pristine qualities that have already been discussed and the acceptability of all stakeholders across party lines as the chief criteria.
That search should have started yesterday.