Attahiru Jega: A postscript
RECENTLY, Professor Attahiru Jega returned to the classroom from where he was appointed the Chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), but his tenure as the boss of the electoral commission will remain a point of reference. It is fitting that we celebrate a dogged unionist, an astute academic and an electoral umpire who has left big shoes for his successor to fill.
In recognition of his legacy, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) will honour Jega and other awardees with its 2015 Charles T. Manatt Democracy Award today, in Washington D.C.
“Chairman Jega’s leadership was instrumental to Nigeria’s successful general elections in 2015,” said IFES President and CEO Bill Sweeney. “He deserves full credit for his efforts to increase the credibility and transparency of the electoral process under extreme logistical challenges, such as terrorist threats from Boko Haram, where failure could prove the catalyst for predicted election violence,” added Sweeney.
This accolade reaffirms the popular notion that the unsung hero of our democratic transition during the 2015 general elections is Professor Jega. For some others, the plaudit goes to former President Goodluck Jonathan who made that vital call to his opponent and conceded defeat even before the official results were announced. They argue that that singular act was the soothing balm that calmed frayed nerves that were belligerent and heading for a showdown. However, there is one indisputable fact: Jega served creditably as INEC Chairman, the only electoral boss to have conducted two general elections in Nigeria’s chequered electoral history.
Jega proved that there can always be exception to rules – that the piper can play to another tune rather than that of his Lord who pays the bill.
In the light of the just concluded presidential elections, certain questions jump out. How could millions of people prefer a non-graduate to a university lecturer? How could they in their right senses prefer the youthful to the aged in the class of docility? A man who had left power for more than 30 years and no record of an enterprise, save his much touted upright lifestyle. The choice of the people may be crass, but he preferred to defend the sanctity of the electoral process.
Jega realised that to capture the mind of Nigerians, you have to deviate from the norm. His innovation of the Permanent Voters Card was the joker that nailed intending riggers. Knowing it would be difficult to rig was enough to give confidence to the teeming electorates. He spoke with the mix of a professor and well groomed orator. He worked with the mastery of a professional administrator. He was well guided with technology in a manner that many of his ilk cannot boast of. His barefaced courage and innovation during the entire electioneering process was the catalyst that precipitated trouble free elections.
Not a few have applauded his tranquility of mind as displayed during the Orurubebe saga. His carefully selected choice of words did not only put the character in his place, it also endeared him to the heart of watchful Nigerians who were closely monitoring the collation process of the election results.
The judicial reversals of elections by election tribunals or courts of competent jurisdiction “for widespread irregularities” were no longer the norm. Unlike what was the order in 2007 elections where the results of many elections decided by INEC with the support of power hungry executives, went contrary to the wishes of the electorate. But for the judiciary, Kayode Fayemi, Olusegun Mimiko, Rauf Aregbesola, Adams Oshiomhole, etc, would have been inscribed in the annals of defeated persons.
The man who appointed Professor Jega deserves some accolades. To identify and appoint such sterling qualities to head our electoral commission reflects his good intention for the country.
Notwithstanding his meritorious service during his tenure, INEC would need to brace up in order to always curry the confidence of the nation. The men and women at INEC would need to constantly put on their thinking cap to be ahead of the Nigerian politicians who will stop at nothing to win political power by hook or crook. The need to properly screen candidates being presented for elections by political parties cannot be over-emphasiased. For instance, INEC would need to verify certificates by candidates. If INEC was dutiful enough, desperate but unqualified politicians would be checked and our electoral process would be credible.
Jega’s contributions to the electoral process may become as vapour if his successor does not build on his legacies. It is therefore imperative that whatever made the 2015 elections adjudged free and fair by local and international observers must be upheld and improved upon.
• Adeosun, a communication specialist, writes from Ondo, Ondo State