On a new chairman of INEC
SUSTAINING a nation’s democracy requires credible elections, run by a credible umpire. One of the most vital decisions President Muhammadu Buhari must make successfully is to pick the right person to be the next chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Since Prof. Attahiru Jega made good his promise not to continue with the job when his tenure expired in June, the position of the chairman of the electoral body has been vacant. Although Mrs. Zakari has been acting, it should not be long before a substantive chairman is named.
Jega’s commendable performance in office is an affirmation of the fact that Nigeria does not lack human capital to drive its institutions. Indeed, from independence in the 1960s, the position of the electoral umpire has been occupied by some of the nation’s most competent people drawn from diverse fields. The occupation of the position of the nation’s electoral umpire at different times by such persons as Eyo Ita Esua, Michael Ani, Justice Victor Ovie-Whiskey, Prof. Eme Awa, Prof. Humphrey Nwosu, Justice Ephraim Apata, Dr. Abel Guobadia, and Prof. Maurice Iwu is an illustrious demonstration of the fact that the country has had qualified people for the job. These were people with compelling credentials for the job.
What marked Jega out was that in building on the legacies of these Nigerians, he raised the bar of credibility and performance as INEC’s chief. Through Jega’s managerial acumen and sincerity of purpose, Nigeria was able to record one of the freest elections that this country has ever witnessed. And this was at a time when it was feared that the conduct of elections would be problematic and lead to the breakup of the country. Aside from his introduction of the biometric data capturing system, Jega brought to bear on the job his personal integrity. And this was why an opposition party was able to defeat a sitting president and there was no long-drawn acrimony after the presidential election.
The challenge, therefore, for Buhari is how to consolidate on the gains of the Jega years. This task requires urgent response in view of the fact that elections are due to hold in Bayelsa and Kogi states later this year. In choosing Jega’s successor, Buhari must settle for a person who must not go below Jega’s performance. Indeed, if the person cannot beat Jega’s performance, the least Nigerians expect is for him or her to be at the same level of his performance. Therefore, Nigerians expect the next INEC’s chairman to pave the way for a better democratic transition. The country cannot afford to have as an electoral umpire a person who would set the nation back by conducting a controversial election.
There were some qualities that made Jega succeed and the next electoral umpire is expected to possess these attributes. In the first place, the person must have an independent mind and he must be far removed from political partisanship. The person must have the character that would defy pressure from any quarters; he or she must not succumb to pressure on account of doing the bidding of his or her employer, especially the executive arm of government. It is a person with such an irreproachable character that would be able to admit errors as Jega did and improve on his own performance in the course of the job.
Such a character must have been developed through many years of administrative experience in any area of endeavour. For instance, Jega had diverse experience as a former President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and erstwhile vice chancellor. He had been responsible for the management of diverse characters in a university environment. It is expected that the need for character and experience would outweigh religious, ethnic and professional considerations in the selection of the electoral umpire.
Since Jega’s success was facilitated by his introduction of advanced technologies in the electoral process, the next electoral umpire must improve on the use of the biometric data capturing system. The deployment of advanced technologies would help in avoiding the manipulation of voter registers and election results, thereby rendering the whole electoral process credible. The credibility of future elections would also be enhanced by a regular registration of voters.
Buhari owes it as duty to Nigerians to ensure the emergence of a credible INEC chairman and thereby deepen the nation’s democracy.