Why Not A Female INEC Chairperson?
UNTIL recently, the recurrent decimals in Nigerian elections had been electoral manipulation, violence and complicity of electoral officers. The origin of these election-related ills were blamed on various causes, but the most frequent was the perceived partiality of the electoral umpire. Before independence to date, Nigeria has witnessed different types and modes of election. We have seen men of different characters and professional callings become chief electoral umpires.
The origin of Electoral bodies in Nigeria dates back to the period before Independence when the Electoral Commission of Nigeria (ECN) was established to conduct 1959 elections. In the over 50 years history of election in Nigeria, only men (from Michael Ani to the most recent Attahiru Jega) have held the position of Chief Electoral Umpire. One may be tempted to ask why only men, for over 50 years? Where women have been given the opportunity in the past, their performances, in most cases, exceed our collective expectations. For example when NAFDAC, an agency whose performance is critical to the survival and continued wellbeing of Nigerians was chaired by a woman, Prof Dora Akunyili of blessed memory, her performance was so outstanding that it became a yardstick globally on how to run a regulatory agency. But INEC is even more critical than NAFDAC to the survival of Nigeria as a nation. The continued peaceful coexistence of Nigerians and Nigeria as a nation is heavily dependent on the perceived transparency of elections to our elective offices.
Of course, the Chief Electoral Umpire’s office is one where the perceived partiality or impartiality of the holder of the office is actually more important to the electorate than the actual demonstration of partiality or impartiality. The electoral umpire should not be partial. How the electorate see the umpire goes a long way in inspiring their confidence in the overall electoral process.
Many countries suffer electoral partiality, manipulations and violence. Many also have taken steps to solving these problems. One that has become popular and is gaining increasing acceptance is that women make better electoral umpires. Some attribute this to their natural instinctive proclivity towards fairness and abhorrence of violence. Others postulate that women assiduously work to protect the integrity of their names and to show that they can do whatever men can do, if not better.
The trend started in Africa by South Africa with the appointment of Pansy Tlakula as the chairperson of its Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) have been copied all over Africa; including Liberia (Elizabeth J. Nelson, Chairperson of The National Elections Commission of the Republic of Liberia), Sierra Leone (Dr. Christiana Thorpe, Chief Electoral Commissioner and Chairperson of the National Electoral Commission of Sierra Leone), Ghana (Charlotte Osei, Chairperson of The Electoral Commission of Ghana), and Zimbabwe (Justice Rita Makarau, Chairperson of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission). Outside Africa, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) of the United States of America is chaired by Ann M. Ravel while Jenny Watson is the chairperson of the United Kingdom Electoral Commission.
The new government of President Muhammadu Buhari seems to be abreast of emerging trends in election management by appointing Mrs. Amina Zakari as the acting Chairperson of the Independent National Electoral Commission. With this appointment, the government is sending a loud and clear message to everyone. The era of electoral manipulations including outright rigging and falsification of election results is over. The administration hopes to cash in on the apparent superlative performance of women, when put in very sensitive posts.
But who is Mrs. Amina Zakari? Appointed as an INEC Commissioner in 2011 by former President Goodluck Jonathan, Amina was an integral part of the team that successfully delivered two elections in Nigeria, in 2011 and 2015.
In her capacity as a National Commissioner, she supervised the Political Parties Monitoring Committee and her efforts to achieve common grounds for engagement of political parties led to the revitalization of the Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC) which helped boost cohesion and consolidation of Nigeria’s political party system. Her consultative style and engagement with the political parties helped to reduce factionalization and improve partnership with INEC in the run up to the 2015 elections.
When INEC established its Planning, Monitoring and Strategy Committee in November 2014, Amina was deployed to head it. The move was to help revamp the compliance monitoring mechanism of INEC through an internally driven process re-engineering and automation of the Election Management System (EMS). Her efforts and that of her committee contributed to an achievement of over 80% of voter material distribution recorded in the 2015 elections. She also oversaw the management of the INEC ad-hoc staff, particularly the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) members, a process driven via a transparent online recruitment platform, complimented by training, sensitization workshops, seminars and conferences.
A highly skilled and astute administrator, Amina is one of the few Nigerians who has worked with three Presidents. Prior to becoming an INEC commissioner, she had been Special Assistant to President Olusegun Obasanjo, GCFR between 2004 and 2007, and posted to the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) where she served as Secretary of Health and Human Services, Social Development. A registered pharmacist and member of Pharmacists Society of Nigeria as well as member of the Nigerian Institute of Management, Amina is a graduate of Pharmacy from Ahmadu Bello University Zaria. She has also attended executive programs at International Drug Agency Netherland, Crown Agents UK and Harvard Business School.
• Amaka Kalu wrote from Abia State