Who Succeeds Jega, As He Bows Out?

Attahiru Jega

Jega

CONSTITUTIONALLY by Tuesday next week, the five-year tenure of the Chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Prof. Attahiru Jega will expire. The Kebbi-born academic-turned electoral umpire who was appointed the INEC chairman by President Goodluck Jonathan on June 8, 2010 and had his appointment confirmed by the Senate on June 24, 2010 will bow out of office.

His appointment was hailed by majority of Nigerians who believed that by his antecedents as an academic, and one time president of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), his choice was that of a round peg in a round hole. Unlike his predecessor, Jega and his team took off on sounding footing with a clear policy direction hinged on improving the country’s electoral system that many Nigerians have lost confidence in.

There is no doubt that Jega’s tenure of office has its ups and downs, but one thing is that the Commission under his stewardship has witnessed some innovations and improvements in the conduct of elections in the country.

Many believe that the innovations have helped in curbing some electoral irregularities that had always characterised the country’s elections in the past. Prominent among such innovations are the introduction of the Permanent Voters’ Cards (PVCs) and Card Readers; counting of votes and announcement of results at the polling units, and others. The development since 2011 has reduced the number of election petitions at various tribunals across the country.

The outgoing electoral umpire had broken record by being the first INEC Chairman to have conducted two general elections; 2011 and 2015 in the country. It was also under his tenure that the ruling party for first time in the country’s political history lost the presidential seat to the opposition party as witnessed recently.

Ahead of the last general elections, controversy, criticisms and commendations trailed the Commission’s decisions and actions under his watch. Common among such decisions was the introduction of additional 30,000 polling units, a move that was strongly rebuffed by Nigerians especially from the Southern part of the country who saw it as a move to favour a particular section of the country in 2015 polls.

After days of insistence and explanation, the Commission dropped the move, but that did not spare Jega from attack and allegation ahead of the polls. Several allegations of bias and corrupt practices were leveled against him by the PDP and the APC politicians who tried all gimmicks to drag the Commission to the mud.

Even when the presidential election result was being announced in Abuja, Jega was openly accused by former Minister of Niger Delta, Elder Godswill Orubebe of working for the victory of the All Progressives Congress (APC).

But in the face of all these allegations and provocations, Jega and his team remained undaunted, focused and calm. Unlike his predecessor, Prof. Maurice Iwu, Jega never joined issues with his critics and accusers.

When it was expected that Jega would lobby for a second term in office which has become a tradition in the country’s public offices, he declined interest.

Speaking on his possible second term in office, Jega had in an interview with the Hausa Service of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC Hausa) in Abuja after the March 28 poll said that having played his role in the political space for five years, it was time another person was given chance to contribute his own quota.

He acknowledged that the task of leading INEC was a difficult one, and said he was not interested in tenure renewal and would not accept an offer of extension.

“I am grateful to God. I was asked to come and contribute my own quota to the national development and I have done my bit to the best of my ability.

“Whatever assignment one will do for five years – just like this difficult one, to me if one is able to successfully accomplish the task, someone else should be given the opportunity, because for me I am not interested and if I am requested to serve again, I will not do it, by God’s grace,” Jega said.

He noted that the introduction of the card reader device in the 2015 general elections had significantly helped to make the presidential election transparent, adding that there were few challenges that would be looked into in the forthcoming governorship/state assembly elections, including late coming attitude of electoral officials to polling units.

Commenting on the allegations of bias against him by PDP chieftain, Mr. Godsday Orubebe at the National Collation Centre Abuja, Jega said he was unperturbed because he knew he had nothing to hide.

“I maintained my calmness, because I knew all the allegations were false. There is nothing that frightens me or disturbs me because, of all our actions, we have explanations for them,” he added.

As Jega bows out next week, the questions are, who succeeds him, and of what qualities and antecedent. Already, some prominent names are being touted as his possible successor.

Prominent among them are former president Court of Appeal, Justice Ayo Salami (rtd.); renowned lawyer, Mr. Olisa Agbakoba and an activist and immediate past Edo State Resident Electoral Commissioner, Mr. Mike Igini.

Salami was suspended from office by the then President Goodluck Jonathan at the peak of crisis of confidence between him and the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Justice Ignatius Katsina Aliu. He was not reinstated to office until he retires from the service, despite National Judicial Council (NJC)’s recommendation in that direction.

Agbakoba, an activist and legal icon is a respected Nigerian who has strongly canvassed for a reliable and strong electoral system that will guarantee free and fair elections.

Igini, a human right activist, and lawyer was appointed Resident Electoral Commissioner in 2010 by President Jonathan. He served in Cross River and Edo states. A dogged and fearless personality, he was among the resident commissioners that worked closely with Jega in reforming the country’s electoral system in the last five years.

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