As Jega quits
“I HAVE served as INEC chairman for five years and it is okay for me. I have given my contribution for success of the country. If I am given any appointment, I will completely reject it. At least, somebody (else) should be given a chance”.
True to his statement shortly after the conduct of the elections, that he would decline re-appointment or extension of his tenure as the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega finally leaves office today for the lecture room whence he came, as his five-year tenure expires exactly today, June 30.
Many Nigerians testify to his commendable performance as Nigeria’s elections umpire. But in a country like Nigeria, a greater testimony to Jega’s character is his principled stand to step aside.
He was not perfect as INEC Chairman but a few can dispute the fact that he ran a good race and did a good job.
The vacancy created by his exit today offers Nigerians an auspicious moment to evaluate the overall conduct of the elections and build upon the modest achievement of the commission. Besides, it should also provide the Nigerian authorities with an opportunity to weigh the character and some other credentials of the next appointee to the exalted position.
At a valedictory dinner organised in his honour the other day, Jega appropriately described the elections he supervised as a laudable benchmark for future elections. Jega, who came to the INEC position on his supposed independence of mind and his illustrious activism as chairman of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) during the Abacha regime, also said improved supervision of elections would depend on full implementation of the recommendations of the Justice Mohammed Lawal Uwais Electoral Reform panel.
Although the Uwais Report recommends the establishment of the Electoral Offences Commission and two other commissions that will take charge of some of the functions of INEC, there is need for review of this report before implementation. Apart from this, the fact that the Constitution makes provision for the President to appoint certain people in certain offices should not undermine the truth that recommendations for the appointment of the INEC chairman should be visionary and long-term, and should consider character as a substantial component. Also, while INEC should consider taking over local government elections, special attention should be given to the cost of those elections.
For the future, and to improve on the gains of the Jega era, INEC must be repositioned to be independent and non-partisan in the true sense of these terms. One of the backlashes on the last elections was the discourteous, even dangerous act of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chieftain, Mr. Godsday Orubebe, who, at the collation centre in Abuja, vehemently and publicly accused the INEC chairman of partiality, ethnic prejudice and all sorts of misconduct. But for the maturity of the outgoing INEC chairman and sure-footedness, that election would have been truncated and Nigeria would have been thrown into chaos.
One thing the new INEC must guard against, however, is any perception of bias and partisanship, which only a truly independent electoral commission can achieve. Amongst the many organisations INEC could draw insight from in this regard is ‘Elections Canada’, a truly independent agency appointed by the House of Commons in Canada to manage the country’s elections. Its independence is demonstrated by the powers of a non-partisan Chief Electoral Commissioner, who heads the agency and solely manages it in concert with his own appointees, and is only responsible to the parliament.
However, to get to this level of independence, there is need for the deployment of more advanced technologies. The need for continuous improvement in the use of technology lies in its benefits to furnish the nation with reliable statistical and demographic data appropriate for desired credible elections. By the introduction of the biometric data capturing system, Jega’s INEC did well to elevate the service of computer technology to election management. He had even assured on the use of National Identity Card in the future; but this needs synchronisation.
The task for the next chairman of INEC is to exploit these benefits to foster the prospects of future free, fair and credible elections. To this end, voters’ registration should be a continuous exercise year round like birth and death registration. This would demand more manpower and resources because registration centres would have to be set up in special places. For example, this would require that continuous registration of persons, aged 18, be situated on the campuses of higher institutions.
Furthermore, between now and the next election, the post-Jega INEC should be able to perfect facilities that would ensure that eligible Nigerians resident outside the country are able to exercise their franchise. This should be one high point for INEC if the next chairman is to improve on Jega’s laudable stewardship.
Since the credibility of the election is tied to the electoral umpire, the nation must seek out persons with excellence of character and intelligence for consideration as the next INEC chairman. The importance of this position should not be lost to divisive politicking, for it should be emphasized Nigeria does not need people who lobby for the job, but rather those who the nation has to convince to take the job.
As Attahiru Jega takes a bow, he can hold his head high as a true servant of Nigeria. INEC in his watch was not perfect but it was an improvement on what was.