New helmsmen at INEC
THE appointment of a substantive chairman and commissioners for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), by President Muhammadu Buhari upon consultation with the National Council of State should mean that Nigerians have an umpire and can look forward to electioneering as well as elections that edify democracy and strengthen the nation.
Professor Mahmood Yakubu, the new Chairman of INEC and five new commissioners, namely Mrs. Amina Bala Zakari, Dr. Antonia Taiye Okoosi-Simbine, Alhaji Baba Shettima Arfo, Dr. Mohammed Mustapha Lecky and Mr. Soyebi Adedeji Solomon, have also been confirmed by the Senate and sworn into office. With their appointments, the president has fulfilled his constitutional role in compliance with Sections 154 (1) (3) and 156 (3). Now, interestingly, the commission’s first test is immediate and work must begin on the two forthcoming gubernatorial elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states.
Since 1999, electioneering and election management in Nigeria have been bedevilled by many contradictions with a consequential image problem for the umpire, INEC. The appointment of Prof. Attahiru Jega in 2010 shored up the commission’s credibility as his ascent to the leadership of the commission on the heels of electoral reforms implemented by the Umaru Musa Yar’Adua administration brought a lot of changes to electoral administration in the country. Jega, a man of admirable character and iron resolve, will be remembered for raising election management to some appreciable level in the country, especially with the data capturing machines and its complementary card reader, not to talk of his own personal comportment. Indeed, technology combined with the personal character of INEC’s leadership to inspire hope in the democratic process in the country and earned the outgone chairman many accolades especially with regards to the 2015 elections.
And following his voluntary exit, the worry in the public domain had been whether Jega would have a worthy successor to continue his commendable work as well as a consolidation of the machinery for fair and credible elections in Nigeria. Nigerians actually called out vociferously that whoever would succeed Jega must necessarily outdo him and not go below the standards he had set.
Yakubu, the new INEC boss, certainly comes to the job with impressive credentials and enough gravitas to inspire some confidence. He is a professor of political history and international studies who studied at Usman Dan Fodio University, Sokoto, Nigeria and Oxford University, United Kingdom. He was until his appointment the Executive Secretary of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund). During his tenure as secretary, he established a National Book Development Fund supporting 102 journals of professional associations. Also, he served as Assistant Secretary of Finance and Administration at the 2014 National Conference. But good credentials are only meaningful to the extent that they are validated on the crucibles of performance. It is expected that the new helmsman will be able to bring to the commission his deep knowledge of bureaucracy to traverse the complexity of elections as well as bring innovation to bear on election administration. Voter registration, wards delineation, voter education and information, media monitoring, electoral dispute resolution and, above all, conduct of fair and credible elections are tasks that certificates and experience prepare you for only to an extent. Then, character takes over.
It is very reassuring that Yakubu himself has vowed that “no elections ever, under my watch, will be won and lost at INEC headquarters.” According to him, anyone who wants to win elections should go and canvass for the votes of the Nigerian people. “We will protect the interest, integrity and sanctity of the decisions taken by the Nigerian people”, he vowed.
“Never again will elections be won and lost at INEC headquarters, at the headquarters of the state electoral commissions, and the EOs (Electoral Offices) at the local governments.”
Reassuring words indeed. On Yakubu’s watch, as this newspaper had counselled several times, INEC must be repositioned to be independent and non-partisan in the true sense of these terms. And the new INEC leadership must guard against any perception of bias or partisanship. For starters, Yakubu’s INEC can draw insight from ‘Elections Canada’, a truly independent agency appointed by the Parliament 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.
Yakubu must also take off from where Jega left and make technology a friend. By the introduction of the biometric data capturing system, Jega’s INEC did well to elevate the service of computer technology to election management.
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. Once again, the Kogi and Bayelsa elections will serve as litmus test for the new INEC helmsman, Yakubu and his lieutenants, and Nigerians are waiting with bated breath to see if the right umpire had been picked for the game.