Jega: The Real Nigerian Hero

Jega: The Real Nigerian Hero

Monday, April 13, 2015 3:54 pm

Eromosele Ebhomele

While some Nigerians contributed to making the 2015 general election a success, Professor Attahiru Jega, the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, could best be described as the real hero of the election

When on 1 July, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, the Nigerian body saddled with conducting and supervising elections in the country, is mentioned, Professor Attahiru Jega, the chairman of the commission, would be absent from office. He would have been replaced by then with a successor. But he would have left something to always make Nigerians remember he once handled the affairs of that important organisation. His name has been etched in gold and his legacies have become a benchmark to measure anybody who finds himself on the seat.

Jega’s tenure as the chairman of the electoral body ends on 30 June and he has declared that he is not cut out for re-appointment and would reject any consideration that he should remain in office. Having been the head of the Commission since 2010 when he took over from Professor Maurice Iwu, who reportedly led a very controversial electoral period, he told the British Broadcasting Corporation, Hausa Service, that he would not accept any tenure renewal. Jega, a former lecturer, understands that his heroism and courage, as it relates to INEC activities, are unique and that this could make Nigerians demand that he retains the organisation’s chairmanship. But he told the BBC that all that he had done for the commission was to contribute his quota as a true Nigerian. It is time for another person to take up the gauntlet. “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: Discharged his duties well

•Jega: Discharged his duties well

Analysts do not think Jega’s personal decision to quit when the ovation is deafening is Nigerian-like. Giving such an opportunity like that currently being ‘enjoyed’ by Jega, a Professor of Political Science, many Nigerians would have begun lobby for retention for another five years. But Jega seems to have had enough of the challenges that come with the office especially in a bid to santise the system. He acknowledged this fact when he noted that leading INEC was a very difficult task.

True, Jega inherited a bastardised electoral institution in Nigeria. INEC under Iwu was one of the worst periods in the nation’s Fourth Republic. While Nigerians turned the commission into a mockery with politicians allegedly treating it as a pay-as-you-go venture, Iwu, a Professor of Pharmacognosy, prided on with a commission that rendered itself powerless in the face of allegations of massive rigging, electoral malpractices and many other forms of unlawful activities. A frustrated Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, former governor of Lagos State and current national leader of the All Progressives Congress, APC, once described the Maurice Iwu’s INEC as a period of Iwuruwuru, a coinage from the then chairman’s name to mean irregularities.

Iwu, the Imo State-born researcher, was appointed chairman of INEC by former President Olusegun Obasanjo June 2005 and was removed from office in April 2010 after a shabbily conducted election that brought late President Umaru Yar’Adua and then Vice President Goodluck Jonathan to government. This was after he had served as INEC commissioner for Imo State. Iwu first received a wide condemnation after he announced that foreign monitors would not be allowed during elections, but only foreign election observers.

•Yar’Adua: Began the protess to sanitise Nigeria’s electoral system by setting up the Uwais committee

•Yar’Adua: Began the protess to sanitise Nigeria’s electoral system by setting up the Uwais committee

Months after the presidential election in 2007, Nigerians continued to call for Iwu’s removal. Abubakar Rimi, the late northern politician, was one of them. It could be recalled that in his reaction to the popular call for Iwu’s sack, former President Olusegun Obasanjo was quoted as saying that it would even be difficult for Jesus, the revered face of the Christian religion in the world, to conduct a free and fair election in Nigeria. And, of course, the former President, himself a christian, received a bite from practitioners of the religion for what they described as blasphemy. Yar’Adua, the beneficiary of the disputed election, confirmed that the election that brought him and Jonathan were actually marred with irregularities. He then promised to re-establish INEC and make it trustworthy.

Marching his words with action, Yar’Adua began a process to sanitise the country’s electoral system. He appointed Justice Mohammed Uwais, Nigeria’s former Chief Justice as head of a committee to oversee the best way to restructure INEC. However, the President dishonoured the call for Iwu’s removal with Mike Aondoakaa, then Minister of Justice, always making a case for the INEC chairman. Yar’Adua did not see the end of this effort. He died midway into his administration thus giving way to his deputy to ascend the ‘throne’.

•Justice Mohammed Uwais, headed a committee to reform the electoral system

•Justice Mohammed Uwais, headed a committee to reform the electoral system

Enter Jega

Upon succeeding Yar’Adua and as the tension in the country at that period gradually subsided, President Jonathan needed to worm his way into the heart of every Nigerian. He announced that his administration would not kill the electoral reform begun by his predecessor, but that since he was also committed to ensuring that INEC is able to conduct free and fair elections in the country, he would not relent until this was achieved. In March 2009, a motion emerged at the Senate calling for the removal of Iwu owing to an alleged lack of integrity, but this was vehemently opposed by Maina Maaji Lawan, the Vice-Chairman of the Senate Committee on the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, in that session of the National Assembly.

•Iwu: Immediate past INEC boss

•Iwu: Immediate past INEC boss

Yet, Jonathan continued with his insistence that INEC, as constituted then, would not conduct the 2011 general elections, which he later participated. As guest of the Council on Foreign Relations, CFR, moderated by Howard Jeter, former United States Ambassador to Nigeria in Washington DC, Jonathan noted: “before 2011 there will be a number of changes in INEC. A number of people talk about the chairman but it is not the chairman alone. The chairman’s tenure will expire by 13 June. But he is not alone, there are quite a number of the officers, more than two thirds of them. Basically I am a bit lucky now because most of the commissioners at the national level have completed their tenure or will complete their tenure in a couple of months, so we are going to review them individually and the ones we feel are not good enough to be reappointed, we will not reappoint them. We will inject fresh blood and we will make sure that we bring people on board that if their names are mentioned, people in the civil society will be happy that they can conduct free and fair election. People have the perception that the body cannot do what is right and even when they do what is right people find it very difficult to believe. That is the story of the Nigerian electoral body, the INEC. The feeling is that INEC cannot conduct credible elections in Nigeria.”

Though Iwu’s tenure would end on 13 June, 2010, there were reports that he wanted an extension or, possibly, tenure renewal. Some of his sympathisers reportedly fought to make him retain his office. But Jonathan had committed himself and would not want any mistake and the backlash that could follow. On 28 April, 2010 the President, then in acting capacity, sent Iwu packing. This action was greeted with jubilation and commendations.

Then the speculations began. Since Jonathan had constantly maintained that he was appointing one with credibility, various names started flying. Reports quoted presidency sources as listing Professor Attahiru Jega, a former President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU; Major-General Ishola Williams (rtd), President of Transparency Nigeria; Dr. Jibrin Ibrahim; Professor Dora Akunyili, who had just left as Minister of Information and Communications; Col. Abubakar Umar, former Military Administrator of Kaduna State; Olisa Agbakoba, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, and former President of the Nigeria Bar Association. The listed figures had, each, played major roles that kept their names popping up. For example, while Dr. Jibrin Ibrahim was then the Director of the Centre for Democracy and Development, CDD, a popular non-governmental organisation in Abuja, Agbakoba remains a known face in human rights struggle and through the Civil Liberties Organisation, CLO, which he founded as the representation of the masses, he fought the military government in the country. Akunyili, now late, became an international figure after she battled the issues of fake drugs in Nigeria through the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control, NAFDAC, staking her life in many of the instances.

•Jonathan: Appointed Jega

•Jonathan: Appointed Jega

Williams, with his organisation, hated corruption and often saw it as a plague that must be wiped from the country’s government. Till date, he has not been linked with any controversial case of corruption even though he served in the Nigerian Army. Jega, as ASUU President, battled the military administration of General Ibrahim Babangida on behalf of university lecturers without sentiments. Jega and Babangida are both Muslims from the northern part of the country, but that did not stop Jega from fighting the government for the roles of the lecturers in national development to be recognised by the government as well as for the government to improve the welfare of the lecturers. Jega, then 53, was later picked by the government as the 11th indigenous electoral body chairman and the first northerner to fill that position at a Council of State meeting in June, 2010 that had the highest turn-up in years. This was after Williams reportedly declined the appointment for fear he would be soiled by the already corrupt politicians.

His appointment was exciting to those who had knowledge of Jega’s antecedents in ASUU and as Vice Chancellor of Bayero University, Kano. Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, an ex-President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, and current Governor of Edo State, who broke the news that Jega had been picked, also said the council considered 10 national commissioners and 18 state resident electoral commissioners. “The council considered the recommendation of Professor Attahiru Jega for appointment as chairman of INEC and the council unanimously approved of it. We believe the President demonstrated courage and statesmanship in appointing someone who is not known to have any partisan political affiliation and a Nigerian that has distinguished himself in his present and past callings…If you recognise the controversy over whether or not the President should appointment INEC chairman, the fact is that we all accept that the President has exercised his power quite judiciously in appointing someone that most Nigerians will respect and appreciate and it will be a major push on the electoral reform line. With Jega as Chairman, I believe that INEC would be in safe hands and we can expect fundamental improvements in the conduct of elections. People like him are much better to nurture the democratic project,” Oshiomhole told journalists after the meeting.

Jega’s Headache

With such confidence bestowed on this Professor by Nigerians, the least he could do was fail the country. Appointed just months to the general elections in 2011, Jega set out to work. “It is a big challenge, not only to me but to all Nigerians, who should make sacrifices to enable us bring about a credible reform process, so that we will take our rightful place in the comity of nations,” he told Nigerians weeks after his appointment. “I did not lobby for this position. I never thought about it but it came on its own, so I have no choice than to put in my best to give Nigeria the best of leadership in the next dispensation. As a Muslim, I swore by the holy Quran and I will stand by the oath I have taken. In certain circumstances, our best may not be good enough and this why it is indeed a collective responsibility of all major stakeholders to ensure a free, fair, and credible election in 2011. The 2011 elections will surely be better than the 2003 and 2007 elections and in 2015, God willing, we would have one of the best elections in the world.”

Did his promise come right in 2011? Analysts have variously said that year, Nigeria had what had the semblance of an election. Jega made sure his INEC and the country was fully prepared. In fact, he had to reschedule that year’s general election in April for a week after he realised that INEC was still battling with some logistical problems. According to him, it was better to conduct an election adjudged good than have an election that would rubbish the entire process. “The commission weighed all the options and considered the wide-ranging counsel of Nigerians and decided to reschedule all the elections as follows: Saturday, April 9, Senate and House of Representatives elections; Saturday, April 16, presidential elections; Tuesday, April 26, State Houses of Assembly and governorship elections,” he announced at a press conference on 2 April, the earlier scheduled date for the exercise to commence. Though he was criticised, when the elections finally held, Jega became celebrated.

Mariya Nedelcheva, head of the four-member strong delegation of the European Parliament, which joined the EU EOM before the presidential election described the general election as a convincing proof that the Nigerian authorities, institution and electorate were determined to remain owners of their destiny and to run even better elections in the future. For the IRI (US) described the presidential election as a major step forward in advancing Nigeria’s democracy. “Under the capable leadership of Attahiru Jega, chairman of the Independent National Election Commission (INEC), the election overall was transparent and orderly, allowing Nigerians the opportunity to exercise their right to vote. Chairman Jega and his team have made great strides in improving the quality of Nigerian elections and deserve credit for what has been achieved in the short eight months since they were appointed,” the election monitoring group said.

Pvcs And Card Readers

Though the commendation was loud, there were noticeable irregularities in some areas of the country. Jega and his team continued with their research ahead of the 2015 general election. He needed to build the standard upon which elections would continue to hold in the country. While doing this, the electoral body tested its efforts with some staggered elections and by-elections. The election that returned Governor Oshiomhole for another term in office was widely described as free and fair. This was same with other elections, except for a few like in Osun and Ekiti states where the use of the military and other such organisations almost marred the exercise. As the Ekiti governorship election approached in 2014, Jega announced that the use of the Permanent Voters Cards was important to ensure the body curtailed irregularities. The election held and produced Ayodele Fayose as the Governor of the state.

With a recorded success, the ground was set for INEC to effectively battle politicians who had made rigging part of their strategies to gaining political power. Jega announced that all registered electorate must get the PVC to be eligible to vote in the general elections. At first it looked like one of those policies that would soon fail. But discovering that Jega had become passionate about the use of the PVCs, it began to dawn on politicians across the country that INEC was not longer the same. While issues concerning the effective distribution of the PVCs were yet to die down, Jega again introduced the Card Reader machines. That was how he drew the ire of an already angered section of the politicians. It also became clear to many of them, including the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, that all was no longer well. It became a case of a man setting the trap and becoming the victim. Jega’s appointed by the President was suddenly becoming his greatest undoing.

A new strategy needed to be adopted: Jega must go before he would injure the political career of the mighty. Various groups, politicians and loyalists of the PDP started championing the call for Jega to be eased out before the election.

The Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB, the Oodua Peoples Congress, OPC, the Afenifere Renewal Group as well as some former militants in the Niger Delta and even some governors all saw the need for Jega’s sack. Some of them complained about the poor distribution of the PVCs while others said they were not comfortable with the card readers. Several times, they warned against the use of the gadget. While these set wanted Jega out, many Nigerians wanted him to complete the task that he started. Jega too wanted to make history. He therefore simply waved eevery criticism aside. The controversy resulted in the National Assembly summoning Jega to give details of the card readers and their use.

•Card reader

•Card reader

The lawmakers after drilling the INEC chairman, were left convinced that Jega was resolute to conduct an election that would be considered fair. He even tested one of the card readers and showed the lawmakers how the machines work. He was also able to convince them that the use of the machines did not negate the Electoral Act which kicked against electronic voting. Jega was also tacled for deciding to create more polling units in the country. The mere fact that he earmarked more units for the northern part of the country resulted in wide condemnation that resulted in the end of the exercise.

While the call for his sack continued, President Jonathan insisted Jega would conduct the elections. At different fora, the President made it known that he had not even anticipated sacking the Professor, but that INEC needed all the encouragements it desired to achieve its goal of a rigging-free exercise. But Nigerians who wanted Jega were quick to remind the President that he does not even have the power to fire Jega. Citing Section 157 of the 1999 Constitution, Soyombo Opeyemi, a journalist based in Abeokuta, Ogun State, said the law was clear and unambiguous on the process of removing the chairman of INEC saying it starts from the Senate and ends with the President. Femi Falana, a renowned lawyer and rights activist, also kicked against Jega’s removal stressing: “INEC is created by the virtue of provisions of Section 153 of the Constitution. The removal of INEC chairman is guided by provisions of section 157(1) and (2). INEC is an independent body. It does not take directive from the President. The National Security Adviser cannot remove the INEC chairman. The President cannot interfere with the appointment of the INEC Chairman. The INEC Chairman cannot be asked to proceed on a terminal leave because he is not a civil servant and such is not provided for in the Constitution. He cannot be removed by the president without the two-third majority support of the Senate.”

Looking back now, Jega believes that the introduction of the card reader device and his insistence that it must be used were some of the best things to happen in the 2015 general elections as it significantly helped to make the presidential election transparent and credible. There were very few cases of irregularities which Jega attested to when he said elections all over the world are not perfect. The few challenges that surfaced with the presidential election, he said, would be tackled at the governorship election. Apart from the use of the card readers and the PVC, Jega made it a point to use Vice Chancellors of universities as the Returning Officers for the election. He was sure that having attained that height, none of the Professors would want to soil his hands and hard-earned reputation. This, analysts have said, also helped in achieving a successful election.

“If Jega had not done away with the crude methods that were adopted by his predecessors, there was not way Muhammadu Buhari, the candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, would have won the election. The PDP had vowed to remain in power for 60 years and it would have come to pass. But Jega has shown that something good can come from Nigeria. I was proud to hear the American Ambassador commending INEC for the sohistication of our voters cards and even saying it was better than the one used in the US,” Mufutau Egberongbe, a member of the Lagos State House of Assembly told TheNEWS.

Jega crowned his heroism with the way he handled the vituperations of Elder Godsday Orubebe, former Minister of Niger Delta in the President Jonathan government. Orubebe had resigned his position to contest for the governorship election in Delta State. He was beaten at the primaries of the PDP. Since then, much had not been heard from him except for the drama he played out at the National Collation Centre for the presidential election on the second day of collation of results.

•Orubebe: Tested Jega’s meekness

•Orubebe: Tested Jega’s meekness

Orubebe, an agent of the PDP for the election, pointed out he was raising an observation and Jega, who had been taking the Returning Officers to task so as to clear every grey area as it relates to the results, honoured him. The former Minister started with his complaint that Jega refused a petition from a fellow agent of the PDP concerning irregularities as observed by his party in some northern states of the federation. He accused Jega of bias saying the INEC chairman accepted a petition from the APC concerning the election in Rivers State and immediately formed a panel to investigate it. He also questioned how the APC got the final result it posted on its website before INEC would even declare them.

While. Attempting to respond, Orubebe flared up, and shot down activities for several minutes insisting that Jega had compromised and was not trusted enough to continue with the election. Jega kept his cool till he had the opportunity to reply. Softly, he explained how the concerned PDP agent tried to pass the petition through the back door and how he explained to the petitioner to pass it through the right process. He then shut Orubebe’s mouth by reminding him of his place in the society and telling him, though indirectly, how distasteful his behaviour turned out at the event and before the world. “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,” Jega later told the British Broadcasting Service. In support of Jega, Architect Ola Oduwole, an Ogun State politician told some journalists: “the whole world was watching the show that he put up. Being a Nigerian it is a disgrace to all Nigerians. His attitude, actions, behaviour, it is a disgrace. But I think he was handled very well. Whether it was a script he was playing, or whether it was an spontaneous reaction, but it was just too bad. That shows the kind of people that have been at the helms of affair of this country, that tells you the kind of government we have. It is a disgrace to his family and you can imagine how his children would feel among their peers.”

With the general elections over, Jega has carved a niche for himself making history multiple times as ASUU President, as the chairman of INEC who conducted a more credible election in the country, as the first northerner to head INEC and the first to ever conduct two general elections.


Join The Conversation

What do you think?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.