Tuesday, April 14, 2015 10:52 am
Professor Abubakar Momoh is the Director General of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Electoral Institute (TEI). In this interview with AYORINDE OLUOKUN, the former Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the Lagos State University spoke about the qualities that make Professor Attahiru Jega, the Chairman of INEC, tick and how the INEC Chairman has improved the Nigeria electoral system
You’ve been a close associate of Professor Attahiru Jega, the Chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC for sometimes now, how would you describe him?
I can describe Professor Jega in three words- extremely patriotic, extremely selfless and totally incorruptible. I have known Professor Jega since 1986, which was the first time I met him. And about five years later, which was in 1991, I served under him as the national treasurer of Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, when he was the President. And under him too, I joined in waging one of the longest strikes in the history of trade unionism in this country- the six month strike that he led; I was also a member of the executive of ASUU. It was a very, very trying period for ASUU, for the nation and for the university system.
But Jega was very focused, very committed, in spite of the threats, attempts to settle him which he rebuffed and attempts to break the strike by all means using all kinds of fifth columnist, all kind of people in the universities. But Jega did not bulge, because for him, a democratic decision has been taken, it is for him to just continue with it. He is so patriotic, so committed to this country and he can do anything for this country including giving up his life. He is very principled and incorruptible, there is really nothing material that makes meaning to him, so the question of somebody coming to bribe him will not even be an issues in matters that involve his own official attributes and conduct. It cannot even happen. Not even a member of his family can make him to go against what he sees as the principled and the correct thing to do.
So, I am not surprised about his tenacity, about his focus and about his determination to deliver on the elections. And as a student of Political Science, I and Professor Jega share a lot in common in this regard- that if you have to upscale the electoral system and improve the quality of electoral service delivery, it is not just a matter of theory; it is a very concrete thing. And the Nigerian situation poses very peculiar challenges that even as a student of political sciences, you need to understudy it to know how to navigate it.
And I think Professor Jega has tried very well to bring his intellectual skills and capacity to try to improve on the electoral process in this country and to ensure that at least, the quality of electoral services delivery is upscaled. And I am happy that at the end of the day, even those who have abused and attacked him because- the two political parties attacked him for different reasons- but now, everybody has come to see the wisdom in the use of card reader. The card reader is one major way we can drastically reduce rigging in this country. It is unfortunate that that card reader did not work hundred per cent during the last election.
But I must also tell you that there was human agency in the whole process- some people were also determined to ensure that it did not work. We are even hearing that in the governorship and house of assemblies’ elections, some politicians will make sure that the card reader is set aside completely. But we know that it is a recipe for rigging. But the good thing now is that Nigerians should no longer blame INEC as the one that is out consciously to want to rig the election for one politician or the other, but politicians who are determined to rig, now clamouring and urging INEC not to use the card reader.
Apart from the card reader, what are the other legacies of Jega that you can say have helped contributed to bring more sanity to the Nigeria electoral system?
Jega was able to introduce the Elections Management System and the Elections Plan Project and he has also been able to reform the Commission by cutting down on the number of directors. INEC used to have over 100 Directors and today, Jega has been able to cut it to not more than 36 Directors. In the past, you have directors who were under directors, who were themselves again under other directors. A Director is heading a department, a director is heading a directorate, a director is heading a unit and some directors are heading nothing. That was what we inherited, but Jega corrected all these, brought some reforms into the system and then was able to actually clean it up, he brought an audit firm, PriceWaterHouse to do that.
He brought the Election Registration and Election Review Committee under Dr. Jinadu that went round after the 2011 elections to review what happens state by state, department by department, issue by issue and a bulky recommendations of over 150 pages and Jega has to go through it line item by line item to see how it can be implemented. Jega took vigorously the restructuring of not only the Commission, but the other affiliates, including this Institute where I am currently the Director General. It was part of Jega’s reforms to reinvigorate it, to take training and research very seriously as something that has to be done because it will add value and improve the quality of what the Commission is doing.
The use of NYSC members as POS, Jega introduced it. Also, the use of university academics as returning officers because you can hold them, they have an address, they are his colleagues, he knows where to find them, they are selected on referrals and recommendations by Vice Chancellors, so you can know who told liable and all that. The idea of Resident Electoral Commissioners staying in Guest House or apartments rented by government, Jega stopped all that. Jega has built accommodation for all Resident Electoral Commissioners in the whole country. He has also reconstructed or built new offices for INEC in all the 36 States of the federation, giving vehicles to all the States Commission in enough quantity so that nobody is going borrowing to say we needed to go and distribute this or we needed to go and distribute that and so on.
He made the State INEC offices self reliant and solvent and ensure that all their needs at least, are met minimally by the headquarters so that they have no cause to go and meet any state governor begging him for car, accommodation, money to run anything whatsoever. And Jega did all of these to enhance the independence and the impartiality of the Commission. I think to a very large, extent these are some of the legacies Jega and these are legacies that can be sustained and can also go a long way to improve election on the integrity of INEC and electoral process in this country.
For people like you who have known him, what was your reaction to accusations by some groups that he is biased, he is a Northern irredentist, at least you saw how a former Minister who was a returning officer for one of the parties levied this accusation against him openly at the Collation Centre…
I can clearly say to you that some of Jega’s best friends and comrades do not come from the North. Like I told you, one thing you can attribute to him is patriotism. And when you say somebody is a patriot, it means that he or she look beyond regions. Jega has always shared a pan Nigerian, pan African view. He is not somebody who is blinded by narrow mindedness, regionalism, religion and so on. Some of his best friends are not even Muslims. So, I think it will be very uncharitable to begin to label him in that way. But you know, this is a period of elections and politicians say whatever pleases them, not because it is true, but because they just want to gain some mileage and score some cheap points.
And that is why what they say does not come as a shock or embarrassment to anybody. But Jega is calm because he knowns that anybody who knows him truly will not attribute any of those things to him. He has never been associated with regional or sectionalist organisations, he has never been a member or an associate of such groups. He has always associated with pan African, pan Nigerian, international movements and groups all his life. And at any rate, what is the evidence of Jega being partial, tribalistic and all that?What is the evidence that he was trying to declare a result and the result did not favour somebody’s candidate and suddenly, he has become a tribalist? Jega was not in the field, he did not participate in any election, the elections results were coming in and the allegations that he wanted to investigate this or he doesn’t want to investigate that is not true.
I was there when Dr. Bello Fadile brought those things and he wanted to pass it through the Personal Assistant to the Chairman, Abdullahi Usman. I asked him to go and write the thing properly. The papers that he gave to Abdullahi, I saw them the day he bought them, they were not even on letterhead. They were just addressed as if it was some personal mails to the Chairman of INEC. And you can’t respond to things like that. And I expect that Dr. Fadile who is a PhD holder in Law should know what procedures mean and so on.
But people cannot come on camera, and just because they want to gain cheap publicity begin to say all these things, not realizing that what they are saying has the ability to set the country ablaze. I am happy that at the end of the day, wisdom and wise counsel took over. Orubebe was actually my classmate in the university, we graduated the same year, we read the same course and all that. And I know him very well. I had to go and speak to Orubebe because he was going to go back to the podium the third time to embarrass the Chairman of INEC. But I told him that Orubebe, you can’t do this. This is not right, you are before international cameras, you read political science, you know introduction to politics, I have to go and calm him down and urge him not to go back to the stage to embarrass himself and the country.
Nigerians must know that elections are about winning or losing. And if you lose this time, prepare hard next time, know what the weaknesses of your opponents are and what to come up with. And if you win, be gracious enough to embrace the person who lost and recognize that it is just a game.
Some people have described Jega as a very stubborn person. Given what you know of him, is he really stubborn?
I just think he is principled. When you are principled, it means that you are tenacious and when you are tenacious, it means you will want to pursue something to the very end. You see, it does not pay anybody to be inconsistent. You can’t say one thing and do another. If you have to say something, live by it, stay by it and pursue it no matter what as long as you believe it is credible. If for example, you know something is good and it is the right way to go, 10 million people criticizing you does not make it wrong. Jega saw the wisdom in our using this card reader, but many people criticize him for good reasons and for bad reasons. But he saw the wisdom in it. And it is only after the card readers was used that Nigerians began to get attracted by it, saying that that was the right thing to do. So, if you say the man was stubborn for not bowing to the opportunistic attempts to pressure him, that is true. But I believe it is just a question of being principled, having convictions, believing in what you are doing, and pursuing it to the very end believing that at the end of the day, all those doubting your capacity to do that thing will see the point in what you are doing and then turn around to embrace what you are doing.
But another thing you should also know is that Jega comes from a radical tradition which means that convictions are very strong in whatever we do. You don’t just do something because you want to do it. You do it because you believe in it, you are convinced by it, you are doing it because that is the right thing to do. So, people like Jega are driven by convictions and one principal conviction is that this country must change for the good. And if the country is going to change for the good, you must know that you must step on a lot of toes. People are used to old ways of doing things, they don’t want change.
And when you point to new ways of doing things, you are rupturing certain things and they don’t want those things to be ruptured, so they will now like to fight back. And that is exactly what is happening under Jega. I don’t think there is anybody that has been abused, castigated and demonized as Jega in the last eight months or so. Nobody, not even Mr. President and it is all because of what he was trying to do and which he and everybody knows is the way to go and that is the way to save the country.
How has the INEC Chairman been able to keep calm in face of the massive attacks from all sides of the political divide?
Jega has always told us that what he called the political gladiators and their hirelings will continue to attack; they will even attack us harder. But the key thing is we must not allow that to distract us from our goals. We must be focused, be prepared and ready to deliver appropriately. So, he feels that no matter what anybody may say out there, as long as we know what we are trying to do in here, let us do it, let us not be distracted by all those attempts to distract us and so on. That has always been Jega’s position. So, he has been clear about it. At every RECs, internal meetings we have with staff, Jega always emphasise it, don’t allow yourself to be distracted. Just focus on the goals, focus on what you want to achieve, because the moment you allow yourself to be distracted, that is the end of it.
The more you are trying to answer to their queries and so on, the lesser the time and the energy committed to the work, so, what would you have gained at the end of the day? That has always been Jega’s philosophy- let us focus on the job, ignore detractors, ignore critics and all those people who have been attacking us. The key thing is let’s deliver on the job and allow ordinary people of this country to judge.