As Professor Attahiru Muhammad Jega gallantly bows out on Tuesday as the 11th Chairman of Nigeria’s electoral body (Independent National Electoral Commission), most Nigerians concluded that his heroic exit will for long be remembered as the most innovative electoral boss with a clean record of unblemished character, uncommon display of bravery, abundant intelligence and unusual brilliance.
The conclusion of many Nigerians and foreign observers was that indeed, Jega lived by his words and made good his promise, the single act that will make him be remembered all over the world for ages, as a hero of democracy.
A week after his appointment, the illustrious Professor of Political Science said: “It is a big challenge, not only to me but to all Nigerians, who should make sacrifices to enable us to bring about a credible reform process so that we will take our rightful place in the comity of nations.”
He went ahead to say: “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 Qur’an and I will stand by the oath I have taken. In certain circumstances, our best may not be good enough and this is 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.”
That was the solemn pledge with Nigerians, of a 53-year-old professor when he was nominated by President Goodluck Jonathan’s government as the 11th indigenous electoral body chairman and the first Northerner to fill that position.
Realm of impossibility
Before him, selection of leaders through democratic means in Nigeria has remained in the realm of impossibility, due to election rigging, violence and intimidation of the general public, not only by the ruling party but also by politicians with the means- the wealthy and the influential. It is however clear that if a country like Nigeria must appoint leaders of choice true democratic means, it can only be achieved with a nonpartisan adjudicator that is equipped with a near supernatural doggedness that will enable him to thread the right path amid clear provocative taunts by powerful forces.
From the first Chairman of the Federal Electoral Commission, Eyo Ita Esua to Attahiru Jega, never in the history of election in the Nigeria has an umpire displayed such an emotional stamina and an uncanny resolve to follow a tortuous but righteous path amid clearly threats by powerful political forces, albeit, in the middle of the arduous task of results collation.
Though, experience has shown that academic brilliance does not necessarily translate into achievements in political or public offices, especially in Nigeria’s murky political waters, Prof. Attahiru Jega proved to be different. Jega’s exemplary legacy seems a \testimonial that Nigeria may be at the point of making history if every citizen stands firmly for those ennobling virtues that build rather than divide the nation.
Before Jega emerged on the scene, the electoral commission in Nigeria appeared very far from achieving one of its mission statements that states that: ‘The mission of INEC is to serve as an independent and effective Election Management Bodies (EMB) committed to the conduct of free, fair and credible elections for sustainable democracy in Nigeria’. But the presence of violence in partisan politics had over the years posed a threat to actualization of this mission and had accounted for why the well-educated and fair-minded Nigerians stayed away from politics.
When Prof. Attahiru Jega became the INEC Chairman in June 2010, about five years ago, the commission was not only a failure it had lost every dint of credibility. Many citizens had lost hope in the commission. Opinion leaders, social commentators and millions of Nigerians called for the removal of Professor Maurice Iwu who had just organized one of the worst elections in Nigeria’s history. The elections were simply horrendous. Rigging was blatant. Polling booths were like riot scenes and people simply gave up on polls.
The failure of the commission was such a colossal disaster that made former President Olusegun Obasanjo; a Christian and a graduate of theology to erroneously assume it would be challenging for even a personality like Jesus to conduct a free, fair and credible election in Nigeria.
After a shabbily conducted election that brought late President Umaru Yar’Adua and then Vice President Goodluck Jonathan to government, Yar’Adua, the beneficiary of the disputed poll, confirmed that the election that brought him in was actually marred with irregularities.
Professor Maurice Iwu had to be eased out ingloriously after superintending over the misadventure called the 2007 elections, where the beneficiary publicly acknowledged it to be lacking in credibility. The integrity of the commission was so smashed that even Major-General Ishola Williams reportedly declined the appointment for apprehension he would be soiled by the already crooked politicians and fraudulent elective office seekers.
On the contrary, Jega-led INEC achieved a semblance of an autonomous electoral body such that it carried out all its functions independently, free from external control and influence. This was attested to by keen watchers of the 2015 election both locally and internationally.
Among its duties, the commission is also to display openness and transparency in all its activities and in its relationship with all stakeholders. In line with this, millions of Nigerians who followed the activities of the commission noticed a high level of transparency in the production, distribution and regular update as well as collection of the PVCs. Uncompromising transparency of Jega became more evident when the commission openly disagreed with the then Inspector General of Police, who instructed electorates to stay 300 meters away from the polling booth. Jega insisted that Voters could stay to monitor the counting of votes.
What the world witnessed live on the national and international television stations during the final collation of the presidential results was therefore not surprising, as observers arrived at the final result even before the INEC boss confirmed and announced the ultimate outcome.
Responsibilities of the commission include: to maintain truthfulness and honesty in all its dealings at all times, ensure that no action or activity is taken in support of any candidate or political party and creates a level playing field for all political actors. Despite accusations of dishonesty, partiality, favouritism, and preferential treatments for a party and its presidential candidate by Elder Godswill Orubebe and his likes, most Nigerians did not only refuse to be swayed, they also chose to stay with Jega. It is on record that Orubebe did withdrew his statement of false allegation, admitted to his being naughty and apologized to the entire Nigerians. That was the commission under Jega.
One other responsibility of the commission is to be guided by international best practice and standards in providing quality electoral services efficiently and effectively. It is to ensure fairness and justice in dealing with all stakeholders as well as promote merit and professionalism as the basis for all its actions in addition to creating a conducive environment that promotes teamwork among its staff at all levels. Posterity will surely not forget him Nigerians, of course, are the best judge of the commission under Jega.
Nevertheless, one can comfortably argue that Jega did raise the bar of democratic process in the country just as he injected into the commission true professionalism and fairness to all.
Whenever the history of elections in Nigeria is to be written, Professor Attahiru Muhammad Jega’s name shall definitely be written in gold just as the posterity will not forget him as an INEC Chair who came, saw and conquered.
Ola Balogun is a Policy Analyst and Social Commentator