INEC Chairman, Professor Atahiru Jega, deserves our commendation and recognition for averting national crisis by conducting credible elections.
The 2015 general elections have come and gone but Nigerians are still basking in the luxury of its peaceful conclusion, made possible by the performance of the electoral regulator and umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, which Professor Attahiru Jega heads. The elections were indeed a qualified success and Professor Jega deserves all the accolades.
When the professor of political science and former Vice Chancellor of Bayero University, Kano, was nominated for the onerous task five years ago, the unanimous approval by a meeting of the National Council of State, which had former Heads of State, Yakubu Gowon, Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida, Abdulsalami Abubakar, and former presidents Shehu Shagari and Olusegun Obasanjo as well as Head of Interim National Government, Ernest Shonekan, was an indication of the enormity of the confidence reposed in him.
Without recline to ethnic, religious or even his political leanings towards the left as characterized by his days as President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), during the Babangida regime, Jega set out to halt a cascading decline in the electioneering process by conducting the 2011 general elections. The exercise, from the submissions of local and international observers, was adjudged credible, given the time he had to prepare and the resources available to him.
Although the outcome of the 2011 elections did not go down well with people of his immediate constituency, occasioned by the post-election violence that claimed a number of lives, the electoral umpire was resolute in his resolve not to do the bidding of anybody.
To prove that he is as an astute intellectual with a strong sense of ethics and morality, other elections conducted by INEC under his watch did not leave much to be desired. For instance, after 2011, the electoral body has carried out elections in Anambra, Osun, Imo, Kebbi, Ekiti and Kogi states.
Notably, while in Imo State, a PDP governor was unseated, an All Progressives Congress (APC) governor was shown the way out in Ekiti State. These would have profound implications for the handling of future elections in the country.
No doubt, the 2015 election is a paradigm shift in the history of electioneering in the country. Though some challenges were encountered and a number of criticisms – ranging from the superfluous to the ridiculous – have been churned out, INEC was given a pass mark generally, making the election a watershed.
That the elections went with minimal or zero collateral effect of the heated campaigns is an attestation to the fact that Professor Jega conducted a near-perfect exercise. The innovation which made the difference was the introduction of the biometric technologies inherent in the Smart Card Readers (SCRs) and the Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs). This technology helped to stave off post-electoral violence and rejection of results in the places they were deployed successfully. In fact, The United States Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. James Entwistle, was so impressed with this biometric revolution that he promised to recommend it to his native state of Virginia, which still operates with voter’s cards that have no biometric features.
Aside the biometric technologies, it would be the first time in the country that professors, who were either Vice Chancellors or Deputy Vice Chancellors, would be used as Returning Officers in an election. With their credibility at stake, these men and women had no option but to carry out their duties with every sense of responsibility.
The achievements of Professor Jega will not be complete without a mention of the calm he displayed after PDP party agent, Godsday Orubebe, created an embarrassing scene at the collation centre in Abuja, trying to disrupt announcement of results. If he hadn’t handled the incident shrewdly, it’s difficult telling what the outcome would have been.
“Mr Orubebe, you are a former Minister of the Federal Republic .You are a statesman in your own right. You should be careful about what you say or what allegations or accusations you make. Certainly you should be careful about your public conduct,” a very unperturbed Jega had replied Orube. The now famous reply was one of the things that saved the nation from chaos.
Only last week, we exclusively reported that the government of Mexico extended an invitation to Professor Jega to help in the country’s forthcoming general elections scheduled to hold on June 7, 2015, in which 82 million Mexicans are expected to vote. Such international recognition is the certificate of merit Professor Jega has earned.
It is said that a prophet is not without honour, except in his home. It is however our expectation that the encomiums being showered on the INEC Chairman and the attendant honour bestowed on him abroad are replicated at the home front. Such public officers with impeccable characters should form the fulcrum of the new administration. Put succinctly, Jega should be given a higher responsibility in service to fatherland. It is equally our conviction that the in-coming government should build on the legacies of the electoral umpire and strengthen it as an institution that would guarantee free, fair and credible elections at all times.