Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) governs Nigeria's election process. It's former chairman, Maurice Iwu, was sacked on April 28th, 2010 months before elections were set to enter full swing. Since then, Nigerians have waited expectantly to learn who would replace Iwu. President Jonathan has nominated Attahiru Jega for the position and his name is now before the National Assembly for confirmation.

Currently the Vice Chancellor of Bayero University in Kano State, he was a member of the praised Electoral Reform Committee (ERC) headed by Mohammadu Uwais. While head of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Jega stood up to then-military dictator Ibrahim Babangida when the dictator refused a pay raise for university lecturers. Interestingly enough, his deputy at that time was Maurice Iwu. Jega also refused various high paying positions over the years.

Jega has a reputation for being uncompromising. Considering Nigeria's history with corruption, this characteristic will prove useful. For one, if Jega is indeed uncompromising, this will limit the overwhelming perception that INEC officials serve the highest bidder and not the electorate. That was the overwhelming perception of the previous INEC chairman and indeed, the entire Commission. A credible INEC Chairman will go a long way to validating the eventual poll results INEC will release.

Despite the good characteristics Jega exhibits, there remains the question of whether INEC will be able to carry out free and fair elections, the promise President Jonathan made to the country. As of the fate of Jega's nomination, however, Nigeria's legislators were yet to complete their amendment of the country's Electoral Act which provides the guidelines and structure for elections. Without a formal Electoral Act, elections cannot take place.

Even if amendment of the Electoral Act is completed in an efficient manner, the reality is that time will prove to be another obstacle in INEC's path. This is because elections are approximately six to seven months away and the current acting chairman of INEC already confessed that there is not enough time to conduct proper elections.

President Jonathan himself admitted that free and fair elections are not dependent on the INEC leader but instead on election structures. However, the fact that a INEC's chairperson was nominated so close to elections also could potentially limit the effectiveness of Jega as Chairman and INEC as a whole. One can only hope that Jega is not being set up to face an impossible challenge.

Most importantly, there remains the problem of the failure to implement many of the key recommendations of the ERC. For instance, the ERC recommended a more transparent process for selecting INEC's chairperson that would have removed control of the process from the President. This recommendation was rejected by a White Paper created by the Federal Government to review the ERC's suggestions. This and many other recommendations that could have created a stronger electoral system will, sadly, not be a part of the eventually modified Electoral Act. Despite this, Goodluck Jonathan must be recognized for sending an unedited copy of the ERC's report for consideration. Done within weeks of being declared acting President, the act suggested that he agreed with all the recommendations. But, the failure of other politicians to look beyond their self interest and survival places the electoral system and as a consequence, the future of Nigeria, in jeopardy. that politicians can hold the electoral system hostage in such a manner automatically places in question the credibility of the laws within which INEC will conduct and regulate upcoming elections when they eventually happen.

The nomination of Attahiru Jega as the new Chairman of Nigeria's election-governing body is welcome news for a country on the verge of it's most important election season ever. Jega's reputation as an uncompromising and courageous individual are characteristics that will serve him and INEC well given the country's history of contentious and fraudulent elections. Unfortunately, the following factors cannot be ignored: the legislature's failure to produce a modified Electoral Act, the rejection of sound recommendations from the Uwais-led Electoral Reform Committee and the impending time constraint INEC faces. The existence of these issues means that Jega and INEC must operate within less than ideal conditions. Yet, as Jega served on the ERC, perhaps his nomination was made so as to ensure that INEC is led by someone who believes in those recommendations and will work towards their actualization. If that were to happen, over time, Nigeria would indeed get closer to a system of free and fair elections where votes are respected and a true Nigerian democracy exists.

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Anonymous said...

Indeed an interesting write-up. Just reading the Jega’s profile has actually brightened my hope already. However, I do not agree with “hope that Jega is not being set up to face an impossible challenge." for when we make statements like these, i believe we unconsciously give our elected (& or appointed) public officers a solid foundation on which they can thereafter build an excuse if they fail to perform positively in their respective offices.

Rather, what matters more is “Jega’s reputation as an uncompromising and courageous individual….” As well as the fact that he is not unmindful of the Nigerian situation and circumstances. In essence, once he accepts the nomination then, he simply has no excuse to fail (as long as the Government fulfills their respective part in the logistics et al) and that is what we should hold Jega to.

To get a better Nigeria, each and everyone of us should be ready for the call to service knowing fully well that we just might have to stretch ourselves a little more……

O'mary said...

If I were Goodluck Jonathan, I too would forward the unedited version of the ERC report to the National Assembly knowing that it’d stand me in good stead with the polity. And if I were really evil, I’d then have my people within the National Assembly working covertly to block its passing. So, I won't be patting him on the back for sending the report.

As long as the Nigerian Electoral Act leaves the power to select the INEC Chair & Commissioners with The Presidency, we will continue to have reason to question the independence of INEC. It is only natural that a president (and/or the ruling party) will follow the line of self-preservation when selecting the ‘master’ of their fate. And for this reason, I’m going to sit on the fence regarding Prof Jega. Not as an indictment of his character or competence but because like many others, I don’t yet get the feeling that INEC’s strings aren’t in the hands of an invisible puppet master.

I don’t quite see insufficient time as being an excuse, Nigeria has never been known to prepare ahead yet things get done. Billions of naira were only just earmarked for the Golden Jubilee celebrations in October, only three and a half months away. True, this approach only yields second rate results but if internationally tested and transparent electoral systems are embraced along with well-equipped teams then it may still be possible to have elections in January. I’m not averse to the entire electoral process being outsourced to India or Canada.

I don’t envy Jega, should the National Assembly give him the nod and he accept. His antecedents give me much hope however he is caught between an employer, a set of failed Electoral guidelines and an increasingly aware and vocal civil society. I pray for his safety, good health and for the strength to face the Goliath ahead.

Anonymous said...

I said it before. Gullak can surprize all of us by doing the right things for nigeria. This is one of them. The chinese refineries could also turn out to be a good move.
So lets give the bayelsa man a chance to prove himself.

Dry Eye Treatment said...

What the president has done for choosing prop attahiru jega as the INEC chairman is reasonable,and this may be an important milestone toward having a free and fair election.

Temie said...

Where are we now?
Any updates?

Has he even been to work?

When will the LawMakers pass these amendments ?


Anonymous said...

"'Prof Jega seem to have the person and character needed to make happen a credible election, but like you pointed, there are so many factors that work against that happening

I really hope to God that Jega would be able to make do with what is left of the preparation time for the next elections, and lets be optimistic that this time around the elections would be somewhere near 'free' and 'fair'"

- Olufunke via email

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