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.
WHO IS JEGA?
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.
ARE THINGS IN PLACE FOR JEGA?
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.