The exit of the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Muhammadu Jega, brings to a potential end, an expected finale a remarkable period in the history of the Commission. He and his colleagues, who are also retiring alongside, are the first set of electoral Commissioners to oversee the affairs of the Commission after the significant reforms enacted from the recommendations of the Mohammed Lawal Uwais Committee on Electoral Reforms. Professor Jega handed over the reins of the Commission to Ambassador Ahmed Wali as the Acting Chairman of the commission, however, President Muhammadu Buhari overruled and appointed another national commissioner, Mrs. Amina Bala Zakari as acting chairman, who is senior to Wali and will be retired by July 31. The appointment takes effect from 30 June, 2015 until a substantive chairman is appointed.
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Professor Jega hails from Kebbi State (North-West) and was the Vice Chancellor of Bayero University (BUK), Kano, before his appointment in 2010. The other six commissioners who are leaving the commission with the Chairman are: Dame Gladys Nne Nwafor, (Abia state, South East); Retired Col. M.K. Hammanga, (Adamawa state, North East); Mrs Thelma Amata Iremiren, (Delta state, South South); Prof. Lai Olurode, (Osun state, South West); Dr Ishmael Jikiri Igbani, (Rivers state, South South) and Engr. Dr. Nuru A. Yakubu, OON, (Yobe state, North East). Four other national commissioners who will leave in July and August this year are: Dr. Abdulkadir S. Oniyangi, Mrs Amina Bala Zakari, Dr. Chris O. Iyimoga and Dr. Mohammed Ahmad Wali.
Professor Jega and the Commission conducted two elections in 2011 and 2015, which were largely considered to be credible and acceptable globally. And without prejudice to whatever willful inadequacies of every mortal, Attahiru Jega, the out-going National Chairman of Nigeria’s electoral body, deserves to be commended. As he exits that office following the expiration of his five-year tenure as Chairman of the Commission, there is going to be a fierce battle to fill the slot.
Professor Jega, who rejected the idea of a second term, saying he has done his bit in the Commission, was appointed Chairman of INEC in June, 2010, by ex-president Goodluck Jonathan following the exit of former Chairman of the Commission, Professor Maurice Iwu, who vacated the post on 28 April, 2010. And even though he was appointed on the back of the 2007 elections which is widely regarded as the worst in the history of the country, and at a time when INEC had become notorious for organizing doubtful elections, he managed to pull off two presidential elections (2011 and 2015), which were adjudged by the international community as free and fair. One of the most intriguing thing about these elections is that the major candidates were the same in the two elections – Goodluck Jonathan and Muhammadu Buhari.
But of the two elections, the just concluded 2015 elections, threatened to tear the country into two. There were threats and counter-threats, accusations and hate speeches in months building up to the elections proper. The postponing of the elections on the 13th of February didn’t help matters either as the ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), was accused of being behind the postponement. But by April, 2015, after the declaration of the results, everywhere was calm, which is largely due to the way the commission conducted the entire process.
Below are Jega’s top three defining decisions in the 2015 election:
Introduction of PVC’s and Card Readers: Despite the fact that so many political parties, especially the PDP vehemently opposed the use of the card readers, the commission stood their grounds and went ahead with its implementation, which was hugely successful and in the process, set a precedent in the Nigerian electoral process.
Election Postponement: Nigeria’s 2015 elections were postponed from February 14 and 28 to March 28 and April 11. If not for the six-week postponement of the 2015 general election on grounds of the military operations in the North-east, millions of Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) would not have been collected. What that suggests, quite clearly, is that the incoming administration of INEC has to take up the challenge of ensuring early preparations for elections.
Public Collation of Results from Polling Units: The decision to collate the results from the various states on National television was a good point in ensuring that the final results were not manipulated.
Former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar is among the several Nigerians who have poured accolades on the ex-INEC boss, describing his tenure as a successful one. The point of note for the Adamawa-born politician was the introduction of the Permanent Voters Card (PVC) and Card Readers for the 2015 elections. He said that earned him the respect of Nigerians and the international community.
But as Jega bows out in grace and glory, the appointment of the next chairman should be taken as a matter of national emergency. The high heights which the Jega-led administration has gotten to, should be upheld if not surpassed. Today, Nigerians can trust the electoral process in the country. This was not the case after 2007. The President must resist the temptation of nepotism and look across the country for a person that will fit into the large shoe left behind by Professor Jega. The nation waits!