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Opinion: As Attahiru Jega Bows Out

INEC Chairman Pro. Attahiru Jega

By Adewale Kupoluyi – As the five-year tenure of the Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega alongside six other national commissioners, comes to an end, the INEC boss may not be stage a come-back having declared on several occasions that he had no interest in seeking re-appointment.

Jega was in 2010 appointed the INEC chairman by the former President Goodluck Jonathan to take over from Professor Maurice Iwu, another university don, who conducted the election that brought in President Umaru Yar’Adua in 2007. That election, which brought Yar’Adua into office, was widely criticised as falling short of acceptable international standards. To that effect, late President Yar’Adua, in a rare candour, admitted that the process that brought him into power was truly ‘flawed’, culminating into the Mohammed Uwais Electoral Reforms Committee that was put in place to fashion-out how to turn around the electoral system of the country.

INEC Chairman Pro. Attahiru Jega

Outgoing INEC Chairman Pro. Attahiru Jega

The conduct of this year’s general elections became a watershed as many observers both from within and outside the country saw it as a deciding factor in bringing about the desired peace and continued corporate existence of the nation. Before now, notable international think-tank such as the United States Fund for Peace had predicted that the country was going to disintegrate come 2015. The way and manner the two main political parties; the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and All Progressives Congress (APC) went about their campaigns added to the already level of apprehension such that the parties accused each other of engaging in hate speeches. At the end, their presidential aspirants were made to sign an undertaken to ensure peace before, during and after the polls.

Jega-led INEC would be remembered for good in a number of ways.

In what many observers have described as the greatest innovation by the electoral body, the introduction of the Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) and the Card Reader Machine (CRM) for the verification and accreditation of voters has no doubt stamped credibility into our electoral process. From the outset, INEC under Jega, had carried along all the registered political parties on the need to appreciate the importance of the use of the high-tech devices in minimising the incidence of malpractices. Inspite of the pressure mounted against INEC to drop the idea, it is on record that the adoption of PVCs eventually made it absolutely difficult for intending voters to use the cards that were not theirs. Not only was the introduction of the card rendered useless but the prevalence of buying-off of voter cards by desperate politicians. To further discredit the process, the use of PVC and card readers were even described as electronic voting that was not permitted under the Electoral Act.

Despite the encouraging performance by INEC, there are some areas where the incoming helmsman would need to improve on. To begin with, INEC would need to carry out more sustained voter education and enlightenment of the electorate so as to know what are expected of them during general elections. Lack of adequate awareness was largely blamed for the demonstration that initially trailed the use of the card readers in the 12 states of the federation, following the postponement of the presidential poll. There were also reported cases of voters not knowing where to thumb-print, a factor that could have been largely responsible for why there was high prevalence of void votes. This should be looked into by the incoming chairman.

Another area that needs improvement, based on the outcome of the general elections is in the logistics as electoral materials were still reported to have arrived many polling units late and in some other places, voting materials reportedly got to the voting points too late when the accreditation of voters should have ordinarily ended. INEC staff were found deficient in operating some of the machines, hence suggesting the urgent need to embark on the thorough training of its staff ahead of the pending tasks.

The use of the “incident forms” during the elections had allegedly led to large-scale rigging. It was a major factor too in the inconclusive outcome of the governorship and state assembly polls in some states like Taraba and Imo. If the challenges with SCRs are unchecked, SCRs would herald the new face of rigging. Another anomaly INEC has to correct is the haphazard distribution of PVCs which was done in a manner that was said to have disfranchised many voters. The SCRs and PVCs have come to stay as part of our electoral process.

The daunting challenge before INEC still has to do with the numerous electoral litigation involving the commission even though the umpire had shouted it loud and clear that it does not have such financial base and time to prosecute these offenders, hence the justification for the establishment of the electoral offences tribunal. So far, little has been done in that regard. Furthermore, the new INEC boss should work hard to ensure that for those cases are cleared while the commission should really be independent, as obtainable in other progressive democracies. It should be made to draw its funds directly from the first-line of charge, instead of the present practice where it gets its finance from the Executive, which many people believe could further expose it to undue manipulation by the government in power.

Also, the new helmsman needs to review the remuneration of its regular staff and the ad-hoc staff that would be used in future elections. Even after the last polls, many officials of INEC were said to have embarked on demonstration and protests, urging the commission to pay them the approved stipends. The relative success recorded by Jega would forever be appreciated and this goes on to say that his successor should be able to do more to raise the bar of excellence.

The new INEC boss should be a man or woman who truly sees himself or herself as a Nigerian in truth and reality. He should be principled, firm, apolitical and indeed ready to work for the entire country without any fear or favour. The man for the job, just like Jega, should be passionate, mature, intelligent and be ready to contribute his/her quota to the growth of the entire electoral system by not secretly working for any politician or political party at the detriment of others. He should be ready to take the welfare of the staff more seriously because that is one sure way of stopping them from colluding with desperate politicians to manipulate the process. President Muhammadu Buhari should beware of sycophants and painstakingly get the right person to occupy this sensitive position.

Finally, we should always remember that Jega once expressed the fears that there was a great danger that the country might lose the improvements made by him in the conduct of elections. One re-assuring way to consolidate on this solid foundation would be to make a conscious attempt at getting the right person as his successor. Truly, the INEC chairman has raised a perfect point that we should all appreciate. That is certainly how continuity can take roots in our electoral system.

Kupoluyi writes from Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), adewalekupoluyi@yahoo.co.uk, @AdewaleKupoluyi, adewalekupoluyi.blogspot.com



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