Jega: An Umpire’s Pact With History

MILLIONS of Nigerians will readily concur with the statement made by United States’ President, Barack Obama, few days ago, emphasizing that Nigeria’s Independent National Election Commission (INEC) and its chairman deserve special recognition. The story of the historic emergence of General Muhammadu Buhari as Nigeria’s President-Elect in the just concluded 2015 presidential poll is never complete without a generous mention of the role played by the nation’s electoral umpire, Prof. Attahiru Muhammadu Jega. This is not just about the nail-biting political intrigues that played out before, during and even after the elections. It is more about the astonishing grace, calculative mien, mental acuity and psychological balance that Jega brought to bear on the job despite a barrage of stone-cold attacks against his person mostly by notable political actors in the ruling Peoples Democratic Party.

Never in the history of the Nigerian electoral process has an umpire displayed such emotional stamina and an uncanny resolve to toe a tortuous but right path amid clearly provocative taunts by powerful political forces, even in the middle of the arduous task of collation of results. Yet, some would say nothing less is expected of a man with a track record of holding firm to his beliefs as an academic of repute. However, experience has shown that academic brilliance does not necessarily translate into practical reality, especially in Nigeria’s murky political waters. So far, Jega is one of the rare few who have been able to prove to be an exception to the rule.

Interestingly, when President Goodluck Jonathan nominated Jega as the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission in June, 2010, it was borne out of the conviction that he was found worthy of a position that had a history of lacking in men that live up to the creed such an office demands— unimpeachable integrity and being a consistent stickler for truth. He was to replace Prof. Maurice Iwu, who was eased out ingloriously after superintending over the disaster called the 2007 elections, which ushered in the late President UmaruYar’Adua and his deputy, Jonathan. That was one election in which the President-elect then, Yar’Adua, publicly acknowledged to be lacking in credibility.

It was, therefore, not surprising that Jonathan, as Acting President, needed to shop for a candidate that would command the respect of the Nigerian electorate and the international community. No doubt, Jega has proven to be a fitting candidate, considering the fact that the major role he played in late President Yar’Adua’s vision to reform the electoral process and forestall a repeat of the traditional electoral heist that brought him into power.

Jega’s resume marks him out as a well-honed academic and seasoned administrator of a noble hue. A snap peep into his profile states: “Professor Attahiru Muhammadu Jega (OFR) was born on the 11th of January, 1957. From 1963 to 1969, he attended Sabon-Gari/Town Primary School, Jega, where he obtained his Primary School Leaving Certificate; and the West African School Certificate (WASC) and the General Certificate of Education (GCE) O’ Level in 1974 at the Government Secondary School, Birnin-Kebbi. On leaving secondary school, he was admitted into Bayero University College, Kano (ABU, Zaria) for his Advanced Level Certificate studies; after which he proceeded for his undergraduate studies. He graduated in 1978 with a Bachelor of Science Degree (Hon) in Political Science.

“In 1979, after the mandatory National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme in the then Cross River State, he took up appointment with Bayero University, Kano (BUK). He thereafter proceeded to Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, USA, where he obtained his Masters (1981) and Doctorate (1985) degrees in Political Science  specialising in Political Economy. While at Northwestern, he also obtained a Certificate in African Studies.

“Professor Jega’s rich academic career saw him serve at various times as Visiting Research Fellow, University of Stockholm, Sweden (Swedish Institute Fellowship), 1994; Visiting Research Fellow, St. Peter’s College, University of Oxford, 1996; Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic), Bayero University, Kano, 1995-1996; Acting Director, Centre for Research and Documentation (CRD), Kano,1998; and Director, Centre for Democratic Research and Training, Mambayya House, BUK, 2000-2004. He attained the pinnacle on September 6th, 2004, with his appointment as Vice-Chancellor, Bayero University, Kano  a position he occupied until his appointment as the Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in June 2010.

“Other professional/community service positions held by Professor Jega include being: Member, Presidential Panel on Review and Harmonization and Rationalization of Federal Government Parastatals, Institutions and Agencies, 1999-2000; Member, Governing Council, the African Centre for Democratic Governance (AFRIGOV), 1997 to 2003; Member, Governing Board, National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru, 2002-2004; Chairman, Governing Board of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), 2003-2004; Member, Presidential Advisory Council on Youth Affairs, 2001-2007; and Member, Vision 20-20-20 Committee, National Working Group on Niger Delta and Regional Development, 2009.

“From 1992 to 1998, Professor Jega was Director of Research, Nigerian Political Science Association; Member, Presidential Panel on Rationalisation and Streamlining of Federal Government Poverty Alleviation Programmes and Institutions, 1999; and Member, Presidential Technical Committee on the Consolidation of the Tertiary Education Sector, 2006-2007. One of his most renowned service positions was as President, Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), 1988-1994. He was also Member, Electoral Reform Committee, August 2007- December 2008.”

For a man who has, on many occasions, displayed a capacity to control his emotions while putting his life at risk in pursuit of the common good like he did in his days as the President of the revered Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Jega’s appointment as INEC’s chairman was seen as a welcome development, especially at a time when the electoral body appeared to have lost all shades of respect among the populace. It was to his credit that he quickly settled down and gave the nation a semblance of credible election in 2011, which saw to the emergence of Jonathan as the elected President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Though his first attempt on the job was without some hiccups, it was generally believed that it was a remarkable improvement from the charade, which Iwu supervised. The 2011 election was also a test of his integrity, patriotism and morality as he stood firm in announcing Jonathan as the winner of that particular election regardless of the political and religious undercurrents that popped up Buhari as the candidate of the North where Jega comes from.

Having done this, expectations were high that Jega should be able to deliver a less rancorous electoral process in the 2015 elections exploiting the luxury of about four-year interval for planning and execution. Although the dynamics of politics had changed greatly between the four-year gap, Jega’s INEC has also moved a notch higher in its preparations with the introduction of the Permanent Voter Card (PVC), the Card Reader and other things that would make rigging a near impossibility in subsequent elections. Of course, politicians used to mass rigging during manual voting with its attendant shady ballot stuffing did not buy into the idea of an electoral process that would, presumably, cut them to size. This, coupled with the fact that the ruling Peoples Democratic Party must have to contend with the growing popularity of a coalition opposition called the All Progressives Congress, put Jega in the front row of the acrimonious heckling among the politicians.

It was clear, going by its leadership’s body language, that the hawks at the ruling PDP never forgave Jega for following the spelt out regulations in allowing the merger of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), the All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP) and a faction of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA). It is one coalition that the PDP wished never happened. It also marked the beginning of a sour relationship between the PDP and Jega whom they had expected to pander to its desire. But that was one man that would not be intimidated to thwart the law. That was the typical Jega at play. Cool, calm, calculated and focused.

But for those attributes, Nigeria wouldn’t have witnessed the dawn of a new era in which an incumbent President would accept the outcome of what former President Olusegun Obasanjo called a hate-filled electoral campaign in which the APC emerged as winner. In conceding victory despite his party’s strong opposition to Jega’s supervision of the 2015 election, which climaxed in the shameful interference by Elder Godsday Orubebe, one of the PDP’s agents at the collation centre on Tuesday, Jonathan confirmed his confidence in the choice of the Professor of Political Economy as the right man to chart the path of credible electoral process for the nation.

Ever since the needless outburst by Orubebe, in which Jega was accused of being partisan and biased against the PDP, Jega’s popularity has soared not only because of the maturity with which he rubbished Orubebe’s rant but also because of the painstaking effort he mustered in puncturing the allegations levelled against him without betraying any emotion. His was a practical lesson in maintaining the highest level of decorum when one’s patience is pushed to the limit. If he had succumbed to Orubebe’s outburst or reacted negatively to all the calls that he should proceed on terminal leave and should not superintend the 2015 elections, perhaps Nigeria would have been on the tenterhooks by now. His resolute commitment to ensuring free, fair and credible election is not without some blushes as noted in the logistical and operational hitches during the March 28, 2015 elections.

However, by the time he steps down as the chairman of INEC in a few weeks from now, the Jega legacy would be a testimonial that Nigeria could be on the cusp of history if every man would stand firmly for those ennobling things that build rather then divide. It is, therefore, not surprising that US president, Barack Obama, specifically marked Jega out for “special recognition”, in his post-election appraisal, noting: “Nigeria’s Independent National Election Commission (INEC) and its Chairman, Attahiru Jega, deserve special recognition for what independent international observers have deemed a largely peaceful and orderly vote. I commend INEC for its extensive efforts to increase the credibility and transparency of the electoral process.  Looking ahead to the gubernatorial elections on April 11, it is imperative that national attention turn to ensuring that all isolated logistical challenges are overcome and peace is protected, even in the most hotly contested races.”

It is not in doubt that Jega had an unfair share of what Obasanjo called “trivialities and hate, divisive, undignified and disrespectful statements” that were the high points of the campaigns by both sides of the political divide. Credit must go to Jega for playing a key role in dousing the palpable tension that enveloped the land over a likely outbreak of violence should INEC bungle the process. Of course, he still has some weeks to spend in office before taking an honourable bow, his decent but scathing admonition of Orubebe should serve as a lesson to all persons who desire to hold public office.

His words: “Mr.Orubebe, you are a former minister of the Federal Republic. You are a statesman in your own right and you must be careful about what you say and about the allegations or accusations that you make. And certainly, you must be careful about your public conduct.”

Those words should serve as Jega’s parting shot to our over-indulged political elite, even before his official departure from INEC to begin the enjoyment of well-deserved adulation from home and abroad!

Written by: Yomi ODUNUGA in Nation Newspaper


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