In fact the Jonathan administration, unlike its predecessors, provided the INEC the enabling environment — everything it requested for– in a bid to ensure that the commission had no reason to fail in its onerous duty. It was that sort of milieu that accounted in large part for Jega’s above-average performance
By the time he quit office on June 30 as the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega, for good or bad, had become a veritable fixation in the public imagination. In the run-up to the 2015 general election many had indeed made him the issue, instead of the parties and their candidates. Such was the high level of expectation from him that one foreign diplomat reportedly said that Jega’s job at that time was clearly the most unenviable in the world.
Hyperbolic as that might have sounded it goes to show the sensitive nature of electoral arbitration in a country where elections are largely a do-or-die affair. Admittedly the reputation of INEC had not always been spick-and-span. Staff indiscipline and compromises had substantially tarnished the credibility of the Commission as far as many Nigerians were concerned.
The situation was not helped by government’s barely concealed meddling in the affairs of the commission. All too frequently also the allegation was that previous federal governments were reluctant to provide the INEC with the resources it needed to function independently and effectively.
Yet on balance, Jega acquitted himself reasonably well. Though his was meant to be a thankless job, he deserves a pat on the back for the above-average performance that the INEC put up in the last general election. Allegations of partisanship against him were not proved. And his response to such allegations was rather mature and earned him even more respect, if not admiration, among Nigerians.
As the nation’s 11th national electoral umpire, Jega had stamped his footprints in the sands of time. He came to the job with a reputation as an independent-minded scholar who was not ready to be anybody’s stooge or puppet.
An uncompromising former national president of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), the political science teacher had come into his new assignment in 2010 with good credentials. It was a measure of the Goodluck Jonathan administration’s commitment to a truly independent electoral umpire that it settled for a person of Jega’s mettle to head the INEC.
By his own admission, the former president had never met Jega before he announced him as the successor to Professor Maurice Iwu. And as Jega himself confessed, he was never for once teleguided by former President Jonathan. In fact the Jonathan administration, unlike its predecessors, provided the INEC the enabling environment — everything it requested for– in a bid to ensure that the commission had no reason to fail in its onerous duty.
It was that sort of milieu that accounted in large part for Jega’s above-average performance. After his very first wobbly elections in 2011 which witnessed glitches necessitating the rescheduling of the National Assembly polls by a couple of days, Jega saddled up his new horse for the great challenges ahead. In the off-season governorship elections in Ondo, Edo, Anambra and Ekiti states, he proved his mettle by the transparent manner in which the elections were conducted.
All four elections were acclaimed to have passed the test in terms of their credibility. In the run-up to the last general election, Jega toyed with a number of new ideas, including the creation of more polling centres across the country. The idea patently did not go down well with large segments of the Nigerian polity.
His critics accused the INEC chairman of trying to favour the North where he hails from by the new scheme. They cited the allocation of a disproportionately large number of polling centres in that region as evidence that Jega had something up his sleeves.
The heavy weather that this generated forced the former INEC chairman to drop the idea, much to his credit. His introduction of the card reader electronic device during the polls and the use of only university vice chancellors as returning officers were all measures aimed at enhancing the credibility of the polls. Despite the initial hitches experienced by some voters with the card readers, and the inability of many prospective voters to obtain their voter cards, there is no doubt that the incidence of multiple voting was reduced.
Of course many critics are still wondering why the former INEC chairman told the nation that the commission was ready for the presidential election originally slated for February 14 when more than 20 millions registred voters had not been able to collect their voter cards few days to that date. It was a major dent to Jega’s credibility. That not withstanding, he scored pass mark in the way the commission handled the actual voting and the collation and announcement of results.
The challenge before Jega’s successor is to improve further on his achievements by ensuring that future elections are a lot more credible; and that all eligible Nigerians get a chance to cast their votes. We wish Prof. Jega happiness in retirement and success in all his future endeavours.