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Zakari, First Woman INEC Chair?

Francis Moses X-rays the role and personalities that have held sway at the electoral commission since the first republic and reports that Zakari, acting INEC Chairman may be the first woman to head the Commission

For the first time in the Nigeria’s electoral history, a woman, Mrs Amina Bala Zakari, was yesterday appointed as Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, in acting capacity. As a National Electoral Commissioner, she succeeds her former boss, Professor Attahiru Jega who bowed out on Tuesday after a six year tenure that was marked by arguably the best performance recorded by the electoral umpire in terms of innovation and professionalism. Jega had yesterday handed over to the next in command at the INEC, Ambassador Mohammed Wali, who was by-passed by the Presidency for the obvious reasons that his retirement is due in August.

While stepping into Jega’s shoes as the first woman, even in acting capacity, the 55-year old Zakari, a phamacist by qualification who hails from Jigawa State is said to be highly favoured to continue in the office because of her experience in the inner workings of the Commission. In fact she was highly favoured to replace Jega during the stormy months before the recent general elections was postponed on the basis of controversy that greeted the disproportionate distribution of Permanent Voters Card among the six geo-political zones in the country, the use of the Card Reader without field test and the creation of more polling units in parts of the North.

She particularly stands out in the long lists of men who had sat on the foremost electoral chair since independence and may be the first woman to be used by the APC government to demonstrate that it is women friendly. Her predecessors included Eyo Ita Esua, A Nigerian teacher and trade unionist who was at the helm of the Balewa government’s Federal Electoral Commission in the Nigerian First Republic. Esua was a school master and a founder member of the Nigerian Union of Teachers. He was the first full time general secretary of the union from 1943 until his retirement in 1964. He was an Ibibio man, in modern day Akwa Ibom State, renowned for his dedication to duty and uprightness. The Esua-led commission organized the December 1964 election, which was mired in controversy. Because of that two members of the commission disagreed with the chairman and resigned from the commission. Esua also conducted the 1965 Western Region election, which was violent and was disputed by the opposition United Party Grand Alliance UPGA, an alliance of the Action Group, NCNC and Independents.

A few days before these elections Esua acknowledged that his organisation could not guarantee a free and fair poll. The widespread electoral abuses fueled widespread political violence. Michael Ani, was chairman of the Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO) established by Lt. General Olusegun Obasanjo to conduct elections leading to the Nigerian Second Republic, which was inaugurated on October 1, 1979. He held office from 1976 to 1979 . Michael Ani was a civil servant. In 1966 he had been appointed a Commissioner by Ironsi to assist in reviewing unification of the regional public services. His 1976 appointment followed his retirement from the Civil Service. The functions of his 24-man Federal Electoral Commission established on 15 November 1976 included the conduct of elections, delimitation of constituencies and registration of political parties.

The August 1979 presidential election was won by Alhaji Shehu Shagari, although his victory was disputed since it was based on Ani’s interpretation of the ambiguous electoral decree which said “a candidate must obtain one quarter of votes cast in at least two thirds of the states of the federation”. He was succeeded by Justice Victor Ovie Whisky who became chairman of the Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO) courtesy of the appointment by President Shehu Shagari during the Nigerian Second Republic. He held office from 1980 to 1983. At the time of Ovie Whisky’s 1980 appointment as head of FEDECO he was the Chief Judge of Bendel State, now Edo and Delta, and was seen as upright and non-partisan.

However, the general elections of 1983 were marred by widespread irregularities and the electoral officials were accused of rigging the results in favor of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN). Ovie-Whisky declared that he was largely satisfied with the electoral process in 1983, but said: “We did not expect to be perfect”. He denied wrongdoing, and when questioned by reporters on whether “water passed under the bridge” in the elections, he said that he would faint if he saw N1 million cash . Professor Eme Awa, now late was chairman of the National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (NECON), appointed by President Ibrahim Babangida. He held office from 1987 to 1989, when he resigned due to a disagreement with the government. Eme Awa’s commission however conducted the 1987 Local Government election, which was poorly managed, with irregularities that included a confused voters register and overcrowded polling stations. He was the teacher and mentor of Humphrey Nwosu, who succeeded him as FEDECO chairman.

Professor Humphrey Nwosu, was chairman of the National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (NECON) appointed by President Ibrahim Babangida, holding office from 1989 to 1993. Nwosu conducted the 12 June 1993 election, which was seen as the freest and fairest election to date, in which Chief Moshood Abiola was presumed to have won. Nwosu’s commission also introduced the novel Option A4 voting system and the Open Ballot System. Nwosu had released many of the election results when he was ordered to stop further announcement by the military regime. In 2008 he published a book in which he claimed that Babangida was not to blame for annulling the election.

The book was severely criticized for failing to accurately account for what happened. Professor Okon Edet Uya was briefly chairman of the National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (NECON), appointed by President Ibrahim Babangida after the presidential elections of 12 June 1993 had been annulled and his predecessor Humphrey Nwosu dismissed. Uya, from Oron in Akwa Ibom state was appointed to conduct a new presidential poll after the annulment of the 12 June 1993 election.

The National Republican Convention and Social Democratic Party were asked to present new candidates for the new presidential poll with a target of new elections by March 1994. But in the confusion that followed the annulment crisis Uya was not able to conduct the election before he was removed when General Sani Abacha assumed power. He died last year. Chief Sumner Karibi Dagogo-Jack, was chairman of the National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (NECON) appointed by President Sani Abacha, holding office from 1994 to 1998. Dagogo-Jack served as a member of the Humphrey Nwosu electoral commission (1989–1993) and was later appointed chairman of the National Electoral   Commission of Nigeria. His commission was reportedly not impartial, but was controlled by Abacha.

Under Dagogo-Jack, NECON registered five political associations, none led by credible politicians. These were United Nigeria Congress Party (UNCP), Congress for National Consensus (CNC), Democratic Party of Nigeria (DPN), National Centre Party of Nigeria (NCPN) and Grassroots Democratic Movement (GDM). The purpose was to ensure that Abacha would become the sole presidential candidate, supported by all parties. Justice Ephraim Omorose Ibukun Akpata was the first chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) of Nigeria, responsible for the 1998/1999 elections that re-introduced democracy in May 1999.

Ephraim Akpata, Attended King’s College, Lagos and went on to study law. He was appointed to head the INEC in 1998 when General Abdulsalam Abubakar’s Administration established the INEC to organise the transitional elections that ushered in the Nigerian Fourth Republic on 29 May 1999. Sir Abel Guobadia OFR, was an educator, administrator, diplomat and retired public servant. In 2000, the government of President Olusegun Obasanjo appointed Guobadia Nigeria’s Chief Electoral Officer.

Dr. Guobadia was confirmed as the Chairman of Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission by the Nigerian Senate in May 2000. Guobada retired from this position in May 2005 becoming the first, and so far, only Chairman of the Electoral Commission since Nigeria’s independence in 1960, to have done so. Maurice Mmaduakolam Iwu is a Nigerian Professor of Pharmacognosy who was appointed Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in June 2005, and was removed from office inA pril 2010.

Iwu was appointed INEC commissioner for Imo State in August 2003 by President Olusegun Obasanjo. In June 2005, he succeeded Abel Guobadia as Chairman of INEC. Soon after being appointed, Iwu announced that foreign monitors would not be allowed during elections, but only foreign election observers. Politicians condemned this decision and civil society groups who called for his immediate removal from office. President Musa Yar’Adua announced to the whole world that the election was flawed Professor Attahiru Muhammadu Jega is a academic and former Vice-Chancellor of Bayero University, Kano.

On 8 June 2010 he was nominated by President Goodluck Jonathan as the new Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), subject to Senate confirmation, as a replacement for Professor Maurice Iwu, who vacated the post on 28 April 2010. He conducted the 2011 polls with some detachment but was heavily criticized for the late arrival and times non-arrival of electoral materials in polling nationwide, leading to the postponement of the first in the series of election, the National Assembly polls, by one week. Many governorship and Assembly bye- elections also tested the professionalism and competence of the Commission.

But at every turn, Jega innovated improved in subsequent elections. However during the campaigning for the 2015 Nigerian general election, Attiru Jega “faced fierce criticism from both the opposition and the ruling party.” Nonetheless, by 23 March 2015 “most experts believe Jega will seek to declare an accurate result as quickly as possible, regardless of any political interference he may face.” One of the Jega’s achievements during his term was the use of card reader and permanent Voters Card which he said, were introduced to reduce the high level of electoral malpractices. For Zakari, history beckons.

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