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Prof. Attahiru Jega: A Man of integrity?

JegaThe enormous task of superintending over the electoral affairs of any country, particularly a country where the democratic culture is just beginning to take root and one where elections take on a life of their own, requires, forthrightness, dexterity, diplomacy and above all else, a mega dose of integrity. The electoral umpire must in addition to being imbued with high level of personal integrity also, and equally importantly, be perceived by the generality of the electorate and interested parties as being a person of integrity. The reality and perception of integrity must converge on the electoral umpire. Where such convergence is not found, there is the likelihood that whatsoever outcomes produced by such electoral umpire will be viewed with suspicion by some parties to the election and may eventually lead to unsavory events including violence.

It is with the foregoing in mind that it is pertinent at this stage, considering the volatility of the forthcoming general elections and the heightened political consciousness aroused amongst Nigerians by a combination of the dire security situation in the Northeastern region of the country occasioned by terrorist attacks and the personalities of the leading candidates for Presidency, to inquire into the integrity, or lack thereof, imbued in the present occupant of the office of Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega, who may likely preside over Nigeria’s 2015 general elections.

Jega

Emerging from an era where the elections were more of a ‘selection’ process stage-managed by the Electoral Commission, and coupled with the fact that the President, Goodluck Jonathan, was publicly declaring his intentions to ensure a free, fair and credible electoral processes, Nigerians were desirous at the exit of former INEC Chairman, Maurice Iwu, for the emergence of anyone who would come in with some element of integrity and restore some semblance of credibility into INEC. It was thus a master stroke when a former President of the Academic Senior Staff association of Nigerian Universities (ASUU) and former Director of theCentre for Democratic Research and Training, Bayero University, Attahiru Muhammadu Jega, was appointed as Chairman of INEC. Nigerians, particularly members of vociferous civil society organizations, were excited that one of their own, who had led strike actions in an era when Nigeria was under military dictatorships, was appointed as Chair of INEC. The mere fact that Prof. Jega had served as President of a Labour Union and the fact of his public acceptance, seemed to obviate any further inquiry or scrutiny as to the criteria of integrity, a most critical component required of an electoral umpire.

With the silence of civil society on issues of inquiry into the integrity question secured, Nigerians, in their quest to move ahead with the democratization process, appeared to gloss over such details as necessary inquiry into Prof. Jega’s managerial capabilities and performance in handling public funds in his previous positions of trusts, particularly as ASUU President and as the Vice Chancellor of Bayero University Kano (BUK). Prof. Jega’s screening was a smooth sail and foregone conclusion – a honeymoon period had begun.

It did not, however, take long, for cracks, indicative of fundamental integrity deficits to begin to emerge in the persona of the Professor Nigerian commentators and interested parties had touted as ‘a man of integrity’.

A Desperate Umpire:
In response to a suit, Eluchie Vs. The President, Attahiru Jega and Ors., Suit No: FHC/L/CS/867/2010, filed before the Federal High Court, Lagos, challenging his qualification to serve as INEC Chairman on account of not meeting the requirements spelt out in Section 156(1){a} and Sections 65(2){b} of the Nigerian Constitution, Prof. Jega had in a significant act of desperation, alien to an often publicly depicted demeanor of ‘I-am-ready-to-go-if-challenged’ and ‘I am only serving in the public interests’, through his Counsels deposed to an affidavit stating as follows:
“The Paragraph 13 of the Plaintiff’s affidavit is mere self opinion of the applicant who never saw the register of all 62 registered political parties’ currently in Nigeria and non of the 62 political parties has supported the speculation of the applicant (me) that the 4th respondent (The Saint) was not a member of a political party”

The averment, when read out in court, left the audience stunned and speechless. The ‘man-of-integrity’ was in effect daring that he be proved not to be stained! In the course of the court proceedings, the presiding Judge, Justice Mohammed Liman, had interjected that he hoped the fees for the Senior Advocate of Nigeria who was appearing in the matter for Prof.Jega was not being paid from INEC funds, since the Prof. was sued in his personal capacity: A question to which the SAN responded with a wiry sly grin – not denying the insinuation clearly expressed by the Judge.

The question that should ordinarily agitate the mind of the discerning from the above narrative from the Court action is: ‘Would a ‘man-of-integrity’ expend public funds on purely personal matters?’ if public funds were expended on purely personal matters from the very onset of Prof. Jega’s Chairmanship of INEC, has that practice ceased or continued exponentially as the hyped perception of a ‘man-of-integrity’ continued?

The combined implications of Sections 156(1){a} which provides (1) No person shall be qualified for appointment as a member of any of the bodies aforesaid if (a) he is not qualified or if he is disqualified for election as a member of the House of Representatives;' and Section 65(2){b} which provides 'Subject to the provisions of section 66 of this Constitution, a person shall be qualified for election as a member of:the House of Representatives, if he is a citizen of Nigeria and has attained the age of 30 years; (2) A person shall be qualified for election under subsection (1) of this section if: (b) he is a member of a political party and is sponsored by that party.

Is that Prof. Jega, not supposedly being a member of any of the registered political parties as at the time of his nomination, approval by the Council of State and clearance by the Senate and subsequent swearing in as Chair of INEC, was not qualified to occupy the office of INEC Chair.

The fact that the anomaly inherent in the above cited sections of the Constitution was subsequently amended by virtue of Section 15 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (First Alteration) Act, which was approved by the National Assembly on the 6th of July 2010, well after Prof Jega had been sworn into office, does not vitiate the fact that at the date of his swearing-in into the Office of Chairman of INEC, Prof Jega was Constitutionally unqualified for the Office. The several deliberate efforts to bend laws to accomodate Prof. Jega seems to have cumulatively stirred in Prof Jega a delusion of being supra-legal.

Cashing in on the publicly stated commitment of the present administration of President Jonathan to ensure ‘free, fair and credible elections’ and an unhindered and interference-free performance of INEC, INEC has, unlike what occurred under previous administrations, not had any problems assessing its fiscal allocations from the Federal revenue. Money has never been a problem to INEC under the ‘man-of-integrity’. Accounting for such monies has however, remained a perennial problem of INEC under the ‘man-of-integrity’.

Inefficient Administrator:
Allegations of nepotism, favoritism, ethnic bigotry and allied vices have bogged contract awards, deployment of staff and general administration of INEC under the Chairmanship of Prof. Jega. Again by dint of crafty manipulations of the media and an unholy alliance with some segments of the civil society, despite glaring facts to the contrary, the notion that a ‘man-of-integrity’ is at the helm of affairs at INEC continues to be churned out.

With regards to the various elections conducted by INEC under the watch of Prof. Jega, each and everyone of them have been beset by and witnessed glaring and fundamental lapses. Beguiled by a contrived ‘stainless’ mien spiced with strategically retained 'grey hairs of wisdom', the Nigerian electorate had always been informed by Prof. Jega, after each and every election, that the next one will be better’. The same problems would, however, eventually, resurface, and same excuses given. The deployment of soldiers and other security personnel has, to a great deal, served as the main ingredient which bolster confidence amongst the population in the outcomes of elections under the tenure of Prof. Jega.

With increased political consciousness amongst our population in the buildup to the 2015 general elections, greater public interest and inquiry into the activities of the Prof. Jega-led INEC continue to unravel quite worrisome realities.

A biased umpire:
Attempts by the ‘man-of-integrity’ to ram a discredited and dubious plan of creating addition 30,000 polling booths down the throats of the Nigerian electorate, served to unveil the wool that had seemingly covered the eyes of several who had been mesmerized by the notion of Prof. Jega being a ‘man-of-integrity’. The hopelessly skewed distribution pattern of the 30,000 polling booths which would have seen well over 21,000 of such booths disproportionately situate in Nigeria’s erstwhile northern region and a miserly 7,000 odd booths spread across the States in the south raised eye brows across the country and beyond – something was clearly, strangely amiss. More shocking were the extent and effrontery of the ‘man-of-integrity’ to defend the indefensible, even recruiting his usual hangers-on of 10-a-dime ‘pro-democracy civil society organizations’ to seek to justify the unjustifiable. By his chosen allocation methods, the 3 states in Nigeria’s core Northeast zone whose populations had been virtually wholly displaced as a result of insurgency attacks from Boko Haram terrorists would have received more additional polling booths than States in the entire South West region or South east regions. Despite, in this instance, clearly being in the position of a kid caught pants down with his hands in the cookie jar, Prof. Jega, the ‘man-of-integrity’, still faking the mien of one who meant well for his country, backed down from his 30,000 extra polling booth heist, but refused to resign his position.

The façade of a ‘man-of-integrity’ had finally begun to unravel for all who were genuinely interested in free, fair and credible elections. Unfortunately for Nigeria, the masquerade which was now unmasked, was willing to dance naked!

Feeling exposed for what he truly is, the ‘man-of-integrity’, was now willing to damn whatever consequences to the polity, to attain whatever personal agenda he had set out to achieve.

As the long scheduled dates for the 2015 general elections approached menacingly (February 14th and 28th for the Presidential & National Assembly and Gubernatorial & State Legislative Houses elections, respectively), Prof. .Jega, kept on broadcasting to whosoever cared to listen that the said dates were sacrosanct, despite overwhelming evidence, glaring to the informed and uninformed observers and participants alike, that INEC was not ready to conduct the elections on the dates earlier scheduled if the elections were geared towards being free, fair and credible.

Despite fatal defects which gave credence to the believe that Prof. Jega had non-altruistic motives in insisting that the general elections must go on as earlier scheduled, such as: the fact that INEC Staff to man polling booths had not been adequately trained on handling of the Smart Card Readers to be used for the elections; the fact that the sufficient quantities of the Smart Card Readers had not been made available to the 36 States of the Federation and Abuja; the fact that less than 60% of the registered voters who had collected their Permanent Voters Cards (PVC’s); the uncanny rates of collection of PVC’s across the States which evinced that terror-prone States where Boko Haram terrorists were in near effective control of large swaths of the States territories, such as Bornu Yobe and Adamawa had recorded over 75% PVC collection rates as opposed to less than 40% PVC collection rates in some terror-free States in the south; and a plethora of other germane reasons which indicate INEC unpreparedness to conduct the elections as scheduled. The 'man-of-integrity' stuck to his gun that the elections must go on.

To the consternation of all, despite the general awareness that if the elections had been held as scheduled, Nigeria would have been set on a cataclysmic precipice, the ‘man-of-integrity’ kept on announcing that his INEC was 100% ready to conduct the elections!

NGO’s/CSO’s as accomplices to rigging:
One unique lesson garnered by the generality of Nigerians from the buildup to the botched earlier scheduled date for the general elections was the conspiratorial and compromised silence of the ‘so-called pro-democracy civil society organizations’ which failed and or refrained from pointing out the self-evident pitfalls to the ‘man-of-integrity’ and INEC. To compound matters, when Prof. Jega finally owned up to an inability to conduct the elections as scheduled, albeit predicating his inability on the security advisory given by the Service Chiefs and heads of various national security agencies, these same ‘pro-democracy’ tin-dons, in most scathing and spiteful language, descended on the public domain calling for the sack of the Security Chiefs, whose timely interventions had saved Nigeria from what would have clearly been the most disorganized, dysfunctional and destructive farce ever contrived in Nigeria under the guise of elections.

Those who were still in doubt as to the calamity Nigeria had been spared by the postponement of the elections were cleared of their doubts when, in a televised public appearance before the Senate of the Federal Republic, a few days after the Presidential elections would have ordinarily been held, when the man-of-integrity’ publicly demonstrated, on the floor of the Senate Chambers, before Senators, the modus operandi of the Smart Card Readers and the PVC’s – it dawned on all that even our Senate had no inkling as to the on the modus operandi for the elections.

Need for utmost vigilance and application of rule of law:
It is hoped that now that circumstances, his utterances and the realities on ground have exposed Prof. Jega, a ‘man-of-integrity’, for what he truly is, the already sensitized and conscious Nigerian electorate and population will become more vigilant and watchful of our ‘man-of-integrity’ who has unfortunately refused to do the appropriate, by resigning his appointment upon his ruse being exposed. In reality, Prof. Jega cannot claim to be possessed of sufficient integrity to continue to serve as an unbiased umpire for electoral matters in Nigeria. The reality, presently, is that Prof. Jega is no longer perceived, by well meaning Nigerians as possessed of requisite integrity to serve as INEC Chairman. Considering that neither the reality nor the perception of integrity resides in Prof. Jega, the ideal option for him, if he still has any iota of integrity left in him, is to resign from his position or better still comply with the due process available in our public service procedures to embark on required pre-terminal Leave to precede his disengagement as Chair of INEC.

The earlier Prof. Jega departs the office he has consistently desecrated, hopefully before the rescheduled dates for the general elections to allow for a replacement who will operate with a clean slate, the more likely the outcomes of the elections will reflect the true yearnings and desires of the Nigerian electorate.

Nigerians must continually insist on the observance of the rule of law and due processes related to public officials, inclusive but not restricted to provisions for replacement and or termination of public officers whose tenure of office is due. Nigerians must likewise, as we approach the rescheduled 2015 general elections, insist on transparent, free, fair and credible elections.

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