TASK BEFORE ATTAHIRU JEGA
The recent appointment of the Vice Chancellor of Bayero University, Kano (BUK), Professor Attahiru Jega, as chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), is one of the most popular decisions taken by the President Goodluck Jonathan administration.
Jega, a former president of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and a notable member of the civil rights community, had his appointment ratified by the Senate last Thursday.
He replaces Professor Maurice Iwu, who was not re-appointed after the first five-year term as electoral umpire. The April 2007 elections conducted under Iwu's watch were widely acclaimed to be flawed, and a number of them have been overturned by the courts. The choice of Jega as INEC chairman is expected to breathe fresh air into the electoral body. It has been widely applauded because of his antecedents as an activist and a professor of Political Science.
He was also Director of the Aminu Kano Centre for Democratic Research and Training in the early 2000s. Under his leadership, ASUU had a long-running battle with the government of former President Ibrahim Babangida, and he won many battles for the union. He is also the first Nigerian from the northern part of the country to be appointed as boss of the electoral agency.
The ratification of Jega's appointment is a significant milestone in Nigeria's quest for credible general elections in 2011. He is coming into office at a critical period that Nigeria needs credible leadership for her electoral body. The challenge before him and the electoral commissioners, is to conduct transparent elections that will be accepted by the generality of Nigerians.
Although the nomination of a candidate for the position of INEC chair by the president is contrary to the recommendations of the Justice Mohammed Uwais-led National Electoral Reform Committee, and the new chairman has been described as an acolyte of his discredited predecessor, Iwu, Jega's appointment is, nevertheless, consistent with subsisting laws.
Jega must, therefore, quickly put the controversy surrounding his emergence behind him and face the urgent task ahead. Luckily, he is not a stranger to the nation's electoral problems. He was a member of the Electoral Reform Committee that made useful recommendations on reformation of the electoral process in Nigeria. The ball is now in his court to correct the ills with which he is very much familiar.
Let him make a difference in the nation's electoral fortunes. To do this, he must demonstrate strength of character and transparent impartiality. Professor Jega has been called upon to play a historical role. He must strive to play it creditably. One of the greatest challenges facing Nigerians, today, is that of clean elections that are devoid of malpractices.
He must change the face of elections in the country. His commitment to social justice must shine through in this assignment, as it did in previous ones. He must strive to measure up to expectation and demonstrate leadership ability. The job of the electoral umpire in Nigeria is one that appointees hardly leave with their integrity intact. Jega must try to be different. The challenge of administrative competence to organise credible elections may not be his major headache.
The greatest challenge, as he may discover, will be to his integrity. The real test will be his ability to resist when extraneous pressures come upon him. He must not be distracted, but remain resolute and ensure that the votes of the people count. He must provide vibrant leadership for the team he will work with and adequately motivate them for the task ahead. Nigerians expect a lot from Jega.
The international community expects even more. The world wants Nigeria to make a break from our inglorious electoral past. The new chairman has the daunting responsibility to ensure this. He must work hard to get it right, this time. Good elections begin with a credible voters register. Let him give the nation one. Let votes be honestly counted and true results, declared. Jega should be forthright.
He should do his best and eschew excuses. He should not compromise his position. The electoral turf should be an open field for all contestants. If he cannot resist untoward pressures from the political class, he should resign.
Let him articulate what he has to do and faithfully implement it. He must be careful not to end up in the gutter of Nigeria's electoral history.
Nigerians, however, have a role to play in the delivery of credible elections. We need to give Jega the cooperation he needs and not expect him to perform magic. The government should make INEC truly independent. Politicians should make a break from their sordid antecedents. Security agencies must be impartial in handling of electoral duties.
We wish the new INEC chairman well in his new assignment. We truly want him to succeed. He must be mindful that he represents the academic and civil rights community in this assignment. He must not let the people down. He is also expected to reform and transform INEC, internally. He must be careful not to fail in the assignment. Let Nigerians have the benefit of Jega's education and experience.