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JEGA: A DANIEL COMES TO JUDGMENT?

By NBF News
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It was in Williams Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice that a declaration, like the above headline, was made. In that epic and classic literary work, Shylock, in the controversial case of 'a pound of flesh,' had said, when he felt that the verdict would be in his favour: 'A Daniel has come to judgment.' And as the 'Daniel,' Portia, the judge in the case, employed wisdom and tact in her judgment.

She gave a verdict, which not only confounded Shylock but also proved to him that he was not as smart as he may have thought.

Some people would say that there is no case of Shylock versus his debtor in Nigeria at present. Perhaps! But I found this headline most appropriate to describe the case of Professor Attahiru Jega, the man who has been nominated to be the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Like Portia, in Merchant of Venice, the INEC chairman nominee needs a greater wisdom than that of the biblical Solomon in the discharge of his duties as the election umpire in the country. He needs courage, transparency, uprightness and strong character to conduct elections, which Nigerians, who are always, fastidious, could consider free and fair. Most importantly, he needs prayers.

The problem of Nigeria's election elections goes beyond the sack of INEC chairman and the appointment of a new one. No single person, no matter how wise, would guarantee credible elections. It's only the collective efforts of every Nigerian that would ensure this. If the government appoints a good INEC chairman and he/she operates with bad people and in a bad system, failure is imminent. The reasons are obvious. Nobody swimming in Shark-infested water would survive. It is, therefore, with this in mind that I sympathise with Jega more than I rejoice for him over his appointment.

He is going to do a job, which gives people a bad name, irrespective of their previous credentials.

Those made case for the appointment of a social crusader or an activist as INEC chairman may say that with an Attahiru Jega it is El Dorado in the conduct of elections. Such optimists are likely to point to Jega's firebrand nature and activism. Of course, Nigerians know that in his days as the leader of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), he fought the Federal Government to a standstill, while pressing for the welfare of university teachers. He was fearless, outspoken and daring. He never gave a damn whether he was arrested, detained, prosecuted or killed. But the truth is that Unionism is not the same things as conducting elections. Events in the polity have shown that rich curriculum vitae are not a guarantee that an election umpire would succeed. There are other variables, which determine this.

Indeed, previous leaders of the nation's electoral bodies also came with rich credentials, but they ended as pariahs and bad guys. Iwu, for instance, had the same pedigree, as a hardcore activist, as Jega. As a university teacher, at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), he was not only a unionist but also one of the fearless leaders of ASUU. He was among those who gave the General Ibrahim Babangida government hell. He was so prominent, and stubborn too, (with due respect) that even Babangida, as military president, knew him personally. I learnt that Babangida could not forget the trouble ASUU gave his government at that time that when he once met Iwu at the presidential villa he asked him if the then President Olusegun Obasanjo really knew who he really was before appointing him to supervise elections in the country. No doubt, Babangida was wondering if Obasanjo knew that Iwu was an activist. But that activist, who was a torn in government's flesh some year back, ended up hated by Nigerians, who could have hailed him when he was in ASUU fighting government. That is the irony of life.

I am beginning to think that there is something in government, which mars people's reputation. Specifically, I think that there is something about the electoral system that cause the failure of the umpires. If good men of yesterday are suddenly becoming bad people, just for conducting elections, then the system must be an integrity destroyer. I would not want to believe that Iwu, Abel Guobadia, Eme Awa, Humphrey Nwosu, Victor Ovie-Whisky, Ephraim Akpata, Sumner Dagogo-Jack and others, who headed the country's electoral bodies at various times, were all wrong. I can't believe that none of them was good. This is why Jega should beware. He could also end as his predecessors, at the end of his tenure: Villified, criticised and hated.

For Jega not to the listed among Nigerians, who became bad people overnight, just because they accepted to be election umpires, there is need to start addressing issues that would make him fail. One of such issues is the independence of INEC. The electoral body should be left to do its job without interference from government. I don't have any doubt that President Goodluck Jonathan or anybody occupying the presidency could appoint the INEC chairman and still leaves the person to do the job to the best of his/her ability. This would be possible if Mr. President disciplines himself and also sees the need for a free hand at INEC. Nigerians expect to see an INEC that would be allowed to operate within the ambit of the laws as well as according to the dictates of the conscience of the people on its board. Since Jega is not known to have any political affiliation, it is hoped that he would, in a situation where he has a free hand, do his best. Needless to say that if there is government's interference Jega would not do any better than the Iwus and Guobadias of Nigeria.

Indeed, for Jega to succeed, the national/resident commissioners on the board of INEC should see their assignments as a call to duty, which is devoid of politics or personal aggrandisement. The allegation that some of the nominees have affiliations with political affiliations causes a sour taste in the mouth. The matter is even made worse by the fact that once these electoral commissioners are appointed they are, more or less, independent of the INEC chairman, as they derive their power from the same instrument that confers authority on Jega. In such situation, we can only hope that they would be above board, as Jega's success depends on their conduct.

Jega's success is also in the hands of politicians and political parties. At a time like this, politicians and political parties are expected to, also, discipline themselves. If politicians and political parties adhere to the rules and allow the electorate to decide their fate, Jega would succeed in conducting credible elections next year. On the other hand, if they resort to the old practice of winning at all costs, in which case they set out to manipulate the process, using various means, we will still cry about election fraud and, thereafter, vilify Jega. If politicians would guarantee that there would not be ballot box snatching or stuffing, violence and bribery the country would see credible election. It is as simple as that.

I wish Jega well. His success means much to the country. The success or otherwise of next year's election would determine how the world would see and rate Nigeria. The prayer of all well-meaning Nigerians is for the election to be credible and be seen to be so.