There is something about names. Some believe they influence destinies. They may also influence how a man conducts himself. There was an Attahiru at about 1900. He was the Sultan of Sokoto. This head of the faithful would not compromise with any colonial invaders. He was one of the traditional leaders who put up stiff resistance to British rule. He was convinced of his proud past such that he left Sokoto, heading for the Holy Land. He was confronted with superior firepower of the British colonial army, but he still wouldn’t give up, The Sultan fought his adversaries bravely, and he fell with his loyalists in the defunct town of Burmi, northern part of Gombe State.

This writer was at his tomb in Burmi some years back on a research trip, where the courage of a man of destiny was saluted. Another Attahiru is here; he has burst forth at this significant point in the nation’s history, nominated by the president as the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The president had said, in the course of a trip abroad, he didn't know before hand the man he was about to appoint. It has since emerged that the mind he has is Professor Attahiru Jega from Kebbi state, carved out of old Sokoto state. This is a man who has a past, he has a reputation; taking a closer look at him as he comes to INEC is worth the while; for he is an Attahiru who may yet make history.

"The council considered the recommendation of Professor Atahiru Jega for appointment as chairman of INEC and the council unanimously approved of it." That was Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State talking to the press after the Council meeting where he mentioned the names of Jega and other INEC commissioners who would work with him. The governor wasn’t done. "The good thing about it is that Council was unanimous about these appointments because the people concerned were considered to be men and women of integrity." That says something about the man at the centre of it all, and not many Nigerians across civil societies and human rights bodies will disagree.

Professor Attahiru Jega is a political scientist, and he is familiar with Nigeria’s political terrain. When he came out with one of his publications not long ago, he had said "it is a selection of my intervention in debates, seminars and conferences over the last decade." Much of that spanned the political arena, civil society and human rights, and he was even a member of the Justice Uwais Committee that made landmark recommendations on electoral reforms. This is another plus for the man who is to midwife politicians’ arrival in office. The right man has arrived the right office for once in this country. If there is one man who ever bent his neck before the President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces to be decorated with a national honour (OFR), one of them is Attahiru Jega, a man with antecedents.

At the time a military president was around here, Jega was ASUU president (1988 and 1994). This writer suffered from the protracted closure of universities that the military president visited on Nigerian students during that time, but he was among millions of Nigerian students who applauded Jega’s team and their uncompromising stand with a military ‘regime of settlement’. But for his stance, the nations ivory towers would have been worse off. Jega it was who led negotiations in the 1992 welfare agreement for increased salaries and improved funding for the university system.

The news of the progress made by this political scientist - like that of ilk in the mode of Hassan Sumonu, the indefatigable former Nigerian Labour Congress president, had always been a source of pleasure ever since he left office as ASUU president. Not less of such progress was his appointment as the Vice-Chancellor of the Bayero University, Kano in 2005. The import of this should not be missed. Jega had principled stand, but he is still acceptable to the northern establishment. Becoming the VC of Bayero is tantamount to becoming the head of Arewa Consultative Forum, north’s foremost mouthpiece. And he had made the north score another first. He is the first national electoral umpire in the history of the nation, just like the north gave the country its first fully-trained university graduate as president, in the person late Umar Musa Yar’adua. The list can be extended.

Yes, the challenges before the new INEC chairman are enormous, but as all know, just an uncompromising body language is all an INEC boss needs to make, for everyone – INEC staff and politicians - to fall in line. The nation would reap benefits from that, first in the April 2011 elections; then the rest of the matter can be visited the day after. That President Goodluck Jonathan nominated a man like Jega signposts that the presidency would not order for a "do or die" election. That is a good signal - one that is enough, at a time an Attahiru is around, for professional election riggers to pack their bags and go home.

The current accolade accompanying Jega to his Abuja INEC office reverberates across the country. It may not die yet, not for the next one year – just a bit of the time he needs to undo the chaos and infamy one previous occupier of the office of the electoral umpire brought to it - and then give Nigeria its freest and fairest elections. This is the expectation of all. If he delivers, he may be applauded far beyond his tenure, with the ovation following him into history books. He knows all of this, he also knows much more.

Ajibade, a Consultant Writer, lives in Abuja. email: [email protected]

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