By NBF News

A philosopher once spoke in this vein; little minds name places. Average men name people. Great men build ideas. Capsules of ideas produce a vision and great visions build a nation. Those who name people and places only prepare a nation's ruins. I have been reflecting upon the thought behind these paraphrased wise words in relation to the various responses that people from varying standpoints have made about Attahiru Jega, following his choice by President Goodluck Jonathan as the new helmsman at INEC. Before proceeding any further on my rumination, let me make a brief digression, one that clearly states my own position on the subject; the choice.

I am persuaded that the appointment is one of the strongest indications that Goodluck Jonathan truly means well for this country. He means well for our fledgling democracy and the critical platform for its evolvement; the electoral reform. I will come to expatiate on this assertion in due course, especially in regard to my conviction of the aptness of the choice of Professor Attahiru Jega, a non-partisan political theorist, a radical crusader and interventionist in popular struggle, an activist and advocate for freedom, liberty and justice, who has seized every opportunity—both from within struggle vanguard space and the academia—to make his unequivocal passion for human progress known. He is a public intellectual who has been tested in leadership—beyond rhetoric. There are a number of us who can, authoritatively, make this claim about him—from very practical experience.

Having made this impolitic revelation of my position, by digression, let me return to the subject of my analysis—the plethora of uneven responses to the appointment of Attahiru Jega by Goodluck Jonathan as Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). I enjoin you to follow my analysis, deploying the opening statement of this piece as a backcloth.

There are those who like to name names and used their yardstick to express their doubts as to whether Jega can make a difference at INEC. They say that Jega and Iwu were bedfellows at the ASUU altar. They say that Iwu was a Vice President to Jega when the latter was the National President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). That being the case, and added to the fact that Jega once consulted for Iwu during his term as INEC Chairman, very little difference could be expected in terms of performance in the crucial office of INEC boss. This position is the product of reductionist name-calling. Those who have the right record of service of Attahiru Jega as President of ASUU will not hesitate to dismiss the rational behind the position canvassed by this set of respondents to the appointment.

Jega worked within an ASUU collective which was rigorous in its perception and apprehension of the problems bedeviling the Nigerian society as typified by the anti-intellectual and myopic governance of the military. Within this collective, Jega provided unquestionable and unmistakable leadership with penetrating and incisive insight, maturity and vision. His tenure as ASUU President was one of the most vibrant continuum to the radical swing of the Union which foundation blocks were moulded by Biodun Jeyifo and the late Mahmud Tukur. Maurice Iwu left the country shortly after the Jega Executive was returned to office.

He never really surfaced much until shortly before his appointment. The other leg of the argument that Jega consulted for Iwu is even more ludicrous. Since when have the products of consultation been a veritable instrument of performance in government in Nigeria? We are talking about a leadership mindset which saw advice (paid for or voluntarily given) as mere waffle-words meant to be ignored and set aside. It is obvious to any cursory observer that Iwu did not benefit from whatever insightful consultancy he received from anyone, including, as alleged, Jega. If he did, the result would have been less palpably dismal.

Another set of critical response, one that is by far an advancement to the above, has it that since the appointment is by President Jonathan, contrary to the recommendation of the Justice Uwais' committee on which Jega served, which proposed that the appointment of the Chairman of INEC be done by a non-politically partisan body in order to secure true independence for the Commission, Jega's neutrality in office could not be guaranteed. They buttress their argument with the very likely possibility of President Goodluck trying his hand in the Presidential race of 2011.

No consideration was given to the fact that, having served on the Uwais' committee, Jega is most suitably positioned to implement substantially the laudable content of that report in the event that the President is unable to leave down the shackles that are likely to be thrown at his feet by die-hard politicians within his Party who believe that the implementation of the proposed Report will adversely affect (from their point of view) their political calculations at the polls—calculations of victory by default. The suggestion that, having been appointed by a President who might be an interested party in the electoral contest, Jega and his appointed team will/could be compromised.

The possibility is there for a man without integrity and a seeker after vain values. But it is most unlikely that a man with Jega's pedigree and antecedent will succumb to such compromises. A student of history and political science- a man who has been long in the struggle trenches like Jega can hardly be expected to un-write his own history. In any case, it is better to put a person of his stature, exposure, and knowledge, even of the reform's document, on INEC saddle and seat.

Jega served ASUU at its most testy period of its life—during the aegis of Ibrahim Babangida. There were many who spoke loudly and in whispers that being a Northerner like IBB, Jega was likely to be bought over or intimidated by a regime that will deploy any and every tactics—including corruptive munitions— to weaken the leadership resolve of ASUU under Jega. Those of us who worked very closely with him at that time know that surreptitious attempts were made to whip up ethnic and geo-political sentiments to divide the leadership ranks of ASUU under Jega's leadership. It is to his eternal credit—and given his relatively tender age at the time—that he shouldered on, undeterred, uncompromised, and granitic in his position to carry the ASUU struggle at that crucial watershed of the Union's aegis. He has since then moved on to serve in other capacities, including his current position as Vice-Chancellor of Bayero University, Kano.

In all of these, what emerges is his astuteness as a disciplined interpreter of Nigeria's political history, especially the transitoriness of or democratic culture in which mass participation is at its most abused and deterred. Jega is certainly one of the respected individuals in the academia today in our country who has survived, without loss of face and name, as a Union leader and as an Administrator. Our nation faces tremendous odds with precipitous and tenuous chances of survival. It is truly a time for people of credibility, vision and honour to come out and rescue the nation from the clutches and strangulating grips of opportunistic power seekers and charlatans who will stop at nothing to further wreck the unfulfilled dreams of nationhood.

I have no doubt that Jega belongs with that category of Nigerian intellectual progressives who know what is at stake, both for self and for the nation. The position of INEC Chairman is crucial and strategic for the attainment of our democratic aspirations. As I make this statements as a genuine wish that Jega's appointment is a plus for this government—a plus that it can build upon by going ahead and implementing the Reforms document according to Uwais, I am moved by the statement of Lee Kuan Yew, the man who transformed a third world Singapore into a first world internet economy when he said this of his country; We cannot afford to forget that public order, personal security, economic and social progress, and prosperity are not the natural order of things that they depend on ceaseless effort and attention from an honest government that the people must elect.

The task of electing an honest government in Nigeria is a Herculean and daunting task. INEC is the instrument. Jega understands this much and we must wish him and the nation luck in that historic assignment. I do not envy him at all.