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JEGA, BEWARE OF JAGAJAGA

By NBF News
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To tell the truth and nothing but the truth, Maurice Iwu left a mighty stink at the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). He was a man we trusted with our necks at the beginning, and before we knew it, we had no necks anymore. He had decapitated us. We became neckless. After the travesty and daylight robbery that was called general elections in April 2007, I wrote a piece with the title, 'Iwu wounds us mortally.' I lamented the sheer evil, larceny and purloining of our will that Iwu and the then do or die president, Olusegun Obasanjo, had inflicted on us, but concluded thus: 'We will yet recover from the mortal wounds Iwu inflicted on us. Our hearts may be broken, but like the saying goes, broken hearts often make the best receptacles.'

Despite overt and covert attempts to get a second term in office, we have got rid of Iwu, the master of wuruwuru electioneering. After the June 12, 1993 elections, before the devil seized the then military leader, and he annulled the polls, Professor Humphrey Nwosu, the then boss of the electoral commission had rejoiced about the smooth conduct of the exercise. He said there was no wuruwuru (underhand dealings), no magomago (knavish tricks) in the polls. But Nwosu spoke rather early. Wuruwuru and magomago showed their faces few days later through Ibrahim Babangida, and more than a decade later, took an incarnation in the man called Iwu, the very epitome of wuruwuru electioneering.

But enough of Iwuruwuru. This piece is about the restoration of our hopes. You know I said we would recover from the mortal wounds of 2007, our broken hearts will get mended. The process has begun. Hopefully. A man well spoken of, a man of good report, Prof Attahiru Jega, has been nominated as the new INEC boss.

I don't expect that Jega will not sail through the screening by the Senate. He most likely will. I don't expect he has any hastily buried corpse, whose leg will stick out from the grave to blow his chances of clearance. So, we might as well begin to talk as if Jega is our authentic, confirmed INEC boss. From his antecedents, he seems a gush of fresh breeze in a stifling and asphyxiating environment.

But then, they don't always come wearing two eerie horns like the phantasmagoric Devil. I mean all the former electoral commission bosses, who went down in odium and opprobrium. Michael Ani looked quite genial, even avuncular. Ovie-Whisky was the Spartan, awe-inspiring judicial figure. Eme Awa was the father figure, the one you felt you could trust. Well, we never really had a chance of judging him, as he conducted no major poll. Then, Humphrey Nwosu, the seeming academic puritan. He gave us no cause to doubt him, till the crunch came. He vanished after June 12 was voided, instead of screaming blue murder.

He found his voice only about 15 years later, by which time it was too late. Okon Uya. Sumner Dagogo-Jack. Ephraim Omorose Akpata. Abel Guobadia. And then, Iwu. They all looked like the man next door, harmless, full of good neighbourliness. But today, they have their fair share of infamy, though the degree differs from person to person. Iwu is the king of them all. Will Attahiru Jega fare better? By the time he finishes the job he's about to take, will his famed integrity still be intact? Will we still salute and applaud him, or usher him out of office with missiles and projectiles? Will the beautiful name, Jega, have turned into jagajaga (confusion, absolute chaos) by the time he leaves? May God forbid. Fela Anikulapo-Kuti sang a song he called CRFJJ -Clear Road For Jagajaga. Yes, Jega must clear all jagajaga from the road, if he wants to become the ultimate Nigerian electoral hero. That is what we need now, indeed, what we deserve. A man who will clear the Auguean stable, who will restore our hope in the electoral process, who will rekindle our faith in the future of our country. A man who, if asked to bend the rules by those who appointed him, will look them straight in the face, and tell them to go to hell.

The job Jega is about to take is one that is not very amenable to heroism. In fact, it is the shortest route to villainy, to being what Henrik Ibsen called 'An Enemy of the People.' Want to be a blackguard, a rogue and scoundrel? Then take the job of Nigeria's electoral umpire. But it is not all a losing battle. Jega can determine to make a difference. What can he do?

Give us a credible voters register. Clean up the scandalous version currently in circulation, which parades fables like Michael Jackson, Mike Tyson, Jesse Owens, even maybe Adolf Hitler, as registered voters in Nigeria. Sure, there never was a more crooked, fraudulent and raffish register in all the world. Jega must clear the jagajaga.

Our votes must count. Why should we vote, and INEC proceeds to write its own pre-determined result, as we saw under Iwu and those before him? Jega must restore the integrity of the ballot box. Our votes must count, and be counted.

But then, what can one man do, if he's surrounded by hawks? Amidst all the lauding of Jega's choice, the opposition Action Congress (AC) and Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP) have raised issues, which cannot be swept under the carpet. Jega is just one man at the centre. What of the other electoral commissioners, and the resident electoral commissioners (RECs) in states? The AC has fingered some alleged card-carrying members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) among the nominees. Hear the party: 'Ambassador Z. Anka contested the governorship of Zamfara on the platform of the PDP in 1999; Gen Mamman is a member of the Board of Trustees of the PDP, while Alhaji Yakubu Shehu contested the senatorial elections in 2003 and 2007 on the platform of the PDP in Kaduna, and he is the Chairman of the PDP stakeholders in Giwa LG area of Kaduna State. Yet all these people are on the President's list of appointments into INEC.'

The Enugu chapter of the CNPP has also alleged that another nominee, Mr Eddy Nwatalari, is a staunch member of the PDP. All these have not been controverted by government. With the PDP's penchant for devious, dubious elections, what then can Jega do, if INEC is filled with the party's loyalists? Doesn't one bad apple spoil the whole bunch again? I think we should really fear.

Jega, the accomplished academic from Kebbi State, former president of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), which fought military tyranny to a standstill, Vice Chancellor of Bayero University, Kano, is about to take the job of his life. He has taught Political Science for decades, has produced many graduates and even professors, but now, it is time for action. It is time to translate theory to practice. And action, they say, speaks louder than words. Will he make a difference?

I want to commend to Jega the comments of Gen Muhammadu Buhari. The former military ruler and presidential aspirant says the prospective INEC boss is 'a man of integrity,' but that integrity is not enough for him to perform to the satisfaction of Nigerians. 'The government must give him the ways and means to deliver… It is possible to force the PDP and government to hold a free and fair election. Kano did it in 2003. Bauchi and Lagos did it in 2007,' Buhari added.

Despite being appointed by a PDP-led government (in violation of the widely acclaimed Justice Muhammed Uwais recommendations on electoral reforms), Jega must learn from the shipwreck that Maurice Iwu made of the job at INEC by his slavish obedience to the dictates of the PDP. If Jega makes the same mistake, it can only end in jagajaga. And that would be tragic for a man who has been so well rated, and so highly recommended. At any moment he feels the job of INEC chairman is not working, he should not be afraid to take a walk.