JEGA DIDN'T FAIL. BUT DID HE PASS?
Let's start with a digression. I think we are living a lie as Nigerians, pretending to belong to one united, indissoluble country. We have created a fool's paradise for ourselves, and we've been living gleefully in it. We've always loved that lie, and hoped that the truth will never unravel. Now, we're at a crossroads, a point where we must jerk out of our stupor, and tell ourselves some hard facts, home truths.
For the continued existence of this entity called Nigeria, I think we need to sit and talk. We need to determine if we want to continue as one country, on which terms, and on which principles. Or like the old USSR, the old Chechoslovakia, and many other erstwhile federations, we want to go our separate ways - peacefully. It needs not be a hostile or pugnacious parting of ways. Call it a national conference, a sovereign national conference, a national dialogue, it does not matter, that is simply nomenclature. But we need to talk. Frankly, honestly. And the outcome of the dialogue must be binding on us all.
Why is he thinking these morbid thoughts when we've just got a brand new president, who will soon flood the entire landscape with milk and honey, and the roadsides will be paved with gold? Good question. Yes, we have a new president who I pray will live up to his billings as the new face of Nigeria, who will lead us into a rosy, delightsome future. But then, I'm also worried stiff, particularly with what transpired in certain parts of the North after the presidential election- the arson, the carnage, mayhem, rape, death and destruction. Young people, old people, the poor, the rich, even royalty, none was spared from the tragedy. I've not been able to get over the slaying of members of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), murdered in cold blood. What does this mean in a country that pretends to be one entity?
Mind you, we would have had a replication of the scenario in certain parts of the South if the election results had gone the other way round. Certain elements in the Niger Delta had equally threatened fire and brimstone, saying hell would visit the earth if Goodluck Jonathan did not emerge president. And it was no idle threat. Oil pipelines would have been ruptured, the creeks would have been awash with militants again, non-natives would have been sent scampering for safety. Is this then a country that will endure, that will stand the test of time? I doubt. And the earlier we address the issues frankly, the better for us all.
From the headline of this piece, we should be looking at the scorecard of Prof Attahiru Jega, Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Yes, we shall do, but permit me to address the fallout of the general elections further. A number of people have laid the blame of the violence that flared in the North at the doorstep of the presidential candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), Gen Muhammadu Buhari. Really? I think it was only incidental that Buhari was the only northerner that ran a keen race with Goodluck Jonathan. If he was not in the race, and some other northerner had equally been highly rated, the violence would still have erupted.
Consider this. In 1993, the North voted massively for Bashorun M.K.O. Abiola of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), rejecting its own son, Bashir Tofa, of the National Republican Convention (NRC), whom Abiola trounced even in his Kano homestead. And in 1999, when Olusegun Obasanjo of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was rejected by his own very people in the South-west, the North voted massively for him to become president. Even against Buhari in 2003, Obasanjo still got a large chunk of the votes from the North. Now, in 2011, in violation of an extant power rotation agreement, a southerner ran, built a larger coalition which tantamounts to the entire South ganging up against the North, and he is declared president. Would the average northerner hug and kiss him? Not likely. So, rather than blame Buhari and the CPC for the inexcusable and indefensible killings in the North, let's blame the PDP that could not stand by its own rules in respect of the zoning formula. Many of us foresaw the crisis, and that was why we queued behind the equity which zoning represents.
And if the violence was all about Buhari and the CPC, why then didn't the party sweep the governorship polls in the region, as the people should have voted with equal vengeance last Tuesday, as they did in the presidential election? But they did not. So, it was about a region that felt duped and cheated, and not about Buhari as a person, though he's vastly popular. But such brutal killings? I'll never be able to come to terms with it. What a long digression. Now, back to the issue of the day. Did Jega fail, or did he pass? Or it is like the Yoruba would say, ko passi, ko feli, ko kuro ni kilasi kan. (He did not fail, he did not pass, he remains stuck at the same level).
In June last year, when Jega was appointed INEC boss, I did a piece with the title: 'Jega, beware of jagajaga'. Against the background of Prof Maurice Iwu, the man he was succeeding who had made a proper mess of the job, and in the light of Jega's background as a man of integrity who had creditably led the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) under the military, I had written: '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.'
With the general elections behind us, we can assess Jega to an extent. But the complete assessment may not be possible till we see what becomes of the legal challenge the CPC is mounting against the outcome of the presidential election, and the ones that will come from the other polls. So, let's call this an interim report for Jega.
When he came to office, we had a voters' register that was the greatest travesty in the world. It was apocryphal, dubious, a complete fiction. He cleaned it up by compiling a fresh one. Pass mark. On April 2, when the National Assembly poll should have held, Jega had a false start. Vital materials were yet to be airlifted into the country, so the election had to be shifted. A national shame, an egregious blunder. Resounding failure. On April 9, Jega was given opportunity to re-sit the examination. Not a bad outing, though there were widespread cases of irregularities from states like Abia, Imo, Bayelsa, and many others, where no voting took place, and results were announced. Jega sat in Abuja, while Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) in the states had been thoroughly compromised, and they fed him with cooked up figures. The same thing was repeated in a number of states in the gubernatorial polls. Jega was simply a sitting duck before those who had outsmarted him.
On April 16, the presidential election held. We can believe the figures returned in the South-west, and certain parts of the North. But South-south and South-east? My colleague, Eric Osagie, borrowing the language of British tabloids, says the results were 'sexed up.' Simon Kolawole, writing in Thisday of last Sunday, said the figures from the two zones were 'too good to be true.' Okey Ndibe, in Daily Sun of Tuesday, this week, declared: 'the South-east and South-south became arenas for the rudest, most unintelligent form of electoral fraud.' And that is the fulcrum of the legal challenge embarked on by the CPC.
Did the PDP need to allegedly rig in the South-east and South-south for Jonathan to win the election? I doubt. Without any hanky-panky, Jonathan would still have won, since the electorate had decided to queue behind sentiment and emotion in electing the next president. The South queued behind a southerner, the North behind a northerner.
But the southerner had more money at his disposal, plus the power of incumbency. An alliance that could have given the most formidable northern candidate a push did not materialise. So, the result of the contest was known even before voting.
Why then should the figures be 'sexed up' in the South-south and south-east? That may well be the bane of the entire election if forensic analysis proves that there were monkey tricks. But you ask yourself: what happened to the ballot tracking Jega promised us? What happened to the biometrics he conducted with money in excess of N90 billion, if there would still be allegations of spurious ballots that cannot be determined in a jiffy? Has Jega performed well as INEC chairman? I think, yes. But has he given us a performance worth N90 billion? Hell, no. His integrity remains rock solid as far as I can see, but he allowed the RECs in the states to draw rings round him. They dumped scandalously inflated figures on him, sexed up at the collation centres, and he simply accepted them. He was too credulous, overtrusting.
After Jega's appointment last year, Gen Buhari, in assessing him, had said: 'Integrity is not enough for him to perform to the satisfaction of Nigerians. The government must give him the ways and means to deliver.' Well, Jega got all that he requested for in terms of funds and free hand. And has he delivered? Yes, he has given us acceptable elections, a great improvement on what we have ever seen as a country. But free and fair? That remains in the womb of time. I reserve my final comment till the end of the legal challenges that will ensue. But in the interim, I'll say Jega has not failed, though he may not have passed in flying colours yet.