Attahiru Jega, a professor of political science and immediate past chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), is a very lucky Nigerian.
He is one of those fluky human beings the Scripture tells us are blessed because their sins are covered. He remains the only INEC chairman to “successfully” organise two national elections – in 2011 and 2015.
For a job that has become the nemesis of most otherwise solid reputations, Jega left office with his intact. Today, he is hailed in some quarters as the best thing that has happened to Nigeria’s democracy since 1999.
He left office on June 30, 2015 to return to his lecturing job at Bayero University, Kano, where he was vice chancellor before his appointment in June 2010 by former President Goodluck Jonathan.
That was after he had disclosed in March that he would not accept tenure renewal. Had he wanted, perhaps, he would still be INEC chairman today.
Shortly after leaving office, Jega, former national president of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), won the 2015 edition of the Charles T. Mannat Democracy Award.
It was presented to him by the United States-based International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), administrators of the award, at an elaborate ceremony in Washington D.C. on September 29, 2015.
Every year, IFES, a pro-democracy organisation that advocates improved electoral systems around the world, recognises the accomplishments of individuals in advancing freedom and democracy by bestowing awards on them in honour of past chairs of its board of directors: Charles T. Manatt and Patricia Hutar, and Senior Adviser, Joe C. Baxter.
While Jega was honoured under the Charles T. Manatt Democracy Award category, it is instructive that his co-awardees were U.S. Democratic Leader, Nancy Pelosi, and Republican Congressman, Ed Royce.
Jega was chosen as the international figure for the award, according to the promoters, for leading the INEC to conduct what they perceived as one of the most credible elections in Nigeria’s history, even in the face of alleged intimidation and sabotage by some of his own staff and officials of the Jonathan administration.
“Chairman Jega’s leadership was instrumental to Nigeria’s successful general elections in 2015,” said IFES President and CEO, Bill Sweeney.
But was Jega indeed the messiah he is acclaimed to be in Nigeria’s ever wooly and corruption-infested electoral process? Were the 2015 elections really successful or were they deemed free, fair and transparent simply because the opposition won?
What made the two elections conducted under Jega’s watch more transparent and credible than previous ones? Can available facts validate claims that he delivered on his mandate?
If his mandate in the 2015 polls was to ensure a Muhammadu Buhari presidency, willy-nilly, he did excellently well. If that is what the praise-singing is all about, then, he deserves even more accolades.
Anything short of that is sheer hypocrisy, Nigeria’s biggest undoing.
After Jega’s first outing as INEC Chairman in 2011, election-related violence in Northern Nigeria left more than 1,000 people dead.
The victims, according to Human Rights Watch, were killed in three days of rioting in 12 Northern states of Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Niger, Sokoto, Yobe, and Zamfara.
The violence, which began with widespread protests by supporters of the then main opposition candidate, Buhari, of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), following the re-election of Jonathan, of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), also left more than 65,000 people internally displaced.
The polls were largely riddled with malpractices, logistical deficiencies and procedural inconsistencies with voter turnout of about 78 per cent in the South South and the South East, particularly in the presidential election, which analysts insist exceeded the national average by at least 50 per cent.
Yet, Corinne Dufka, then senior West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch, claimed that “the April elections were heralded as among the fairest in Nigeria’s history” while grudgingly admitting that “they also were among the bloodiest”, even as she urged “the newly elected authorities to quickly build on the democratic gains from the elections by bringing to justice those who orchestrated these horrific crimes and addressing the root causes of the violence.”
Of course, nobody was punished for the heinous crime even as the presidential election divided the country along ethnic and religious lines.
Then fast forward to 2015. The elections that garnered world acclaim for Jega are coming out unstuck at the tribunals.
As I write, 82 elections have been annulled and still counting. Even by Nigerian standards, this is quite staggering. And so alarmed was Jega’s successor, Mahmoud Yakubu, that he has decided to launch an investigation.
On Thursday, January 21, Yakubu said the INEC will study the circumstances that led to the nullifications and evolve measures to tackle the issues.
“Now, we have 82 elections nullified by the Court of Appeal, two of which will still proceed to the Supreme Court. But in addition to the nullified elections, we have 15 other elections where petitioners were declared winners by the courts.
“The courts did not decide that we should conduct re-runs there. They said that we should issue Certificates of Return to those declared winners by the courts,” he explained.
The number of annulled elections in 2015 is 48 or 141.2 per cent more than the 34 elections nullified in 2011, while only 20 were cancelled in 2007.
These are statistics coming out of the INEC itself. A report in one of its news bulletins recently said the INEC will conduct at least 78 re-run elections in 2016 based on verdicts issued by the Court of Appeal.
“A breakdown of the elections indicates that the commission will conduct 10 senatorial elections, 12 state constituency elections and 37 state assembly elections.
“Others are 17 federal constituency elections and two governorship re-run elections, subject to the verdict of the Supreme Court,” the bulletin said.
There would have been more annulments and rerun polls if Jonathan did what Buhari did in 2011; that is, reject the result of the election. Of course, 2015 would have also been bloodier if Jonathan had joined his detractors on the scrap heap of impunity and bloodletting.
Ironically, to conduct elections that resulted in the worst number of fatalities and highest number of annulments and rerun polls at very huge cost to Nigeria, the INEC got more money under Jega’s watch than any of his predecessors.
Unlike former President Olusegun Obasanjo who starved the INEC of funds in order to blackmail it into doing his devious bidding, Jega’s INEC didn’t suffer such indignities under Jonathan.
Granted, the electoral tide seemed to have sharply turned against Jonathan before the 2015 ballot and there seemed to have been a preponderance of opinion that the opposition may, indeed, carry the day because not only had the Jonathan Presidency become a huge joke, but also, many Nigerians had good reason to be concerned about being put in the cross-hairs over a potential Jonathan victory.
But the fact that the man most Nigerians seemed to have preferred was declared winner of the poll does not ipso facto make the election free and fair.
Put differently, the possibility that in a free and fair poll, Buhari would have defeated Jonathan is no proof that, warts and all, the 2015 elections passed the integrity test.
Yakubu is understandably perturbed. Short of accusing his predecessor of giving a tailwind to fraudulent polls, he asserts diplomatically that he wants to find out why many elections were annulled.
But the answer, to my mind, is simple. The elections Jega conducted in 2015 were fundamentally flawed. Insisting, therefore, that he erected fool-proof electoral architecture which his successors only need to consolidate on is disingenuous and a disservice to this country.
The consequence is that the first two post-Jega elections were inconclusive though they were stand-alone polls because they were predicated on fraudulent foundation.
Truth be told, Jega left behind no solid foundation that anyone can build on. To claim otherwise simply because Buhari, this time around, benefited from Jega’s electoral sleight of the hand, is sheer hypocrisy.
And the price a nation pays for getting addicted to a diet of hypocrisy is that at the end of the day, nothing changes, at least not for the better, as the recent Kogi and Bayelsa governorship polls proved.