Contrary to expectations, former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Prof. Attahiru Jega has joined partisan politics. What has changed between June 2015 and now? In 2015, when Jega stepped down as INEC chairman, he said that he was going back to the classrooms, to impart the knowledge and experience he has acquired on young and upcoming academics.
He reaffirmed the above position in May 20, 2017 interview published in The African Journal, a Harvard school publication. He was asked if he will run for an elective office and the answer was negative. His words: “No. I do not have plans or intention of getting into an elected office. I was an academic when I was appointed as the INEC chairman and I have gone back to my university. I believe there is so much that I can do, like imparting knowledge and experience, and mentoring young academics. This is my preoccupation for now.”
Jega has joined the Peoples Redemption Party, PRP, ahead of the 2023 general elections. The party’s Publicity Secretary, Abdul Gombe, made the revelation recently. Gombe said Jega has been given the responsibility of carrying out a study, to find out how the PRP fared in the last general elections, in the bid to reposition it for a more nationalistic outlook in 2023. In his capacity as the chairman of the party’s Strength, Weakness, Opportunities and Threat, SWOT, Analysis Committee, he is expected to do a postmortem of its participation in the 2019 elections and chart the way forward for it in 2023.
The Publicity Secretary said: “The PRP at its 62nd National Executive Committee, NEC, meeting held on June 22 in Kaduna decided to set up three committees to review the performance of the party in the 2019 general election, with a view to repositioning the party for better performance in facing the new challenges of Nigerian politics.”
How would Jega fare in the mucky waters of politics? He made a difference as an electoral umpire. He became the widely acclaimed champion democracy, following the marked improvement in the 2015 elections, where for the first time an opposition candidate defeated an incumbent president. Under Jega, INEC became a much more professional and efficient election management body. He was adjudged to have conducted a credible and transparent electoral process in the face of many challenges. From the time he was nominated to lead INEC in 2010, a period the commission’s image was in tartars, till he bowed out in June 2015, his integrity and professionalism were put to test several times.
President Muhammadu Buhari’s inauguration on May 29, 2015 completed the first democratic transfer of power in Africa’s largest country. A phone call from the then incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan on March 28 to congratulate opposition candidate Muhammadu Buhari represented a resounding statement about the development of democracy in the country since the return to civil rule in 1999.
Within less than a year of taking over as INEC chairman, Jega conducted the 2011 elections. Following the turmoil of the 2007 elections, he recognised the importance of credible and transparent elections in 2011. His words: “Should this coming election fail, the peace, unity and stability of Nigeria can be compromised. I’m determined not to fail.” Although violence erupted as opposition supporters refused to accept the election results, domestic and international observers deemed the polls to be largely free and fair. According to the National Democratic Institute’s observer report, “Nigeria’s 2011 general elections … were significantly more transparent and credible than the three preceding polls … these polls represented a key milestone in the country’s democratic development.”
Under Jega’s leadership, INEC introduced two critical reforms that were key to the success of the 2011 elections. First, it compiled an entirely new voter register, as the previous one was not credible. Secondly, INEC implemented a modified open ballot system, requiring voters to be accredited at the polls, prior to voting, which helped to limit fraud and multiple voting.
The former umpire received the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, IFES, 2015 Democracy Award, for his unwavering commitment to protecting and promoting the right of Nigerians to vote. The 2015 general elections have been hailed by domestic and international observers. Although security was a major concern, voting proceeded smoothly on election day. The introduction of Permanent Voters’ Card, PVC, and the Card Reader Machines to facilitate authentication and accreditation of voters went a long way to restore confidence in the process. Though the system had some inherent drawbacks, contingencies were put in place by INEC helped to mitigate the problems.
But, being an electoral umpire and becoming a participant in the political arena are two different things. As an umpire, he stood his ground, though he faced fierce criticisms from the opposition and the then ruling party during the campaign for the 2015 elections. Being a participant in Nigeria’s fledgling democracy is fraught with a lot of challenges.
Observers said though Jega left indelible footprints in the electioneering process as an umpire, there are still numerous threats and challenges in the system. Some of the challenges that he would confront as a participant include: corruption, partisan security agencies and electoral umpire, poor justice delivery system, high cost of electioneering, high cost of governance, insecurity/electoral violence, as well as poverty and illiteracy.
A lecturer in the Department of Political Science, Federal University, Wukari, Taraba State, Dr. Godwin Dappa, said it is a big surprise that Jega has joined partisan politics. His words: “After the name he has made as INEC Chairman, what else is he looking for? Is he looking for fame? He is already a famous man. Is he looking for recognition? He has been recognized all over the world for the job he did in Nigeria between 2010 and 2015.
“Prof. Attahiru Jega has never come across as a politician. I don’t know the game he is trying to play. For me, a man that has made a name in electioneering business, a man that has made a mark in trying to ensure that Nigerians have a decent and sustainable democratic system should remain as a father of electioneering businesses; rather than going to pick a form, to do what?
“I think there is confusion somewhere; I think there is a script he is trying to play and if he doesn’t take in playing that script, the name he has made will be destroyed.
He added: “Nigerians are not living to make names; they are living to destroy names. If he, Attahiru Jega, a foremost INEC Chairman, a foremost electioneering business pioneer, who knows the system inside out would go to the extent of joining a political party, I think there is a problem somewhere.
“Let us tell ourselves the truth that we are not there yet in terms of democratic system. Everybody is looking for a means of filling his belly; nobody is interested in leaving a lasting legacy for future generations. There is confusion somewhere; until we get to the end of the road, we may not know what is unfolding.
“I want to use this medium to warn every Nigerian. if we want a better Nigeria state, if we want a Nigeria that will be for the benefit of future generations, let us not fight for ourselves alone; let us fight for our tomorrow. It is from our today that we will secure our tomorrow. Our politicians are only concerned with what they will benefit today; they are not bothered about what will happen to the country tomorrow.”
Jega was born on January 11, 1957 in Jega, Kebbi State. He is a former President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). He was a critic of the Babangida military government in the early 1990s. He was a member of the Justice Mohammed Uwais Electoral Reform Committee, which submitted a report on December 11, 2008 with recommendations that included establishing commissions to deal with Electoral Offences, Constituency Delimitation and Political Parties Registration and Regulation. The committee also recommended proportional representation and that the INEC head should be appointed by the judiciary rather than the President.
Jega’s new party, the PRP, was a famous political party during the Second Republic, which was considered a reincarnation of the Northern Elements Progressive Union, NEPU, of the First Republic. It was created by the supporters of Mallam Aminu Kano after his withdrawal from the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN). The PRP was highly regarded as a progressive left of centre party. Members of the party included former Governors Abubakar Rimi, Balarabe Musa, Sabo Bakin Zuwo, Michael Imoudu, Dr. Edward Ikem Okeke, Bala Usman, Abdullahi Aliyu Sumaila, Sule Lamido and Chinua Achebe — who served briefly as Deputy National President in the early 1980s.
The new PRP was came under the leadership Musa. But, it has not been able to gather the kind of support it received in the Second Republic. Until recently, Musa was the chairman of the party. On August 31, 2018, Balarabe Musa announced his withdrawal from active politics due to health issues. But, he remains the Chairman of the Board of Trustees (BOT) of the party. Falalu Bello is the new chairman of the party.
Raymond Mordi is the deputy political editor for The Nations Newspaper.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.