Around May 2010, President Goodluck Jonathan asked state governors to nominate candidates for vacant positions in the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The governors, irrespective of their party, were asked to send three names per state out of which the president was to pick one to be the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) representing their state. At the Council of State meeting of June 8, 2010 which followed the nominations, the president circulated the list of his choices to members of the council made up of governors, former presidents, ex-Chief Justices of Nigeria, among others. And all of them, including General Muhammadu Buhari, were present. Jonathan then briefed the council on the criteria he used in picking the INEC national and Resident Electoral Commissioners with the most important being non exposure to partisan politics. He then asked members to voice their opposition, if any, to any of the names. Was there any? Interestingly, Attahiru Jega’s name was on that list. He was not nominated by any governor. Then who did? Nobody asked the president because the appointee was clearly without affiliation to any political party or political actor.
I got to know so much about that meeting because I was fortunate to work as media manager for a governor who did not keep me in the dark at all about and on almost all critical decisions he took as governor. He had earlier showed me the list of his three nominees, picked from each of the three senatorial districts for the INEC slot: One was a lawyer who had been Attorney-General of that state before; another was a retired Major who had been a Special Adviser to the governor of the state on security while the third nominee was a former Rector of the state polytechnic. President Jonathan picked the former polytechnic rector because the man had never taken any political appointment before. It was the same with all other states considered. The process was explained to the council of state and my governor told me he and all his colleagues (from different political parties) were deeply satisfied. The goal was to safeguard the independence and credibility of INEC.
Edo State governor, Adams Oshiomhole, addressed the press at the end of that meeting alongside Babangida Aliyu of Niger State, Sule Lamido of Jigawa and Sullivan Chime of Enugu State. What Oshiomhole said on that meeting and the decisions reached there is worth repeating, especially now:
“The council considered the recommendation of Professor Attahiru Jega for appointment as chairman of INEC and the council unanimously approved of it. We believe the president demonstrated courage and statesmanship in appointing someone who is not known to have any partisan political affiliation and a Nigerian that has distinguished himself in his present and past callings.
“The council also commended the president for the quality of people nominated as national electoral commissioners, about 10 of them, as well as 18 other resident electoral commissioners.
“The good thing about it is that council was unanimous about these appointments because the people concerned were considered to be men and women of integrity. If you recognise the controversy over whether or not the president should appoint INEC chairman, the fact is that we all accept that the president has exercised his power quite judiciously in appointing someone that most Nigerians will respect and appreciate and it will be a major push on the electoral reform line.” That was what Oshiomhole said in 2010. I urge him and other men around Buhari to impress on him the need to not lower that bar raised by Jonathan in 2010.
The effect of the above was seen by all of us in the change we were able to bring about in the 2015 elections.
I have followed with very keen interest the very painful, hectic efforts being made by image minders of President Buhari to defend almost all his actions since he took over, particularly the appointments he has made (or has not made) so far. I saw presidential aide, Mallam Garba Shehu, on Channels Tevevision on Friday. He laboured so hard to explain why Mrs Amina Zakari and Alhaji Lawal Daura should retain their positions as bosses of INEC and the State Security Service (SSS). Critics of the appointments say Zakari has the president as an uncle and that Daura belongs to the APC and like Zakari, he is indeed, an in -law to President Buhari. An obviously overwhelmed Mallam Shehu would rather insist on the personal integrity of the two persons while dismissing their accusers’ bad politics. But does it work like that? It doesn’t. President Barack Obama was in Ghana in 2009 where he counseled Africa to concentrate on building strong institutions instead of relying on strong men/women. Whatever these appointees did or did not do in the past would not be worth anything once it is established that, indeed, they hold family meetings with the president, who is going to be either directly or indirectly a subject (or an object) of their official actions.
In any case, would President Buhari have had victory as his in the last election if his predecessor had picked an Otuoke person as the “independent” person to head INEC in 2010?
I believe the president can do better than he has done so far. I believe these distractions wouldn’t have been his lot if he had been more circumspect in discharging the functions of his office.
Do we remember at all that these two contentious appointments are in acting capacity? If we do, why would we still be hitting our heads against iron poles over appointments that would soon be overtaken by substantive ones? This is where the president’s pace comes in. Nigerians, especially the opposition, know that this is a president that is not in a hurry to do anything. They probably feel that ‘brief’ as an English word defining acting appointments could be made to share meanings with obstinate permanence. And so I tell Buhari that making substantive appointments, according to the dictates of the law, will remove all vestiges of accusation of bias, likelihood of bias and plain partisanship in matters that demand straight statesmanship.
I say the president should show better skills at navigating the creeks and contours of Nigeria while quickly building his team in all areas. I do not know if he considers himself a student writing an examination—which he must pass. Every exam taker knows he has time allotted him to prove his worth. The candidate cannot be heard saying he couldn’t answer the questions satisfactorily because he ran out of time. He has enough time for each of the questions but if he decides to exhaust all his hours on part of a question carrying the least mark, too bad for him. In the case of Buhari, he has four years to tell all of us that he is that person he said he was. Sadly, out of the 48 months in his four-year term, two months have been spent on only putting his fingers on the mark, getting set!
And so, I appeal to people who are Buhari’s men to tell him the country can’t wait and won’t wait. Worse, if you wait too long in a place, grass will start growing under your feet; and if your long wait is in the toilet, you would soon feel flies of debilitation laying eggs on your scrotum.
This opinion piece first appeared in Nigerian Tribune
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.