Attahiru Jega, professor of Political Science and chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission, was given a big thump up when he conducted the 2011 general elections which were globally regarded as free and fair; but for the INEC boss to perform a similar feat in 2015 appears to running into problems as allegations continue are rife about plans to rig election to favour a particular candidate
| By Olu Ojewale | Feb. 23, 2015 @ 01:00 GMT |
THIS, perhaps, is not the best of times to be a chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC. If in doubt, ask Attahiru Jega, current chairman of the INEC, who has in the past few weeks, been in the news for wrong reasons. The inability of millions of Nigerians to get their permanent voter cards is being placed on his administrative lapses; he has been accused of working in tandem with members of the Northern Elders Forum, NEF, to manipulate the presidential general elections in favour of a candidate of Northern extraction, among others. He has also been asked to publish the cost of all the contracts he gave for the forthcoming elections with his critics peddle allegations of over pricing.
In addition, Jega is believed to have incurred the wrath of the military for saying the recent postponement of election was solely because the Nigerian security agencies said they could not guarantee safety of electoral officials and voters if the elections were to hold on February 14 and February 28, as earlier scheduled, rather than blaming it on INEC’s shoddy distribution of the permanent voters’ card, PVCs. Both the presidency and members of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, are also said to be uncomfortable with the INEC chairman, whom they seem to perceive to be working for the opposition.
Despite the postponement of elections by six weeks recently due to extenuating circumstances, the erudite professor of Political Science still has many headaches as his opponents are not relenting in their efforts to get him out of the way. Although he is due to leave his post on June 30, when his five-year tenure will end, Jega may be compelled by the provisions of civil service extant policy to proceed on his terminal leave before the elections dates of March 28 and April 11. This has been a subject of controversy since the INEC chairman announced the change in elections dates.
One of the staunchest opponents of Jega is a group known as the Southern Nigerian Peoples Assembly, SNPA, which boasts of political heavyweights such as Edwin Clark, leader of Ijaw Nation; Chukwuemeka Ezeife, former governor of Anambra State; Femi Okurounmu, former chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee on National Dialogue and a member of Afenifere, a pan-Yoruba socio-political group; Walter Ofonagoro, former information minister, among others. The group said it had incontrovertible evidence that Jega was working in concert with the NEF to rig the presidential election in favour of General Muhammadu Buhari, candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC. The SPNA alleged that it was on the directive of Jega that about 100 percent distribution of the PVCs had been achieved in the North while only 50 percent had been achieved so far in the South at the time the group addressed a news conference on Thursday, February 5.
“We authoritatively gathered with unassailable and incontrovertible evidence that the INEC chairman, who was away in Lagos, for an official engagement, through one of his national commissioners that represented him, met with select leaders of the Northern Elders Forum, led by Professor Ango Abdullahi, on the 20th August, 2014, where strategies and modalities for enthroning a President of Northern extraction through vote rigging were discussed and agreed upon,” Okurounmu said.
According to the Afenifere leader, who was the chairman of the presidential committee on 2014 National Confab, “The meeting was sequel to an earlier meeting of Northern Elders Forum held on August 16, 2014, at Arewa House, Kaduna, under the chairmanship of Ambassador Yusuf Maitama Sule where it was resolved that all avenues must be explored towards enthroning a President of Northern extraction in the forthcoming 2015 elections.
“In addition, Jega reportedly directed the release of PVCs in their catchment states to Emirs, District Heads and top politicians and not necessarily to the voters themselves, a situation that culminated in some voters being in possession of two to three PVCs.” He went further: “Despite Jega’s public admission that the Commission has all funds it requires to conduct the 2015 elections, the group was aware that the Northern Elders Forum obtained and distributed 150 pieces of laptops to INEC for each of the Northern states.
“This accounted for nearly 100 per cent PVC collection rate, especially in the North West states, as compared with less than 50 per cent collection rate in the Southern states. This is the reason why Lagos State, with a sophisticated population of over 5.2 million, has not been distributed more than 2.5 million PVCs,”
The group also threatened to mobilise southerners to ensure elections were not held in that part of the country if the federal government should fail to act on its demand. Okurounmu repeated the opposition of the group to allow Jega to conduct the elections. He said the postponement was only an aspect of the demand of the SPNA, but the main reason the group advanced for the removal of the INEC chairman was still pending. He insisted that Jega could not deny that he had been hobnobbing with elders in the North to enthrone “a candidate of Northern extraction to become president because they believe that it is their turn to produce a president.”
Okurounmu, who was speaking at a radio programme on Monday, February 9, said Jega should resign to preserve and sustain the integrity of the commission. “We have presented all the evidences we have against him and they are now in the public domain. It is not for us to go to security operatives to ask for his arrest; that’s why we presented all the facts to the public. Jega has not denied or controverted any of our statements. If he has anything against what we have said he should go to court,” Okurounmu said.
But in his response, Jega said his conscience was clear, stressing that he would not resign. Kayode Idowu, spokesman of the INEC chairman, said Jega was not ready to trade words with any elder in the land, but he would not resign because there was no truth in the all allegations.
Also, Nick Daxang, deputy director, Publicity, INEC, on Tuesday in Abuja, dismissed all the allegations, saying that the card readers were being introduced to weed out rigging during the elections. There are somethings we have been hearing. Emirs collecting PVC. We heard it on AIT. It is something we hear in beer palour. There was no such thing in Gombe, Zamfara. Some officials did not comply with issuance of cards. Some officials in Kuje, Abuja, were issuing numbers and had agents which go around collecting money from people to get there cards. They were found out and disciplined. Daxang also said that it was not possible to hack INEC data base because it does not have only one but several data bases and and for that to happen all the staff in the data bases would have to be compromised. “That’s why INEC is confident that it has not been hacked because security features cannot be divulged as the FBI certified the database.” He said the idea of polling units were raised to decongest crowded ones with about 4000 voters so that voting does stretch into the night. But that voting centres within the polling units were created to avoid congestion. adding that no one created polling units through the backdoor. He also said that INEC had special registration for those with disabilities to be given special preferences of choosing someone who will help them to vote. According to him, “INEC recognise that elections are technological driven. in the case of PVC, we have to use software to remove multiple registration but that uptil now Oyibo has not come up with technology to detect under aged people. So we fall back on community leaders to vouch for the age of their wards.”
While the dust raised by the SPNA appeared to be petering out, the PDP raised fresh allegations aiming at discrediting the INEC chairman. Femi Fani-Kayode, director of media and publicity of the PDP Presidential Campaign Organisation, called a press conference on Wednesday, February 11 at which he alleged that Jega had meetings with some unnamed leaders of the APC in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to rig elections for Buhari. Fani-Kayode also alleged that the meeting was aimed at making sure that 23 million Nigerians who had yet to get the Permanent Voter Cards were denied the opportunity of receiving them. He alleged that the plot was to scheme out voters in states and areas where he said supporters of the ruling party were.
“Pieces of information at our disposal have shown that Jega has had meetings with the APC stalwarts in Dubai and other cities in the world to perfect this wanton conspiracy against 23 million eligible voters. Besides, we have information that the PVCs that Nigerians are scrambling for are not in Nigeria and will not arrive before the elections.
“These PVCs are still in China and Jega has strategically delayed their arrival to suit his electioneering permutations,” the former aviation minister alleged. He promised to provide evidence at appropriate time.
Reacting to the allegation, the commission said it was not in its character to join issues with political parties. When contacted, Idowu refused to comment saying instead: “INEC doesn’t join issues with political parties, because the commission is a dispassionate umpire.”
However, Lai Mohammed, national publicity secretary of the APC, dismissed the PDP allegation as utter nonsense and irritable. “No leader of the APC is outside the country. So, tell me who is Jega meeting? Is it members of our NEC? Not one of our leaders is outside the country. This people are paranoid. We are preparing for our NEC meeting. We have some of our governors here. The PDP is paranoid,” Mohammed said.
That notwithstanding, it appears that members of the PDP are not the only ones after Jega. The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, Corruption Watch UK and the African Network for Environment and Economic Justice, ANEEJ, will want the INEC boss to make public the contracts awarded by the commission in respect of the general elections.
In an open letter dated February 6, sent to Jega, the groups expressed “Concerns at suggestions that the INEC may have overpaid considerably for the ballot papers. Information passed to us suggests that INEC may have paid as much as four times more for the ballot papers than they cost to produce. If true, this raises serious issues of transparency and accountability in the procurement process by the INEC, and will amount to a fundamental breach of the UN Convention Against Corruption, to which Nigeria is a state party.”
The groups argued further that, “Transparent, competitive and efficient procurement systems are part of the broad measures needed to curb corruption in the electoral process, and to achieve a fair political process and ultimately, the rule of law.”
According to the groups, “there must be full transparency over the contracts to print the ballot papers for the general elections, including the number of ballot papers ordered, the cost of the ballot papers, the companies selected to complete the contracts and the systems put in place to guarantee the security of the printing and delivery process.”
“We believe that if full transparency is not followed with regard to the ballot paper contracts, it is capable of tarnishing the legitimacy of the electoral process itself. Transparency is also necessary to enhance the credibility of the INEC and citizens’ trust and full participation and engagement with the electoral process,” the groups also stated.
The groups’ letter was signed by Adetokunbo Mumuni, Executive Director, SERAP; Andrew Feinstein, director, Corruption Watch and David Ugolor, executive director, ANEEJ.
While the INEC was still chewing over that, Titiloye Charles, a lawyer and member of the APC, dragged Jega and the INEC to court over the postponement of the nation’s general elections. The human rights activist, who filed a lawsuit at the federal high court, Akure, capital of Ondo State, urged the court to declare the postponement of the general election, which were originally scheduled for February, have been moved to March 28 and April 11, as null, void and unconstitutional.
Similarly, Charles asked the court to declare that Jega compromised the INEC’s independence and neutrality by acting and relying on a letter from Sambo Dasuki, national security advisor and a political appointee of President Jonathan and presidential candidate of the PDP. He alleges that Dasuki, a retired colonel, had masterminded the postponement of the elections.
Charles said he would want the federal high court to interpret section 26 (1) of the Electoral Act and declare that the INEC can only postpone election in areas where it is impossible to hold election based on a security situation that is cogent and verifiable. He claimed that Jega and the commission wrongfully interpreted and relied on the section to postpone elections throughout Nigeria when only 14 local governments in the three states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa were affected by the alleged unfavourable security situation.
That notwithstanding, the rumours mills have continued to spin out different reasons why the Presidency may want to relieve Jega of his duty even before his tenure ends on June 30. One of such was that the INEC boss would have to go on three months leave prior to his disengagement from service and thereby pave the way for his successor to take over. Proponents of this argument would like to remind everyone that Maurice Iwu, former chairman of the INEC, was removed in a similar fashion. Iwu, who took over the reign as chairman of INEC in 2005, conducted the controversial 2007 general elections, which even the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua admitted to be fraught with irregularities. In the end, Jega’s predecessor in office, whose tenure was due to expire on June 13, 2010, was relieved of his appointment on April 28, 2010, by President Jonathan, who ordered Iwu to proceed on terminal leave.
But Idowu in an interview insisted that Jega was not guided by civil service rules that stipulates three months terminal leave. The provisions of Public Service Rules 100238 states that officers are required to give three months notice of their retirement from service terminating on the effective date of their retirement. The same rule was used to send Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the then governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, on three months terminal leave in February ahead of end of his term in June last year. This means Jega might be forced to proceed on terminal leave before the elections.
But Idowu said: “Jega is busy preparing for the elections and you are asking about terminal leave. Does anyone planning to conduct elections go on terminal leave? There is nothing like that.” Idowu also dismissed the notion that the INEC boss might resign. “No, that (resignation) is not true, he has not resigned. He didn’t resign. It is a mere rumour.” But whether he could be pressured into resigning his appointment is another thing.
Unlike Iwu, Jega’s sins included allegation that he transferred some officials of the commission considered close to the PDP and the Presidency out of their departments where their input might not be useful in the conduct of the elections.
Besides, they were of the view that INEC boss deliberately shifted the blame for the postponement of the elections to security agencies with the connivance of the Presidency, thereby affecting the Jonathan administration negatively.
“The way Jega spoke at the press briefing where he announced the postponement of the polls, was meant to implicate the PDP and the Presidency. This was why everybody, including foreign governments, has been blaming the leadership of the country for the postponement of the elections.
“The summary of Jega’s presentation was that the INEC was ready but that the security agencies, whose headships are appointees of the president, frustrated the commission’s desire to hold the elections on February 14 and 28,” a source close to the presidency was quoted as saying. The source vowed that Jega would not be allowed to conduct the elections by the time the dossier being compiled against him was completed.
With the way events have been unfolding especially as regards Jega conducting the 2015 general elections, Onyekachi Ubani, a lawyer and former chairman, Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Ikeja branch, Lagos, said it would be a miracle for Jega to last until March 28 when presidential and National Assembly elections would hold. “Only God knows what other things they are going to charge him for. But I think his opponents are all out to ensure that he does not conduct the elections. There are procedures for removing officials from their posts. I am sure if there is enough evidence to get him out of the way his traducers will not hesitate to use it. But I think it will be a miracle for Jega to conduct these elections because his opponents are not relenting,” Ubani Said.
Ayo Afolabi, spokesman of the APC in the South West, said it was unfortunate that some people in government believe in impunity, which has been playing out in order to remove Jega. Afolabi warned that constitutional provisions must be followed if Jega should be removed otherwise there would be crisis. He argued: “If Jega is conniving, does that translate into votes? When President Jonathan had the support of the entire South-West, South-East and South-South and won election in 2011, Jega was not a Northerner then. We should be careful about the statements we make when things are not going in our favour. What is happening now is just a mere excuse by the PDP who had thought that it would be in power forever.
“If President Jonathan wants to remove Jega, he should make sure that he uses constitutional means if he does not want to scatter this country,” Afolabi admonished.
Some political parties under the aegis of the Coalition of Progressive Political Parties, have also vowed to frustrate any attempt to stop Jega from conducting the elections. Addressing a press conference in Abuja, on Monday, February 9, Bashir Ibrahim, chairman of the Peoples Democratic Movement, who spoke on behalf of the group, said that although the INEC chairman played into the hands of the PDP by rescheduling the election dates, “we are going to resist the move to remove him from office. The role of the election management board led by Jega in shifting the dates of the election may not be the best, but any move to remove him will be resisted.” He said if Jega was removed, it would clearly show that the shift was engineered by the ruling PDP for ulterior motives.
Whatever happens to Jega at the end of the day, it most unlikely that the former president of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, would still have his integrity intact by the time he leaves office. Perhaps, he did not read the history of those who have ever held the post election umpires in this country. If he did, he would probably have known that most of them left office having been made to look very bad. (See box) That notwithstanding, posterity is most likely to determine how the former vice chancellor of the University of Maiduguri, Borno State, is rated.
Past Heads of Nigerian Electoral Commission
Eyo Esua (1960-1966)
Eyo Ita Esua, the first indigenous electoral body in the country, organised the first post-independence federal and regional elections of 1964 and 1965. But the December 1964 election was marred by controversy and confusion which led to a military coup in 1966. The commission was dissolved thereafter.
Michael Ani (1976-1979)
Michael Ani was appointed chairman of the chairman of the Federal Electoral Commission, FEDECO, in 1976 by the General Olusegun Obasanjo regime. The commission conducted the election which ushered in the Second Republic government of President Shehu Shagari, on October 1, 1979. However, the late Obafemi Awolowo and his defunct Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN, rejected the outcome of the election and challenged Shagari’s election in court but lost.
Victor Ovie-Whiskey (1983)
Justice Victor Ovie-Whiskey from Delta State, was appointed by the Shehu Shagari administration in 1983 as chairman of the FEDECO. He was seen as upright and non-partisan. At the time of his appointment, he was the Chief Judge of the old Bendel State. The general elections of 1983 which he conducted were, however, marred by widespread irregularities. Under him, electoral officials were accused of rigging in favour of the then ruling National Party of Nigeria, NPN.
Eme Awa (1987-1989)
Eme Awa, a professor of Political Science from Abia State, served as chairman between 1987 and 1989. He resigned his appointment in 1989 over alleged disagreement with General Ibrahim Babangida, the then head of state, who appointed him.
Humphrey Nwosu (1989-1993)
Humphrey Nwosu, a professor of Political Science from Anambra State, took over from Awa, his former teacher, and served until 1993. He conducted the June 12, presidential election, seen as the freest and fairest election and presumed to have been won by the late Moshood Abiola. It was during Nwosu’s time that the novel voting system of Option A4 and Open Ballot System was introduced. Nwosu left office without fully announcing the result of the presidential election.
Okon Uya (1993-1994)
A professor history, Okon Uya was appointed by General Ibrahim Babangida to conduct a new presidential poll after the annulment of the June 12 election. The defunct National Republican Convention, NRC, and the Social Democratic Party, SDP, were asked to present new candidates for the new presidential poll, but the crisis that followed the annulment did not allow Uya to conduct the election.
Sumner Dagogo-Jack (1994-1998)
The late General Sani Abacha appointed Sumner Dagogo-Jack from Rivers State as the chairman of the National Electoral Commission of Nigeria, NECON. Between 1994 and 1998 he conducted elections for the local government councils and the National Assembly. The elected officers were, however, never inaugurated before the sudden death of Abacha in 1998.
Ephraim Akpata (1998-2000)
Justice Ephraim Akpata from Edo State was appointed by General Abdulsalami Abubakar administration in 1998. In 1999 he registered new political parties and conducted the election that ushered in the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999. Akpata died in office in 2000.
Abel Guobadia (2000-2005)
After Akpata died in January 2000, President Obasanjo appointed Abel Guobadia from Edo State as the chairman of the commission. He conducted the election in which Obasanjo secured a second term in office in 2003. The election was also widely condemned by the opposition. In June 2005, Guobadia’s tenure expired and he left.
Maurice Iwu (2005-2010)
Maurice Iwu, a professor of Pharmacognosy, from Imo State, who succeeded Guobadia in 2005, was, perhaps, the most controversial of all the nation’s umpires. He conducted the 2007 general election characterised by wide spread irregularities.
Even the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua admitted that the election that made him president in 2007 was flawed. He later conducted the governorship election in Anambra State in February, which was widely regarded as free and fair except for administrative hitches. But Iwu had already lost goodwill and his appointment was not renewed.