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.