“Prof. Jega understood the burden of his appointment, his fiduciary responsibilities and the enormity of his tasks, very early…Before the politicians could realise what they signed on to, a more credible voters register was in place and the card reader was already adopted.”
Nigeria’s democracy is still very young, our politics is still in transit. The presidential campaign and the 2015 elections showed we are still fighting to determine the fundamental contours of our political institutions. Nigeria has had an unpleasant history of rigged elections and has struggled for long with its electoral process. Voting is often fraught with irregularities, connivance and outright fraud. That was why the country had high hopes when President Goodluck Jonathan nominated Professor Attahiru Jega to succeed Professor Maurice Iwu as Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on June 8, 2010. Before then, Jega strode into national consciousness as the leftist President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), and a fierce opponent of the Babangida military government in the early 1990s.
Through the 2015 elections, Jega led his commission with integrity and profound commitment to democracy. By his own example, he showed Nigerian politicians’ their role in establishing and maintaining a healthy democracy. He saved Nigeria from political destabilisation and internal conflicts of different hues and several origins (economic interests, ethnic strife, religious upheavals) by defending and strengthening our democracy. Prof. Jega understood the burden of his appointment, his fiduciary responsibilities and the enormity of his tasks, very early. He maintained singularity of focus with determination and a clear and distinct goal of conducting free and fair elections with a motif of accuracy as a reflection of the voter’s wish. Before the politicians could realise what they signed on to, a more credible voters register was in place and the card reader was already adopted.
With the successful conduct of the Presidential elections and declaration of the results, Jega managed the truculent conflicts engineered by the dominant political, economic, religious and social sectors that has laid the nation waste and held it hostage for decades. He worked with his team under enormous pressure to strengthen democracy among politicians and citizens. Attahiru Jega burnished his credentials as a true patriot and defender of democracy, by keeping objectivity and a lucid spirit in planning and conducting the elections since he was appointed. He exhibited no sympathies nor criticisms towards politicians, he avoided conjectural options and maintained a laser guided focus on defending the values of democracy and pluralism and responsibly serving the public interest. This is actually his most valuable contribution to Nigerian history and for which he will be remembered.
Immediately he got down to the brass tacks, we knew Professor Jega was all we needed in our present age of crisis. Our democracy is characterised by the perilous subordination of the legislature and the judiciary by the executive. We are lucky we got in Jega an advocate for openness, accountability and scrutiny just when Nigeria needed him. He conducted a clinical election by previous standards, thus provoking a season of high drama and procedural precedence that pulled Nigeria away from the precipice after a lot of stonewalling and grandstanding. The Ekiti militarised vote, the failed Osun takeover and the Orubebe rant were windows to the herald of new times in a very confused context. Therefore, it is no mean feat for INEC to conduct an election in which the incumbent lost in Nigeria, given the all-powerful centre.
Jega is eminently qualified as our foremost defender of democracy given his aptitude for crisis management, his organisational and processing skills, his ability to create a formidable team and organisational mission for INEC, his decisiveness and calmness in the face of provocation.
From his ASUU days, Jega demonstrated his lack of pretense or concern about social position. His values were brewed in egalitarian neighborliness and neighborly sociability. During the Babangida years, he showed Nigerians from his office as the ASUU President that his satisfaction lies in beating the politically pompous, the economically dubious and the socially snooty at their own game. The 2015 elections proved it yet again! Jega is eminently qualified as our foremost defender of democracy given his aptitude for crisis management, his organisational and processing skills, his ability to create a formidable team and organisational mission for INEC, his decisiveness and calmness in the face of provocation. He dismantled Nigeria’s malevolent political machines with tact. By building and deploying administrative effectiveness he was able to hold his own in the political arena created by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)’s ingrained process of administration by conflict. He tackled them by deploying his talents as troubleshooter, expediter, negotiator in winning our democracy back for us.
As May 29 approaches, we must never forget the good guy who took the peace of the graveyard from us and gave us real peace and renewed hope. We must remember the good guy who made rigging difficult. He won for us and made our vote count. He did it and got it right because he is strong, passionate, brave, has moral integrity, pragmatic disposition and useful intuitive gifts. He did his job with calm and avoided provocation. He refused to be frustrated and intimidated to resign. He was simply resolute and determined to write his name in gold; and he has. History will record him in his role as INEC chairman, as a man who defended democracy and did his job with devotion, loyalty and appropriate measures of creative independence, political sophistication, and irreverent unconventionality. Above all, history will record him as a patriot. Thank you Prof. Attahiru Jega!
Bámidélé maintains a weekly column on Politics and Socioeconomic issues every Tuesday. She is a member of Premium Times Editorial Board. Twitter @olufunmilayo