Friday, August 5, 2016

Why Nigerians Won’t Trust INEC

By Dan Onwukwe
When President Muhammadu Buhari, on October 21, 2015, appointed Prof. Mahmood Yakubu as Chairman of the Independent   National Electoral Commission (INEC), to succeed the then acting chairman Amina Zakari, the general consensus was that the President made a right choice. The appointment came few months after Prof. Attahiru Jega’s somewhat successful tenure had ended with the 2015 general elections.
No doubt, the position of chairman of INEC is a big and sensitive job that attracts preeminent national and international attention. Such an appointment also tests the president’s commitment to credible, free, fair and transparent polls. Therefore, the chair of INEC is not for the faint-hearted. It requires a man or woman with an eye always on the ball, someone with uncommon courage, somebody with sincerity of purpose. That person must not be pushed around or be dictated to by external influences. In other words, he must have independent of mind. It goes beyond competence.
It’s all about trust. Trust is a priceless virtue. Trust entails being impartial, fair to all, someone who cannot buckle under pressure. Someone who is reliable always. That person must not abandon his duties to pursue narrow interest, in disregard to, and unconnected to the mandate of his engagement.
From the beginning, public perception of the electoral body is terrible, to say the least. It is equivalent to trying to mend a broken egg. It is like battling the demons that hold democracy and credible elections down. Therefore, the questions that many have asked in regard to Prof. Yakubu’s appointment are: Does this man fit the bill of the virtues listed above? Does he have the independent of mind, that leadership ability to be his own man, undictated to, no matter the pressures? Can we count on him on crucial moments?
Leadership must complement conviction to make things work. That has always been the problem of INEC and the man that heads it. On the surface of it, and if academic qualifications are yardsticks to measure competence, no doubt, Prof. Yakubu is in fine fettle. Take a look at his resume`. He made a first class, and to his record, he is up to date, according to Wikipedia, the only Nigerian from the North to make a first class degree certificate in history. To cap it all, in 1999, he graduated from University of Oxford with doctorate in Philosophy, specialising in Nigerian history. In addition, he was a three-time recipient  of the Overseas Research Scholarship and also won the commonwealth scholarship from the Association of Commonwealth Universities.
Until his appointment, he was Executive Secretary of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND). Sadly, research has shown that sometimes those with glittering academic qualifications falter on big assignments. Succeeding at INEC is not like a star player arriving at a new football club in a prime, physical and psychological condition.
What matters is now. The past is an epilogue. From what we have seen so far in the conduct of elections under the leadership of Yakubu and the raft of inconclusive elections in many parts of the country, many Nigerians are in a frenetic state whether INEC will be able to deliver a credible, fair, free and undisputed outcome in forthcoming elections, even when the commission has not acquitted itself in many reruns polls in recent times. The alleged bias of the electoral body is also raising eyebrows. Does Yakubu posses the chutzpah to deliver on big occasions?
I worry if he has the boldness, assertiveness, the will power to demand what is due, what is required to be fair to all, that is due, what is required to be fair to all, that authority and independent of mind to allow a level playing ground for all political parties? The case of Rivers state, where reruns has ended “inconclusive” still rankles. Last week’s suspension of the rerun elections in the state has added salt to a festering injury. This calls into serious question where our democracy stands under the leadership of Yakubu’s at INEC.
Here are some of the worries: After Governor Nyesome Wike had alleged that Yakubu met “secretly” with some chieftains of All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state ahead of the cancelled rerun scheduled for July 30, which the governor said was inimical to credible legislative election, INEC initially stonewalled on the allegation, only to admit days later that the meeting with Mr. Davies Ikanya, state chairman of APC and Senator Magnus Abe, did indeed hold. INEC deputy Director, Voter Education and Publicity, Mr. Nick Dazang admitted the meeting was “routine”. Nick was quoted by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) that Yakubu met with three National commissioners, and two directors with a delegation of the APC, led by its Deputy National Chairman.
He claimed that the meetings was at the request of the leadership of  APC in Rivers state. By this acknowledgement, Yakubu perhaps unware of what he has done, has proved Wike right, and has fueled the suspicion of bias. Why didn’t Yakubu hold same “routine” meeting with officials of PDP in the state? There is no way INEC will absolve itself of blame, no matter how hard it tries, for holding a meeting with an interested party in the election few days before the rerun. That is why concerned Nigerians may be justified for saying that they don’t trust INEC to deliver a free, fair and transparent elections, not only in Rivers, but elsewhere, especially in those states where APC is not in control.
Only last week, members of registered political parties in Rivers under the aegis of Rivers state Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC) at a press briefing in Port Harcourt expressed deep disappointment over the suspension of the rerun elections in the state. The council said INEC arbitrary postponed the rerun without consulting the other political parties except APC, adding that our democracy is on trial. It seems to me that Yakubu has not learnt anything, unlike his predecessor, Jega who learnt fast from his early failure and was able to correct some of his mistakes before last year’s general elections. No surprise he left INEC as a fulfilled man.
The current INEC chairman will do himself a world of good if he begins now to think of how history will judge him when he leaves the commission. That’s what every learned person in such a sensitive post ought to do. For now, Yakubu has left many people to wonder if the President did not make a mistake entrusting him with such a sensitive national assignment. It’s time for Yakubu to sit up. Our democracy will be the better for it.
*Onwukwe, former editor of Sunday Champion is a columnist with a Nigerian national newspaper (Email: dan_onwukwe@yahoo.com)

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