By Ochereome Nnanna
THERE has been some excitement since the news broke that, after all, there might be a change of guards at the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). If this happens, it will further heighten the expectation that Acting President Goodluck Jonathan may have chosen to chart a course that is not business as usual. The INEC Board led by Professor Maurice Iwu was already looking forward to conducting the next general elections.
Vanguard Newspapers had on Monday, March 22, 2010 in its lead story, quoted a Presidency source as saying that six names had been short-listed for the INEC Chair. These were Professor Attahiru Jega, a former President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities; Dr Jibrin Ibrahim, an apparent dark horse; retired Major General Ishola Williams, the President of the Nigeria chapter of Transparency International; former Minister of Information and Communications, Professor Dora Akunyili; former Military Governor of Kaduna State, retired Col Abubakar Umar and former President of the Nigeria Bar Association, Mr Olisa Agbakoba.
All these are interesting names. Since we have less than three months to the time the next INEC Chair will assume office, it is safe to suppose that the Acting President will be making the appointment since it is unlikely that the electoral reforms would have been concluded. Therefore, it is absolutely essential to ensure that the next person to occupy that hot seat must be a person whose integrity is above suspicion. Such a person must be absolutely above partisan politics. Luckily, all the names listed are within this categorisation, even though some are more so than others.
Let me start by advocating that the next INEC Chair should not be of Igbo stock, neither should he/she come from the South-South. These two groups have exclusively produced all our electoral umpires till date since independence. We must do away with this quaint tradition of parcelling out some jobs exclusively to any part of the country, for whatever reasons. There is nothing that says only people of the South East and South-South must preside over our elections, just as nothing in our laws suggests that only Northerners and (when it is convenient) South Westerners must preside over the affairs of the nation. The next INEC Chair must, therefore, be a Yoruba or Northerner. I find it suspicious that these two sections of Nigeria that have swapped political power between them since the end of the civil war have never complained about not heading the Electoral Commission.
Apart from that, we donâ€™t want any partisan politician as INEC Chair anymore. Professor Akunyili, as competent as she is for the job, is a politician, a very ambitious and power-hungry one at that. Members of her Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have accused her of playing subterranean roles in ensuring that Professor Chukwuma Soludo, the partyâ€™s candidate in the last election in Anambra State, failed. It may not be true, but she has not debunked this allegation. If Akunyili is to be brought back to government, let her be given the challenging task of rebuilding our electric power infrastructure. She does exceptionally well in non-politically sensitive posts.
My number one nominee for the INEC Chair is Col. Umar. He is above politics and above suspicion. He is not a tribalist, regionalist or religious fundamentalist. He is a true patriot who can look anyone in the face and refuse to be used. This is the time in Nigeriaâ€™s history to bring the likes of Col. Umar back into the centre stage of our governance if we want to start moving forward.
My second nominee is Major General Ishola Williams. He is exactly the Yoruba copy of Abubakar Umar – totally above all primordial political mundanities. Unlike typical partisan candidates, I cannot imagine Umar or Williams descending so low as to work for the success or failure of any particular candidates. I am positive that even the appointing authorities will not be able to sway these two gentlemen.
Umar and Williams are strong enough to resign their appointment if the ruling party or president resorts to arm-twisting the Commission, possibly through the denial of adequate funding; or the many dirty tricks that former President Olusegun Obasanjo resorted to and Dr Abel Guobadia and Professor Iwu played along.
With Umar or Williams in the INEC saddle, Nigeria can afford to take her time and reform the electoral processes. Both of them have been exposed to the highest level of intrigues in the Nigerian political terrain even in the blood-soaked military era and came out spotless. But because they are clean and straight with the truth, the system has found a way to sideline them because the Olusegun Obasanjo type of Nigeria does not like genuine and strong materials in the system for fear that they will rock their post-civil war boat.
Otherwise, how on earth can a Col. Umar be alive, strong and active and Obasanjo will search the whole North and only a terminally sick Umaru Yarâ€™Adua will be found worthy to be given the affairs of Nigeria to govern? Conversely, how can people of proven integrity like Williams be there and only an Obasanjo, who was convicted for coup plotting, would be found by the North to be worthy of being given the presidency of Nigeria in preference to the murdered Chief Moshood Abiola?
Dr Goodluck Jonathan must continue to demonstrate that Nigeria is no longer interested in recycling proven deadwoods and political hypocrites just because it favours the interest of the equally discredited few who have ruined this country and are not tired of doing so.