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Jega’s turn on the block

By Tony Momoh
One can only hope that Jega makes the difference,” someone who called me on June 8 to inform me of the choice of Jega for the office of Chairman of the INEC said. 

He had every reason for despair.  Everyone who has been INEC chairman since Nigeria became a republic had a name to his name before the elections he conducted reduced the name below the level of the name they had before they assumed office.   In 1964, we held the federal elections which the Action Group and the NCNC boycotted.

The man in charge of the electoral body was a highly respected teacher and trade unionist.  His name was Eyo Esua.  The build-up to the election was so questionable that two of the three major parties that had entered candidates for the election boycotted it.

The boycott was total in the East where a mini-federal election was held in 1965, but not in the West and Mid West.   Elections to the Western Regional House of Assembly were also held in 1965 and because of massive rigging, we had riots on our hands.  In January, 1966, the military came and did not leave until 1979.

Eyo Esua must have been wondering all his life where he had gone wrong.  But we knew that powers beyond him were in control of affairs. We have done nothing to address the danger those powers have posed.
In 1979 when the Obasanjo regime handed over power, there was a legal battle as to what constituted twelve two-thirds of 19 states.

The Constitution provided then, as it does now, that to be president you had to have a majority of the votes cast in the election and also have a third of the votes cast in two-thirds of the states of the federation.  Alhaji Shehu Shagari had the majority of votes cast but had a problem with the spread.  The question then arose as to what constituted two-thirds of 19 which was the number of states we had then.

The then Head of State, Gen Olusegun Obasanjo, his attorney-general Augustine Nnamani and the chairman of the electoral commission, Michael Ani, a non-committed, highly respected civil servant, decided that two-thirds of 19 was twelve two-thirds. The highest court in the land upheld that submission of Chief Akinjide who later became president Shehu Shagari’s Attorney-General and Minister of Justice.

The reference to Akinjide as legal mathematician remains with him until now.  But Ani had been destroyed by powers we knew were beyond his control.  We have done nothing to address the danger those powers have posed. President Shehu Shagari appointed the former Chief Judge of the Bendel State High Court, Justice Victor Ovie-Whisky to head the electoral commission.

His conduct of the 1983 federal elections led to the landslide victory of the National Party of Nigeria, and the boast by then Transport Minister Umaru Dikko that the next time around, the party would record a moon-slide victory.

The administration did not live long enough to witness such a cosmic wonder.  But Justice Ovie-Whisky was left with openly confessing that if he had seen the N6miilion which he had been accused of collecting as bribe from the ruling party, he would have collapsed.

That was when money was money, when N1 was worth about two dollars. But we knew the powers at work in the elections.  We have done nothing to address the danger those powers have posed.

We had no elections until General Ibrahim Babangida announced his return to civil rule programme and packaged the 1989 Constitution.  The head of  the electoral commission was Prof Eme Awa.  He had not done much to record his name on the list of those sent to die before he was removed.

He claimed he was being asked to do things the way he did not vibrate in, but the official statement was that he was dictatorial and did not carry his colleagues with him.

His former student at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Prof Humphrey Nwosu was appointed to replace him.  He prosecuted the return to civil rule programme and was the man at the helm when the election that was deemed to be the fairest and freest in Nigeria, that saw the emergence of Chief Moshood Abiola as the undeclared winner, was annulled.

People still wonder whether it should not be June 12, rather than May 29, should  be Nigeria’s Democracy Day to remember a day they say we killed democracy.  But people should not forget that the government said the election was annulled because of its fraudulent execution and inconclusive outcome.

But Prof Nwosu, though came out with a book in which he officially announced the results he would have been bold enough to declare even if he had had to do so on the run, is still being smeared with the dirt of the June 12 elections. But we knew the powers at work in the elections.

We have done nothing to address the danger those powers have posed. Then came Professor Okon Uya. His tenure lasted a few months. Abacha did not conduct any elections before he died, but he had packaged a programme which would have had him in power with Chief Sumner Dagogo-Jack as a willing instrument.   From 1999 elections, through 2003 to 2007, we have had three electoral commission chairmen – Ephraim Akpata, Abel Guaobadia and Maurice Iwu.

The outcome of the elections after 1999 have been records the world has declared unequalled in the annals of electoral manipulations.

Not only have we had electoral laws we did not use in conducting the elections, we have also, more than any other time in our history,  compromised  the judiciary as the last port of call in seeking justice.  And so, the latest arrival on the block is Prof Attahiru Jega.  His character is impeccable when it comes to principles easily reflected in his open record  of transparency,  integrity and  impartiality.

These lovely words – transparency, integrity, and impartiality — can be found flowing like a river on the home page of the  website of the Independent National Electoral Commission as pointers to what they will give us in driving and growing our democracy. But the outcome of their promises has been weeping and gnashing of teeth because of our do-or-die mantra in a bid to access power.

There is no doubt that as long as the powers that are involved in playing the Democracy Game in Nigeria are more powerful that the referees, we will never have free and fair elections.  Time will tell if Jega will make the difference. Time will tell.


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