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The Emergence of Attahiru Jega….And how Buhkari Bello lost out

A reports of how radical university teacher and activist, Professor Attahiru Muhammadu Jega, finally emerged as national chairman designate of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC; and how Buhkari Bello, another feisty member of the human rights community lost out.

The stakes are now higher, on two fronts. First is because of the effusive praise being heaped on President Goodluck  Jonathan for his choice of Professor Attahiru Jega as national chairman designate for the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.  That points to the fact that Jonathan has made a right choice. Flowing from this is the unusual co-option of the NGO groups in Nigeria into the project.

And what is the project all about?  It is about the election of President Jonathan next year as a beneficiary of a free and fair, nay credible presidential election.

For a President, Commander-in-Chief, whom a top notch of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, declared that, only God can stop the momentum being gathered for him to seek the number one position, Jonathan is turning out to be a much smarter President than his demure demeanour signals. It all fits well. At a time when some political leaders from northern Nigeria see their presidential ambition slipping away from them in the wake of Jonathan’s ascendancy, the appointment of a radical and activist appears to have appeased the gods who want credible elections in Nigeria. Profoundly, however, this would be the first time that a northerner would be mounting the saddle at the election management body.

New INEC chairman, Prof Jega

In addition, this would also be the first time that the appointment of a chairman for the body would be greeted with an effusion of acceptability and eulogies.

Jega, Sunday Vanguard had been made to understand, was on the threshold of being announced as the nominee for the job but some other interests pushed Buhkari Bello forward.  Bello, a lawyer, had worked in INEC before moving to the National Human Rights Commission. Upon publication of Bello’s name as the possible successor to Professor Maurice Iwu, the out-going INEC boss, a fresh gale of pressure was brought to bear on the Presidency.

President Jonathan’s earlier confession that he had never met with the prospective INEC chairman to be announced further gave vent to the possible announcement that Bello would be the appointee.

But then, allegations and counter allegations filled the air regarding the activities of Bello while he was at INEC. Another version of Jega’s nomination suggests that Jonathan had actually preferred Jega to Bello; and he had his reasons.

First was the fact that the quantum of goodwill that was bound to emerge from the appointment of Jega as INEC chairman would know no bounds.  This is because Jega at a time in the struggle against military rule in Nigeria became a rallying point for progressives and activists.  That was when he headed the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, a body which made governance a hell for them military President, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida.

In addition to some of the points in favour of Jega, there was also the reality of acceptability across board. Jonathan, Sunday Vanguard was made to understand, wanted a choice that would be at once acceptable to politicians and the pro-democracy activists in the country.  Jega fitted that bill perfectly.

Jonathan, in furtherance of his pursuit of a paradigm shift in terms of expectations of Nigerians from the new INEC boss and the deliverables from same, further consulted widely before finally settling for Jega. As it has turned out, his choice has been variously described as excellent, impeccable and wise.

However, what may not readily register in the consciousness of Nigerians as they continue to pour effusion of praise on Jonathan for making the choice he has made is the possible outcome of the 2011 general elections. Jonathan, according to one of the leaders of the PDP, has only God Almighty standing in his way en route a presidential victory. That the President has appointed a northerner, in an array that also paraded Olisa Agbakoba, former National President of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, (from Anambra State); former Chief Justice of the Federation, Alpha Belgore, (from Kwara State); makes perfect sense as a precursor to a presidential ambition.

This is because any other appointee who does not enjoy the type of goodwill Jega enjoys would not come out unscathed in the event that the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP,  runs away with victory at the polls next year, it would be difficult to begin to accuse President Jonathan of appointing a stooge as INEC chairman. Jega has been described as a man of gumption, integrity and strong, very strong will and, therefore, is expected to eyeball any individual who attempts to mess with his job, including, of course, President Jonathan.  Even the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria makes it very clear that the removal of the INEC chairman is not in the hands of a President once his appointment has been confirmed by the senate of the Federal Republic.

The challenges ahead for Jega are enormous, complex and pack with them capacity to confound an otherwise intelligent and credible individual. For instance, how would Jega relate with his Resident Electoral Commissioners, RECs?

There is the rascality of RECs, who have become gods unto themselves.  This was evident during the Ekiti re-run election where the REC, Ayoka Adebayo, a septuagenarian almost wrecked the election. From one election to another also, particularly in the last ten years, nothing has changed in the attitudes and behaviours of politicians.

The average Nigerian politician in his quest for power has become more desperate, mindless and easily prone to subvert the electoral process. Jega would also have to contend with the possible irritating intimidation of INEC officials by the President and the political party in power, which had made many to insist that the appointment of the chairman of the election management body should be taken away from the executive and handed over to the judiciary.  The amended 1999 Constitution retains that power in the President.

Politicians also continue to induce election managers with huge funds which are sometimes irresistible. Then there are the institutional inadequacies and bureaucratic bottlenecks which inhibit smooth conduct of elections.

For the in-coming INEC chairman to succeed, he would need to tackle all these challenges and many more. The voters’ register has become a very troubling and troublesome document.  In fact, the mismanagement of elections start from the register as politicians are always quick to short-circuit the process, mop up the voters’ cards from unsuspecting and sometimes suspecting prospective voters.

But Jega, described as a man of steel, would need to pull all the stops and dig deep, very very deep, if he hopes and wants to succeed as Nigeria’s election umpire.

The Man Jega
He’s a professor of political science and, until his nomination, the Vice Chancellor, Bayero University, Kano.

He led the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, from 1988 to 1994; confronted the Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida regime because of some of its obnoxious laws.

He also led the union in pursuit of better working conditions for university teachers

Born in Jega, Kebbi State in 1957, he attended Jega Primary School and Government Secondary School, Birnin Kebbi.  He graduated from the Ahmadu Bello University in 1979 and went on to obtain his Masters of Science and PhD from Mid Western University, United States..  He joined the political science department of the Bayero University, Kano in 1985 and held many positions in the university before becoming its Vice Chancellor in 2005.  He was a delegate to the National Political Reform Conference in 2005; he was also a member of the Justice Muhammed Lawal Uwais Committee on Electoral ReformsJune 12, 2010


1. Mr E. E. Esua (Chairman) Federal Electoral Commission (FEC)            1964-1966.
2. Chief Micheal Ani, CFR (Chairman)  “        “        “       “                           1976-1979.
3. Justice Victor E. Ovie Whiskey  (Chairman) FEDECO                             1980-1983.
4. Prof Eme O. Awa (Chairman) National Electoral Commission (NEC)     1987-1989.
5. Prof Humphrey Nwosu (Chairman) “      “            “            “                       1989-1993.
6. Amb. (Prof) Okon Edet Uya (Chairman) “             “             “                     1993-1993.
7. Chief S. Dagogo-Jack (Chairman) Nat. Elec Com of Nigeria (NECON)  1994-1998.
8. Hon Justice Ephraim O. I. Akpata (Chairman) INEC                                 1998-2000.
9. Sir (Dr) Abel Obude Guobadia (Chairman) “           “           “                     2000-2005.
10. Prof Maurice M. Iwu (Chairman)  “         “             “           “                      2005- date.


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