Why I remained calm while Orubebe misbehaved — Ex-INEC Chair, Jega

Former INEC Chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega announcing results in the 2015 election.
Former INEC Chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega announcing results in the 2015 election.

The former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Attahiru Jega, said he remained calm while Godsday Orubebe, a former minister of Niger Delta, disrupted election because he as well as his colleagues were determined to conduct credible elections.

In an interview with Zero Tolerance, a quarterly magazine of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Mr. Jega said during the collation of results, it was evident to him that some people were bent on derailing the process by provoking him and his colleagues.

“So, we were determined to ensure that no matter the provocation we would ensure that the results were tabulated and announced,” he said.

The former electoral boss said all through the election period there were various allegations against him, but he was not bothered or afraid.

“No! Anybody who is afraid for his life will not do this kind of job. As you know, they say, “Death is a necessary end. It comes when it will come.”

“So, we did our best knowing that God wills, people can drop and die; but as long as we are alive, we will continue to do our best under all circumstances,” the former INEC boss said.

On March 31, during the collation of results of the presidential election at the International Conference, some officials of the Peoples Democratic Party, led by Mr. Orubebe, disrupted the exercise, accusing the former INEC boss of bias.

When it was obvious that the candidate of the PDP, former President Goodluck Jonathan, was losing, Mr. Orubebe dramatically seized the microphone for minutes insisting that Mr. Jega was bias against the PDP, hence, should suspend announcement of result.

He accused Mr. Jega of promptly attending to complaints from the then opposition party, the All Progressive Congress, while disregarding those from the PDP.

As Mr. Orubebe fumed and cursed, interrupting the collation of resultd, Mr. Jega maintained an unusual calm.

He patiently educated the then minister on the methods and processes of filling complaints.

In the interview with Zero Tolerance, Mr. Jega said INEC had transformed to a strong institution, “firmly rooted and can survive individuals; such that individuals can come and go but the organisation remains”.

He added, “I feel satisfied that a lot has happened in INEC and whoever comes will find it easier than we found it when we came, and will be able to continue to add value to what exists.

Read full interview below. We have Zero Tolerance’s approval to republish here.

We Are Probing Campaign Funding- Jega

The 2015 elections was yet another acid test for Professor Athahiru Jega as Nigerians looked up to him to deliver free and fair election. He did while also making history as the first umpire to organise two national polls. He reflects on the preparation and conduct of the 2015 elections in this encounter with ZT’s Aishah Gambari and Franklyn Ogunleye. Excerpts:

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ZT: Do you find it disturbing that corruption has crept into the electoral process?

Jega: I find worrisome the use of money in politics particularly in the electioneering process in Nigeria. Increasingly, use of money in politics seems to be enticing to voters because of what they receive rather than choosing those they believe can deliver.. I think the use of money in Nigerian politics is becoming such a worrisome phenomenon that a lot needs to be done in order to minimize it, because it is capable of undermining the integrity of the entire exercise.

ZT: Given the pervasiveness of corruption, what will be your advice to politicians regarding what needs to be done in tackling the problem?

Jega: Nigeria has achieved notoriety on the issue of corruption particularly in the public sector. It is important that we have a definite commitment or even a programme of action that will address this very challenge in our country. I think what we see is that virtually every political party and candidate now articulate a programme on how to deal with corruption but I think we need to move from programmes to actual action in terms of dealing with corruption. I think the anti-corruption agencies needs to be strengthened so that they can be more effective in dealing with the phenomenon of corruption.

I believe like so many other people that acts of corruption are committed with impunity. Until there are strong sanctions and mechanisms for detecting, apprehending and penalizing corrupt officials, we will continue to have this challenge.

ZT: Talking about punitive measures, China prescribes the death penalty for corruption. Would you advocate a similar model for Nigeria?

Jega: I think our court process or the legal process is generally very slow. As far as I am concerned, we should accelerate that process. We should not allow corruption cases to be handled by regular courts. We need to establish specialised courts that can handle corruption cases with dispatch.

What we require is speedy dispensation of justice rather than penalties such as death sentence.

ZT: INEC plays a crucial role in the emergence of the nation’s political leadership. Does your agency have mechanism for checking the background of political office seekers?

The electoral legal framework at this point does not allow INEC to screen candidates. In the past, the electoral commission together with security agencies were given the power to screen candidates but the 2010 Electoral Act (as amended) did not require INEC to screen candidates or to use security agencies to vet candidates.

As a matter of fact, the Electoral Act says that once parties nominate their candidates and send their names to INEC, INEC cannot reject them whatsoever and so we cannot vet or screen candidates.

ZT: It is frequently alleged that INEC officials collude with desperate politicians to undermine the electoral process. How true is this?

Jega: We make it clear to our staff that they stand the risk of losing their jobs and being prosecuted if they condone or partake in corrupt practices. And I am glad to say that we have drastically eliminated the phenomenon of corruption in the electoral process.

What we have done in INEC is to create measures that will make it difficult for anybody to be involved in corruption without being detected and when you are detected and apprehended, we obviously allow the law to take its course.

ZT: Slush fund in electoral campaign is a sore issue in Nigeria. Does INEC have the power to check the source of campaign funds?

Jega: The Electoral Act mandates the Independence National Electoral Commission to monitor finances of political parties and of candidates and there are limit imposed particularly on candidates, about what their campaign expenditures should not exceed.

When we conducted the 2011 elections, we did it within eight months of being appointed. We did not inherit any mechanism for monitoring campaign finance and we were then unable in the 2011 elections to monitor campaign finances of political parties and candidates. We ensured that parties published their audited accounts and we appointed auditors which are requirements of the law, to audit party finances and we had published this audited report but we were not able to closely monitor campaign expenditure.

Now, we have established a unit; Party Monitoring Department, specifically to handle campaign financing and we have got the support of many international partners to train them and we are working with some credible NGOs to partner with us in order to monitor, generate and gather information about campaign financing. So, God willing, the 2015 general elections will witness a greater and closer interrogation of the expenditures of political parties and candidates.

ZT: So far, have you had any cases of any political party exceeding their campaign finance limit?

Jega: In the interim, we are gathering information and at the appropriate time, we will come out and say that this is our finding. Slowly and steadily we are increasing our capacity to be able to deal with the issue of campaign financing and to deal with the use of money in politics or even to have the capacity to penalise those who break the law.

ZT: Congratulations on the successful conduct of the 2015 election. How did you pull off the feat that is being described as a watershed in Nigeria’s electoral history?

Jega: We thank God that the election has come and gone, and both local and international observers are saying it is the best election ever conducted in the country. I must say it was a collective effort. Our field officers, in particular-the young men and women of the NYSC and the Vice Chancellors who served as returning officers, did their best under very difficult circumstances. All Nigerians wanted a free, fair, credible and peaceful election; and we all worked hard for it and we thank god that it has come to pass.

ZT: Did you anticipate the outcome of the election, especially the presidential election?

Jega: Our business as an election body is to conduct elections freely, fairly with a level playing field for everybody. But nobody could predict what the electoral outcome will be until the votes are counted. From our point of view as an elections management body we did our best to ensure the elections are fair, peaceful, and conducted professionally.

ZT: Before the election, there were talks about plots to remove you from office while some politicians accused you of bias. How were you able to maintain focus in the face of those challenges?

Jega: I knew I was doing this job to the best of my ability without any bias, so accusations of bias did not really concern me. I tried to remain focussed and urged all those with whom I worked to remain focussed so that we were not distracted. I thank God that all those accusations and allegations did not distract us and we remained focussed and were able to do our best under very difficult circumstances.

ZT: Part of comments that were flying about then was that some political parties approached you to rig elections in their favour. Was there any truth in that?

Jega: No! You know in Nigeria we have a very vibrant rumour mill. Certainly no political party approached me to ask me to rig any elections for them. And I am not aware they approached any National Commissioner or Resident Electoral Commissioner. Indeed, there is no way any one of us could rig elections to favour any candidate. The Returning Officers are not even INEC Staff; these are Vice Chancellors for Governorship election, and for Senatorial election, we had professors. There is no way I as a Chairman or a National Commissioner or a Resident Electoral Commissioner can change results to favour any candidate.

ZT: The use of the card reader was one of the innovations that defined the election. Will you say the device has come to stay?

Jega: The card reader was a fantastic innovation that has added tremendous value to the integrity to our electoral process. There were challenges. Anytime you are introducing a new technology there are bound to be challenges, but I must say that the challenges we have seen were minimal. In fact, a lot of the challenges we believe were on account of the activities of those who did not want the card reader to be used in the first place. For example in places where on the first day of the presidential and senatorial elections people were saying the card reader had failed, we took the statistics and the failure rate was less than 0.25percent. So if you are doing something major and substantive like that and you had only less than half a percentage point as so called failure, that is insignificant.

We identified what some of those so called failures were and we addressed them before the governorship elections. You could see that nobody complained about the use of the card reader during the governorship elections.

There were areas where people didn’t want the card readers to be used, and worked very hard to ensure those card readers were not used. They now turned around and made it appear as if the card reader failed to work.

ZT: There were accusations that the supplier of the card reader was a supporter of a particular party…

Jega: (Laughs) those are allegations that remain unproven. In any case, the time we gave this contract for the production of the card readers was over 2 years ago, almost 3 years. So at that time the political permutations and configurations had not become established.

ZT: The process of collating the results, especially the presidential poll was the most agonizing for Nigerians especially when the “Orubebe” scene happened and a lot of people were tensed that probably the process was going to be truncated; but in the face of all that provocation, you were able to maintain your composure. Is that really who you are or you had prior knowledge that such a thing might happen and you prepared for it?

Jega: The fact of the matter is that all of us in INEC were determined to conduct free, fair, credible and peaceful elections and by the time we came to collation it became evident that we had done our best professionally. So, we were determined to ensure that no matter the provocation we would ensure that the results were tabulated and announced. There were all sorts of allegations and accusations, but they didn’t faze us because we knew we have not done anything to warrant such allegations and accusations

ZT: (cuts in) were you at any afraid for your life ?

Jega: No! Anybody who is afraid for his life will not do this kind of job. As you know, they say “death is a necessary end. It comes when it will come .” So we did our best knowing that if God wills, people can drop and die; but so long we are alive, we will continue to do our best under all circumstances.

ZT: What can anybody do to get you annoyed?

Jega: It takes a lot to get me annoyed, but when I’m angry people don’t like me; so that’s why I try not to be angry at all times. (Laughs)

ZT: What are your future plans for the INEC?

Jega: In the last four years or so we have done our best to build INEC as an institution, an institution that is firmly rooted and can survive individuals; such that individuals can come and go but the organisation remains. I feel satisfied that a lot has happened in INEC and whoever comes will find it easier than we found it when we came, and will be able to continue to add value to what exists.

ZT: Will you be persuaded to stay on as INEC boss after June 2015?

Jega: I have said this publicly that man proposes and God disposes. As far as I’m concerned, my proposition is to go back to my classroom which I have missed dearly. I thank God that I had this opportunity. We are the first Commission to hold two elections in this country, and we thank God that 2015 election is said to be better than that of 2011; and many people recognize 2011 as better than previous elections. So we have done our best for our country, let others come and do it.

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