“It was on this same sub-region that the world saw a genuinely free and fair election in Senegal…”
With its relentless perpetuation of unsavoury politics, the current People’s Democratic Party (PDP) government has, more than any other administration known to Nigerian history, continued to inject a lethal dose of cynicism into the people, so much so that there is an intense feeling of anger in this environment. This makes it impossible to ‘see hope,’ like former president Olusegun Obasanjo did at the peak of his swagger during his dreadful second coming. Battered and callously denied the fruits of a resource-filled country, Nigerians dwell in misery and see nothing in the horizon other than despair.
This general state of disillusionment has been compounded by the fact that the man most Nigerians expected to act as a calming influence; the one they looked up to as a kind of fitting relief to the unfolding horror provoked by the so-called largest party in Africa, has turned out an unspeakable disappointment. In his glory days, Attahiru Jega, professor of political science and chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, was a foremost symbol of well-articulated defiance issuing from the ivory tower. General Ibrahim Babangida and the lackeys who helped prop up his regime in those heady days are not likely to forget Jega, the fire-breathing president of Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, who led fellow lecturers to cause that regime much trouble.
He survived that junta, and as one who knows his way in the bow and scrape politics of Nigerian universities, he lingered long enough to become the vice chancellor of the federal government-owned Bayero University Kano, courtesy of a PDP government. That position effectively made him, just as other vice-chancellors, a political servant of the ruling party and automatically quenched the remaining fire of radicalism in his belly.
Even so, Jega as VC was still well-regarded by the public who keep referring to his five-star performance as a union leader who confronted the military and came out intact. President Goodluck Jonathan and his party were surely not oblivious of the man’s shining reputation and the tremendous respect he commanded among the populace.
So when government was forced, through persistent demands from within and outside, to push out the widely detested Maurice Iwu, another professor who headed the electoral body for more than five years and messed up every election to the advantage of PDP, Jonathan quickly looked in the direction of Jega and found in him an appropriate replacement – a man whose name sits well with the public but will, like Iwu, do the job for the ruling party.
Jega’s appointment as INEC chairman received spontaneous widespread approval cutting across class, ethnicity and religion. Even opposition parties commended Jonathan and flowed with sentiments which hailed Jega as a ‘man of integrity.’ With him, virtually every Nigerian was confident that henceforth, elections would not only be free and fair, they would also be credible.
How wrong they were! Those who anticipated a reprise of that principle of forthrightness in Jega’s new assignment were naive. They forgot where he was coming from; that as VC of a federal university he was already a political appointee, subject to the whims and caprices of those who appointed him.
Always having an eye for a willing tool, the PDP duly found the right person. And to the utter amazement of a gullible public who mistook him for the redeemer of Nigeria’s contaminated electoral process, Jega has steadily lived up to the ruling party’s expectation. The signs were always there in the run-up to the 2011 general elections. One of them was the outright rejection of the idea of electronic registration of voters mooted by the defunct Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, to clean up the first platform of vote rigging which political parties often adopt in any election. Jega said time was too short for that.
In the end, there was hardly anything to cheer in the 2011general elections. Only the courts in some cases offered a redeeming feature. The whole process was reminiscent of Iwu’s era. All those nasty features for which Jega’s predecessor was severely criticised remain in place in a more ingenious dimension. In the same brazen fashion, voters’ registers are still being manipulated; ballot boxes are still being snatched and stuffed with votes for a designated party, usually PDP; opposition party agents are still being intimidated, beaten and chased out of polling units; voting still goes on in secret places and figures are still randomly allocated in favour of the ruling party with the active connivance of INEC officials and security agents. Even for places where no single vote was cast! The overall picture has been one of shame, dejection and fury.
Not too long ago, it was on this same sub-region that the world saw a genuinely free and fair election in Senegal where the opposition candidate defeated a sitting president. This is a scenario the ruling party, in an ungodly alliance with a robotic INEC, has ensured will never happen in Nigeria. Jega has so far proved that not only does INEC have something to hide, but is also working hard to prolong the stay of PDP as ruling party. Recall that he dodged the invitation of then CPC to produce for forensic scrutiny at the Court of Appeal the ballot papers which he claimed earned PDP the presidency. That singular act effectively killed the case. And nothing indicates as yet that this will not happen again.
And here is the rub: As long as Nigerians continue to allow a sitting president to single-handedly appoint a chairman of INEC whom he would regularly summon like a school boy to his office, or who on his own keeps a habitual date in Aso rock villa to pay nauseating homage to his benefactor, opposition parties will never get justice from the electoral system. And with the level of desperation now exhibited by the PDP, all efforts by the opposition to reclaim victory through the courts will be decisively blocked henceforth. The story of Edo, Osun and Ekiti states has taught them a bitter lesson.
No matter the promises made by Jega or anybody, Nigerians will not witness free and fair elections in 2015. However, unlike Nasir El-Rufai, one would not speculate on what would happen afterwards. Interestingly, not even the INEC boss’ brain wave, which ensured only his professor-colleagues in the universities are returning officers in most of the elections, has lent any credibility to the voting process. Indeed when next another professor is introduced as chairman of INEC, Nigerians must not forget to allow some degree of distrust.
Somehow, there is an inclination to agree with an 18th century European king who said, “The cruellest way to punish a province is to have it governed by professors.” Richard Nixon, the 37th president of the United States seem to agree with this view in his book, Seize The Moment: America’s challenge in a one-superpower world, when he remarked that with notable exceptions, such as Woodrow Wilson, 28th president of the US, great professors rarely make good executives.
Virtually all the professors who head government offices in Nigeria today fall into the category of lousy performers Nixon talked about. They lack focus, dwell excessively on how to steal from the treasury, and are pathetically deficient in the resolute principles needed to lift a stagnated society that Nigeria has become.
He may be a great professor, but the plain truth is that Jega has not exhibited the basic dignifying features of a dispassionate intellectual, which includes the fairness and impartiality he promised Nigerians in his job as election arbitrator. And as he forges ahead, he will do well to pay attention to an extract from a perceptive speech by a US business executive, Charles Sanford Jr., which underscores the point that intellectual honesty is more than what’s legislated, it is inherent in the best people, those who take broader view of their action than simply ‘What’s in it for me?.’
*Godwin Onyeacholem is a journalist based in Abuja; can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org