THEWILL Editorial : INEC: A FAILED ELECTORAL BODY, WHY BUHARI MUST CLEAN IT UP NOW

SAN FRANCISCO, August 16, (THEWILL) – The 2015 general elections have come and gone and the man who supervised the elections as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega, has since completed his five-year tenure, having organised two major elections, namely the 2011 and 2015 general elections.

A new acting chairman has been appointed for the electoral body by President Muhammadu Buhari in the person of Mrs. Amina Zakari. But Nigerians are worried at the rot in INEC. They have waited so long and believe that President Buhari should give to INEC, the same treatment he gave to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) with the appointment of a seasoned and world class professional, Dr. Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu, before his change agenda could be taken seriously.

The furore generated by Mrs. Zakari’s appointment notwithstanding, it is becoming increasingly worrisome that INEC which Nigerians have seen in the last five years is without any iota of doubt a failed electoral body and many believe that now is the best time to clean up the body and inject fresh blood into the system.

In its present state and what Nigerians have seen so far, INEC is just like a school graduating corrupt students.

Prior to 2010, there had been a growing clamour from a section of the country for power to return from the South to the North regardless of political party. It was compounded by the past President, Goodluck Jonathan, who was not prepared for leadership and governance.

First, he appointed Prof. Jega as INEC chairman, a man without any election management pedigree. His only credential was his integrity being a ‘leftist’ and a forthright union leader in the university system. But running an electoral body requires more than that.

Jega was to later play out the Northern agenda script from registration of voters he conducted in 2010. A failed project by even the lowest standard. It was not better than the registration done by his predecessor. The register contained errors that were not rectified because it favoured the agenda to return power to the North. All the promises made to Nigerians to rectify the errors were not done properly. Experienced officers at the Commission could read the plan but didn’t want to pre-empt the ‘new’ INEC too early then.  He was given the freest hand to operate and the money given to INEC in five years was more than what was given to develop the power sector.

Over N350 billion was spent in conducting general elections, staggered rerun and bye-elections for five years.

Unfortunately, the Chairman and his team got confused and instead of concentrating on reforms and strategy that will improve the electoral system, they were busy sharing contracts with members of the National Assembly Committee on INEC, and among themselves. Their unpreparedness led to so many delays witnessed in 2011 and 2015 with the shifting and postponement of election dates.

Nigerians are being fooled again as if all is well. They have kept quiet because they demanded for a change and they got it. They can now see the products of this corrupt system at the National Assembly, state assemblies and government houses across the states of the federation. The same scenario is playing out at the election tribunals created because of corrupt INEC officials. Indeed, these are the fruits of INEC under Jega.

There is no doubting the fact that the electoral body under Jega was very corrupt and confused, the only saving grace was that the past president and his team were not ready for good governance. Whereas Nigerians wanted a change in leadership, they got it through a corrupt electoral system. Elections victories were for the highest bidders. While the Commission was busy sharing contracts at the headquarters, the RECs were negotiating their future with the state Governors just as the Administrative Secretaries and Electoral Officers at the state were mortgaging the processes at the constituencies.

For five years, elections became the easiest ways to make quick money. The Governors gave out irresistible and mouth-watering money to the Commissioners and staff in hard and local currencies to the extent that some INEC staff were used to negotiate with politicians. 
Despite all the praise-singing and self-adulation, the so-called innovation introduced by Jega was a disaster. The use of smart card readers for the 2015 elections didn’t achieve its purpose because multiple voting could not be blocked, no reported arrests of those holding cloned cards, those whose fingerprints could not be identified were taken care of by ‘incidence form.’ These show clearly that the errors in the register were accommodated instead of eliminated or minimised. Billions of naira went down the drain as they were wasted on a device, which did not add credibility to the process. Nigerians, once again, were all fooled.

Jega’s team could not also be said to be the best. Jega came from the university with a pedigree of being a political scientist, a unionist, he never had experience in managing an electoral system or conducting elections. He also had a limited knowledge of IT which drove most of the electoral processes. He made the biggest blunder when he appointed a Google vendor from Kenya as his IT consultant. The man, who saw in Jega a novice, deceived him, wasted UNDP/INEC salary and allegedly absconded with INEC’s fund running into millions of naira before the last elections.

Jega also saw his position as a way of settling his colleagues and rewarding them for their friendship and loyalty to him in the labour union struggle. He came with a team of Professors; one a sociologist and another a political scientist who have no election pedigree, and many others without any previous experience in organisation and management of elections. They ended up contributing little or nothing to INEC. The worst among them was Jega’s Chief of Staff, Dr. Magaji Mamoud Babura, who was his long time friend for over 30 years.

None of the now retired National Commissioners also had any experience in election management or worked as observer or monitor prior to their appointments.  One was a retired Colonel, Col Hamanga; Dr. Nuru Yakubu, a mining Engineer from Yobe state. Dr. Ihimoga came from the National Cultural Institute. He had also served as chairman of Plateau United football team.  Dr. Igbani Ishmael was re-appointed for a second time because he is from Rivers State and was close to the former President.

Another National Commissioner from Kwara state, Dr. Oniyangi, a medical doctor, joined at 75 years old. Ambassador Wali from Sokoto state was a lecturer at the Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto, while Ambassador Uwuruku was nominated by the former SSG, Anyim Pius Anyim

Professor Lai Olurode, is a Professor of Sociology from UNILAG. Mrs. Iremiren, a retired permanent secretary from Delta State was nominated by Chief Edwin Clark. Gladys Nwafor, a widow of former Deputy Governor of Abia state, was nominated by Patience Goodluck Jonathan, while the late Prof. Salawudeen was a Professor of Atomic Physics.

The current acting chairman, Mrs. Zakari, is a Pharmacist whose service is most needed in NAFDAC, SON, or Consumer Protection Agency rather than INEC.

Indeed, none of these personalities would have made the cut if merit and election management experience were used as criteria for constituting INEC. The result is what Nigerians are witnessing now as they all teamed up and ruined the electoral body collectively.

Nigerians also called on Western countries for help but there was no sincerity within the system and among those pretending to be helping us. It is now becoming clearer to Nigerians that many politicians really won their elections by colluding with INEC. Those who have worked with the UN to conduct elections are actually amazed at what happened in Nigeria in the past five years.

Sadly, Nigerians are really worried that this set of failed National Commissioners may find their way back into the Commission by way of reappointment.

THEWILL is therefore urging the President to know that if he is really honest and sincere in his war against corruption, he should look into this rotten system that has produced a string of poor leaders for our dear nation.

We are asking the President not to rush into appointing wrong people to run the Commission again. President Buhari must recall how the shoddy INEC failed him in previous elections. Unfortunately, nothing has really changed. But Nigerians want his change agenda to transform INEC.

We believe that the greatest error the President will make is to re-appoint any of these corrupt Commissioners and RECs back to INEC. ‎ He should shop for fresh but experienced Nigerians working with international organisations/ NGOs involved in elections management as they are all over the world.

THEWILL also calls on the President to effect electoral reforms based on Justice Mohammed Lawal Uwais report. INEC is saddled with too many things, it should be unbundled for efficiency and prudence.

We know for a fact that for five years, no staff of INEC has been sent on long or short-term training. The charlatans running the Commission destroyed human capacity that is supposed to be INEC’s greatest asset. The National Commissioners were the most travelled ever with their aides for election monitoring while core staff were excluded from these trips. It is sad that the lessons learned on those trips never rubbed off on INEC. Now they have all retired with the knowledge!

We are of the view that the best way forward for Buhari is to assemble Nigerians, the best hands from International Agencies such the UN, AU, ECOWAS, USAID, and other International Institutions directly involved in elections management and from INEC too, to run the agency; that is when the real change will take place.

*** Professor Jega was a teacher at Bayero University (BUK) in Kano before his appointment as INEC chairman and NOT the Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto as previously written.