By Olumide Bajulaiye
When Professor Attiru Jega was appointed Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission in June 2010 nobody including the cynical Nigeria press could fault President Goodluck Jonathan’s decision, not with what the nation had gone through in the hand of his predecessor. But this ‘radical’ man, according to Daily Trust edition of June 10, 2010 has an uphill task ahead of him come February 14, 2015: the task of conducting a free and fair election in Nigeria, a country where every politician allegedly plans to rig election by all means.
The 2011 general election, according to observers, was one of the most challenging in the history of Nigeria’s elections. Politicians poisoned and heated the polity; the ruling Peoples Democratic Party was ridden with internal crisis after the death of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and so there was power tussle between President Jonathan, some cabal within the party and some powerful northern politician who claimed it was the turn of the North to hold power because, according to them, Yar’Adua was in his first term when he died.
Many powerful politicians from the North within the PDP stood their ground that Jonathan should not contest the 2011 presidential election. There were venomous campaigns in the PDP, with a large number of Northern PDP members getting agitated and feeling cheated. Based on this, a majority of the Northern politicians mostly Muslims shifted their support to the former Head of State, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, of the then Congress for Progressives Change. There were numerous threatening text messages on social media to the effect that if General Muhammadu Buhari lost the election, the North would mobilize the youth to unleash mayhem.
INEC Chairman Jega himself confirmed that he received several threat text messages that INEC officers would be attacked if Buhari lost. That was the political atmospheric condition until April 2011. But contrary to the expectation in some quarters, the federal and state legislative elections were adjudged as one of the best in the history of elections in Nigeria by both international and local observers, including the media. INEC Chairman Jega received praises from home and abroad and across various political parties. The Northern youths in particular were bent on unleashing terror on INEC officials who might attempt to rig. Some INEC staff are afraid of been posted to some parts of the North. The presidential election witnessed series of problems.
The first problem was in Katsina State where a policeman accidentally shot a young man when voting was in progress. Also, though it had nothing to do with election, but an angry mob descended on churches in the state and vandalized all they could get inside those churches. The anger in the North was obvious as a result of PDP internal crisis over zoning that left the zone feeling cheated from producing the president who was expected to continue the remainder of Yar’Adua’s eight-year tenure. Politicians from PDP and opposition exploited the miasma of anger, hate and fright in the air to unleash mayhem. Like a volcanic eruption the whole North soon exploded as President Jonathan was announced winner. INEC workers became target of mob lynching and NYSC members became victims of these angry mobs. Many corps members were viciously killed.
INEC Chairman No Longer Green
If INEC Chairman was green in 2010 and 2011, it is expected that by now he had, had the time to study and mastered the complex nature of the nation’s political terrain. The Anambra gubernatorial election of November 16, 2013 came and it was marred with irregularities of which Jega himself attested to. November 30th was them fixed for supplementary election in some areas where the first election could not hold. Both PDP and APC candidates, Mr. Nwoye and Chris Ngige respectively, alleged rigging and called for cancellation. But notwithstanding the allegation of irregularities, the APGA candidate Willy Obianor was pronounced the winner. Then came the Ekiti election of June 21, 2014. Things went on smoothly. The election was won by PDP candidate Mr. Ayodele Fayose who defeated the incumbent governor Dr. Kayode Fayemi. In August same year, gubernatorial election in Osun State was conducted and it went smoothly. In the end, Governor Rauf Aregbesola of APC was returned to office.
3 Weeks to Election
Now, barely three weeks to this year’s election, the atmosphere is tense; politicians are throwing scud missiles of words to each other. As the February 14 presidential election draws nearer, Attahiru Jega is dealing with shrewd, desparate and sinister politicians who are already allegedly plotting all kinds of strategies for the election. He will be working with some corrupt and compromisable INEC officials who may be ready to do anything. And here lies the real challenge before the INEC Chairman. He needs to be able to shift the chaft from the grains and quickly do away with corrupt elements in INEC.
The other challenges are about funds and security particularly in the troubled areas of the North-east. Will the INEC chairman gets the required fund he needs for the election? Many sources in government and at INEC say the commission is yet to get the money it needs for the poll. And with the dwindling revenues of the government, how would be able to provide adequately for INEC? On security, the INEC chairman had already raised the alarm that there may not be election in the three states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states in the North-east badly ravaged by the Boko Haram insurgents.
The authorities in three states and the opposition there are, however, saying the election should hold there. The military is still battling the insurgents who are still killing, destroying and maiming. But will the federal forces be able to up their game, keep the insurgents at bay and provide the peace needed for the election to hold in the three states?