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Jega Takes His Exit: His Achievement, Handover Drama and Mrs. Zakari, First Female INEC Ag. Chair

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It was the end of an era last Tuesday June 30, 2015 in Abuja. The Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Attahiru Jega, took his exit from the commission after a five-year tenure widely adjudged as successful. Six other National Commissioners whose tenures have also expired left the commission at the same time with him. There was drama of sort in the wake of Jega’s exit, however, as President Muhammadu Buhari stopped Ambassador Wali whom Jega handed over to and appointed a woman, Mrs. Bala Zakari, to superintend over INEC pending the appointment of a substantive chairman. IBIDAPO BALOGUN writes on Jega’s five years in the saddle and his manner of exit…

Professor Attahiru Jega was appointed Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission by former President Goodluck Jonathan on June 30, 2010. It was after former INEC Chairman, Prof. Maurice Iwu, who conducted the 2007 general election, had been sent on terminal leave. The 2007 poll had left a sour taste in the mouth. Even late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, who got into office on the basis of that election, admitted it was characterised by massive irregularities, and called for electoral reforms. He constituted the Justice Muhammadu Lawal Uwais Electoral Reform panel to look into the country’s electoral process and recommend reforms. Some of the reforms have been implemented to date, while others are still pending. But the manner of appointment of Prof. Jega as Chairman in itself was edifying. President Jonathan had before making the appointment hinted that the person he was going to appoint was a man of integrity whom he had never met before. It was Attahiru Jega, political scientist and former Vice Chancellor of Bayero University (BUK), Kano. That appointment was widely applauded as it was indicative of President Jonathan’s preparedness to ensure a free and fair election, which, he said, would be the legacy he wanted to bequeath on the nation.

The Jega Years… 

Appointed on June 30, 2010, his first major assignment was to conduct the 2011 poll. Prof. Jega had prepared elaborately for the assignment. He used the old voters’ register compiled under Prof. Iwu for the election. But the day the first leg of the election, the National Assembly poll was scheduled to begin in April 2011, he let the nation down as the electoral materials to be used for the election had not fully arrived from abroad where they were printed. He quickly announced a postponement of the election by one week. The postponement was being made even as accreditation for the same election had commenced in some polling station. Former President Jonathan was already in his Otuoke hometown heading for polling station when he heard of the postponement. Many were taken aback. Condemnation poured in for Jega as many were wondering whether he was equal to the task. But Jega and his commission soon redeemed their image. The 2011 general election was eventually conducted. It was adjudged credible, though there were noticeable irregularities. President Jonathan was elected by a wide margin in the presidential poll.

But if anything, it was the 2015 poll with all the innovations by Jega that actually singled out the former INEC chairman as the man who revolutionalised the nation’s electoral process. In between the 2011 and 2015 polls, Jega’s commission conducted the Anambra, Ekiti and Osun governorship election. By the time he did those elections, particularly the June 21, 2014 and August 9, 2014 Ekiti and Osun elections, he had sanitised the voter register and even used the Permanent Voters Card (PVC) for the elections in the two states. But his landmark innovation, the card readers were reserved for use during the 2015 poll. And that almost proved to be Jega’s albatross. The distribution of the PVCs across the country was a big problem. When the distribution commenced, not all PVCs had arrived. By the time of the first date of the election in February 2015, about 40 percent of the PVCs had not been distributed and about N30 million voters were feared likely to be disenfranchised if the election had proceeded as scheduled. There were hues and cries. President Jonathan’s government was uncomfortable with that. And so Jega’s INEC seeming failure to ensure full distribution of the PVCs provided grounds for the security chiefs to demand a postponement of the poll. The security chiefs presented INEC with a security report that they could not guarantee security in the North-east if the election was conducted as scheduled. That forced a postponement of the poll by six weeks. In the intervening period, opposition mounted against the use of card readers for the election from the PDP flank. The opposition All Progressives Congress on its part was insisting on the sanctity of the use of card readers for the poll. Card readers were used for the poll. It was a device that curbed rigging substantially, though reports of pockets of irregularities still persisted in respect of the 2015 poll.

The results showed that President Jonathan had taken a bashing. He was voted out an enter opposition candidate, General Muhammadu Buhari who had contested for the presidency three times previously. It was the first time a ruling party would be defeated by an opposition party in the country and it generally showed that the country’s electoral process was gradually getting matured. But an ugly incident had played out at the Collation and Announcement of Results Centre at the International Conference Centre, Abuja. President Jonathan’s agent and former Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Elder Godsday Orubebe, held the announcement process up for close to one hour accusing Jega of bias. He alleged that whereas Jega had collected and acted on APC’s petition in respect of the presidential election in Rivers, he had failed to receive the PDP’s petition over Kano returns. But a calm and cool Jega handled the situation well until normalcy was restored.

Meanwhile, about the time all that was playing out at the ICC, President Jonathan was calling his challenger, General Buhari, to concede defeat and to congratulate him on his victory even when final results of the poll were still being collated. It was a new day in Nigeria’s electoral process. President Jonathan saved the day and saved the country of a likely crisis in the event that he refused to accept the results. His action was widely applauded and many dubbed him a statesman. His acceptance of the results also helped to demonstrate that the 2015 election was adjudged as credible. That was a major victory for INEC’s Jega.

Accolades for Jega…

Recalling that historic election and assessing the performance of Jega as he bowed out last Tuesday, PDP National Publicity Secretary Olisa Metuh said: “He led us (PDP) to our first defeat. But to be honest, Jega, to an extent, brought confidence to the system. Nobody is perfect but we owe his success and achievements to Jonathan who allowed him to function without interference.”  To Senator Olorunnimbe Mamora who represented Lagos East Senatorial District from 2003 to 2011, Jega’s insistence on the use of PVCs and card readers ensured that the 2015 polls were free and fair. He described Jega as the best electoral umpire in the history of Nigeria. “He started well and ended well. I remember when he was nominated by Jonathan and he came for confirmation at the Senate in 2010. I advised him to let his light shine so that people would give glory to God. I also asked him how he would like to be remembered. Now that he is leaving, I think he has done very well. He will be remembered as the best INEC chairman ever,” Mamora said.

Jega gave himself and INEC thumbs up on the day he bowed out of the commission. He said he was leaving INEC gratified and thankful to Almighty Allah. He thanked the National Commissioners for their camaraderie, teamwork and support. He said: “May God Almighty continue to bless all of us and our future endeavours. I wish you the best.”There was a brief ceremony in his office, during which he handed over to one of the National Commissioners, Ambassador Mohammed Ahmad Wali. Ambassador Wali’s tenure as National Commissioner will expire on 11th August 2015. Jega had explained to the National Commissioners who attended the handing over ceremony that he had written a letter to the President reminding him that his tenure would expire on June 29, 2015 and that he had proposed to hand over to one of the National Commissioners whose tenure was yet to expire. He thanked Ambassador Wali for accepting to act as chairman of the commission in spite of the short notice he was served.

Tinge of Drama…

But there was a tinge of drama in the handing over saga. Shortly after Prof. Jega handed over to Ambassador Wali, President Buhari appointed another National Commissioner, Mrs. Amina Bala Zakari, to act pending the appointment of a substantive chairman. Her appointment was conveyed in a statement from the Office of Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Mr. Danladi Kifasi. Interestingly, Mrs. Zakari and six other commissioners were at the ceremony where Jega initially handed over to Wali. The commissioners were Dr. Ishmael Igbani, Engr. Dr. Nuru Yakubu, Dr. Abdulkadir Oniyangi, Dame Gladys Nne Nwafor, Barr. Thelma Iremiren, and Ambassador Lawrence Nwuruku.

But unlike Ambassador Wali appointed by Jega who has up till August 11 for his tenure to expire, Mrs. Zakari’s tenure expires at the end of July.

PDP Kicks over Zakari’s Appointment…Presidency Fires Back

But the opposition PDP faulted President Buhari’s appointment of Mrs Zakari as Acting Chair of INEC, alleging that she has strong affinity to the President, “hence may interfere with ongoing electoral litigations at the tribunal in favour of APC”. PDP Spokesman Metuh said Buhari appointed Mrs. Zakari with the intent of swinging decisions at the tribunals to the favour of APC.

Presidential Spokesman, Femi Adesina, however, in a statement, dismissed the allegation as empty and lacking any foundation. The Presidency’s statement read: “We have noted with regret, the latest tirade against President Muhammadu Buhari issued today by the PDP’s Spokesman, Mr Olisa Metuh.

“Other than boring reporters at his press conference with a rehash of baseless allegations of inaction against the President, Mr Metuh clearly had nothing new to say apart from his charge of nepotism and partisanship in the appointment of the Acting INEC Chairman, which also lacks any factual foundation.

“President Buhari certainly did not “overrule” Prof. Attahiru Jega in appointing Mrs Amina Zakari as the Acting INEC Chairman, as Mr Metuh alleged.

“Prof. Jega’s purported handing over to another Commissioner cannot be construed as an “appointment” because only the President has the constitutional authority, which he exercised to appoint Mrs Zakari as acting Chairman of INEC.

“Contrary to Mr Metuh’s allegations, President Buhari’s appointment of Mrs Zakari as Acting INEC Chariman was based entirely on merit, her vast experience in the internal operations of INEC and the President’s commitment to affirmative action in support of gender equality, because, apart from being fully qualified for the position, Mrs Zakari was the only woman among the six Commissioners considered.

“Due Process was certainly followed in Mrs Zakari’s appointment. Mr Metuh’s spurious claims of her appointment having been influenced by “personal relationship with the Presidency” and a Governor in the North-West “to pave the way for the APC” at election tribunals should be disregarded by the public.

“The allegations are nothing but falsehoods contrived by Mr Metuh to unjustly denigrate a President popularly elected by Nigerians to undo the damage done to the nation by years of PDP rule. His claim that the PDP has rejected Mrs Zakari’s appointment is also laughable after he had admitted that the right and power of the President to make such appointments cannot be questioned”.

Mrs. Zakari, First Female INEC Ag. Chair…

Amina Bala Zakari has created history as the first female INEC chairman in the country, a job believed to be the sole preserve of men. Mrs. Zakari, a pharmacist by profession, hails from Jigawa State. She completed her secondary education at the prestigious Queens College Yaba, Lagos. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science (B.Sc) Degree in Pharmacy with Second Class Upper (Best Graduating Student) in 1980 from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.

After completing the National Youth Service Corps, she worked as a professional pharmacist in various hospitals from 1983 to1996. She then moved into the consultancy field to serve in various capacities as a consultant in Health and Social Services from 1997 up till her appointment as National Commissioner, INEC.  She had also served as a Special Assistant to former President Olusegun Obasanjo and was posted to FCT where   she   served  as Secretary of Health and Human Services, Social Development, Agriculture and Rural Development from 2004 – 2007.

Her Consultancy services covered Federal MDAs (FMWH, NAFDAC, NPHCDA etc) MDGs and the Private Sector.

Mrs. Zakari is a registered Pharmacist and Member Pharmacist’s Society of Nigeria as well as Member of Nigeria Institute of Management (MNIM).

Other qualifications obtained by her included: Certificate in Managing Drugs Supply for Primary Health Care from MHS Amsterdam in 1997, Certificate in Project Management 1998, Certificate in Senior Management from Crown Agents London in 2005 Certificate in Executive Education in Business Management from Harvard Business School.

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