RACE FOR JEGA’S JOB:The 2019 calculations 

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As the National Chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega, finally bows out of the commission, Associate Editor, Sam Egburonu, Assistant Editor, Dare Odufowokan, and Sunday Oguntola report on the search for his successor, the factors that will determine the ultimate choice and the achievements of previous chief electoral officers.

As the National Chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Attahiru Jega, whose tenure has expired, prepares to retire from the commission on June 30, 2015; the world is eager to know who would step into his big shoes.

The Nation’s investigation shows that the high expectation over Jega’s successor is primarily anchored both on 2019 political calculations and on the need to ensure that the new chief electoral umpire in Nigeria will not just match the outgoing INEC boss’ commitment to electoral reforms but will have the capacity to exceed his achievements in that area.

Politics of the succession

One of the promises President Muhammadu Buhari has made repeatedly is a commitment to ensure that the electoral reforms carried out by the government of former President Goodluck Jonathan is not only sustained but improved upon.

Shortly after he was declared President-elect, Buhari made it a point of duty to reassure Nigerians wherever he goes that he will not betray their trust, as he assumes office on May 29 and that he will continue with the electoral reforms carried out by his predecessor for which, according to him, his election became possible.

For example, while receiving a delegation of supporters of the All Progressives Congress from Taraba State at his campaign headquarters in Abuja before his inauguration, Buhari promised to further reform the nation’s electoral process.

He told the delegation which was led by the party’s standard bearer in the last Taraba governorship election, Senator Aisha Alhassan, he will push for further electoral reforms to ensure that the vote of ordinary Nigerians count in future elections.

Explaining what made his election as president possible, Buhari said, “Thank God for technology-PVC and card reader. If not this luck we had with technology and the insistence of constituencies to make sure they were used, in two political zones where they were subverted, the people wanted to vote but they were not allowed to vote.

“They continued with what they used to do-go to their party offices or their seating rooms, write the results, go to radio house and television house and announce the result and say whoever does not want the result should go to court.”

This resolve gives insight into some of the remote factors that may influence Buhari’s choice for the new INEC boss. Some close associates told The Nation that Buhari is not ready to consider any candidate he is not sure will effect genuine electoral reforms as he has sworn that from now on, votes must count at all levels.

Explaining the president’s passion and commitment to ensure Jega’s successor will not falter on this issue, an associate said, “This is the major snag in the consideration of any insider in INEC to take Jega’s seat. Some powerful associates have told Buhari that an insider, an official of INEC, may be handicapped to continue with the electoral reforms. This is because corupt INEC officials are not comfortable with reforms that will encourage use of information technology to make rigging difficult.”

Another factor that may influence the choice of Jega’s successor is zoning. Besides agitation by some stakeholders that Jega’s successor cannot come from his zone, other interested parties are alleging that some geo-political zones have never produced INEC National Chairman. Reacting to that insinuation, Dr. Dada Moshood cautioned that “appointment of INEC boss must not be based on political balance. What we need is a man that will take INEC to higher ground, not all these ethnic nonsense. I think Buhari should just look for a trusted professional with impeccable credentials. He should look for a courageous Nigerian ready to make a mark.”

Constitutional lawyer, Festus Okoye, has also said that anyone who would succeed Professor Attahiru Jega as Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) should ensure that peoples vote count. According to the highly respected rights’ activist and pro-democracy crusader, the next INEC boss must be ready to work for Nigeria. He warns that no ethnic or religious jingoist should be considered for what he described as the most sensitive job in the land.

Okoye posits that the job of INEC chairman goes beyond academic and professional qualification. He insisted that the ability of the INEC boss to act independently irrespective of pressure and threats is a major criterion for the job. He added that the man for the job must be passionate and ready to ensure that he contributes his quota to the growth of the electoral system by not secretly working for any politician or political party to the detriment of the others.

He, however, refused to mention any successor for the position. Okoye said that his closeness to the electoral process would not allow him to suggest any name to succeed Jega. He said that Nigerians have realised that it is possible for their votes to count, adding that whoever must succeed Jega must also have the will power to make the peoples’ vote count. According to him, whoever would succeed Jega should be someone who is able to build on the foundation already built by Jega for transparent election.

Also, Mr. Shehu Wahab, an INEC Deputy Director, said all hands must be on deck for the nation to consolidate on the gains recorded in the last general elections. To do this, Wahab said, the next task before Nigerians was to insist on the appointment of credible Nigerians to succeed the outgoing INEC commissioners led by Jega.

“The composition of the membership of INEC is very critical to the success of election conduct in the country. As the tenure of Jega winds up, Nigerians must be interested in who takes over from him. We need to dig deep into those to be appointed as the new set of INEC commissioners too. “Civil Society Organisations have a major role to play and they must endeavour to beam their searchlights into those to be nominated because if you get it wrong in the composition of INEC, the whole electoral process is in danger,” he said.

Taking his and other Nigerian’s sentiments into consideration, one central factor that will certainly shape Buhari’s ultimate choice for the job is 2019. A source, a close associate of Buhari said, “Buhari is happy at the outcome of the 2015 elections, but he would want Nigeria to have better elections henceforth. As we all know the person of the INEC boss has a lot to do with the future of our democracy. So, the next INEC boss must be a Nigerian with the right character, courage and determination to make the difference. Those expecting ethnic balancing, intimidating academic record but without character and reputation are likely to be disappointed. I can assure you. Many of us will be shocked and believe me, the success of 2019 is the primary consideration.”

The possible candidates, the

permutations

If news filtering in from both the presidency and other sources are to be taken serious, then the likes of former President of Court of Appeal, Justice Ayo Salami and erstwhile President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Olisa Agbakoba, may be on the list of persons being considered as possible candidates to fill the position of the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission to be vacated by Prof. Attahiru Jega on June 28, 2015.

Reliable sources also quelled that though Jega is eligible for reappointment, the university don is unwilling to stay on the INEC job beyond June 2015. “Jega is keenly looking forward to exiting the electoral commission this month. He is not seeking another term and has even said he would reject such if offered to him. He feels strongly that he has contributed his quota and as such, should move on to something else,” a close associate, a lecturer at the Bayero University, Kano, told The Nation.

For Salami, the agitation to have him as the next INEC boss is coming from both the political and civil societies, while Agbakoba’s support base is largely amongst election monitoring groups within the civil society. However, the two are being considered on the strength of their pro-democratic credentials, The Nation gathered.

Within the progressive political class, across party divides, many stakeholders are of the opinion that Salami, given his rich judicial resume and pro-democratic antecedents, will be able to build on the achievements of Jega as the next INEC boss. Citing his brush with the last administration believed to be on account of his refusal to be compromised; his admirers are recommending the retired Court of Appeal President as the best man for the job after Jega.

But his critics are saying given his age, Salami may not be suitable for the pressing tasks of an INEC boss. Those in this school of thought say Agbakoba is preferable, pointing out that, like Salami, he possesses pro-democratic credentials and is younger and thus more fit for the tasking assignment. “Agbakoba is also very conversant with the workings of the electoral commission, having been part of the election monitoring process for decades in the country. This is a serious advantage for him,” a source said.

Aside Salami and Agbakoba, The Nation learnt there are some INEC commissioners who are also jostling or being considered for the job on the strength that it may do the commission some good if an insider is given the opportunity to carry on with Jega’s efforts. A source at INEC told The Nation that it has always been the wish of the outgoing INEC boss to have one of his current subordinates succeed him.

“He desires it so much and speaks about it often. I am also told that he already told the President that it will help INEC to look inward for his successor. I don’t know how true this is but I heard it from some of his aides,” our source said.

Consequently, about four national commissioners are said to be in line for Jega’s job. Sources said the national commissioners that might take over from Jega could come from a list made up of Dr. Mohammed Wali from Sokoto State, Mrs. Amina Zakari from Jigawa State, Colonel Mohammed Kurmi Hammanga (rtd.) from Adamawa State and Dr. Ishmael Igbani from Rivers State. The name of Chief Mike Igini, INEC’s Commissioner in Edo State, is also being mentioned as part of those who could succeed Jega should the President prefer an insider to continue where the former ASUU boss stopped.

Igini’s consideration, in spite of his not being a national commissioner, is on the strength of his activism and commitment to the conduct of free, fair and credible elections. “Igini is on the list by merit and widespread recommendation. Most of the people who are recommending him feel he is a suitable successor to Jega as a result of his activities so far as an INEC official. You will agree with me that Igini on more than one occasion has shown the ability to be independent minded when it comes to taking decisive action as an electoral umpire. That is why he is being considered in some quarters,” a source said.

Former Chief Whip of the Senate, Roland Owie, at the weekend advised President Muhammadu Buhari to appoint Igini as replacement for Jega, whose tenure ends at the end of the month.

Owie said: “Since Igini became a REC about five years ago, he has made the South-South proud due to his incorruptible stand, his genuine belief in free, fair and credible elections and his pursuit for the truth. As a man of character himself and one who believes in our electoral process, we should not waste the talent of this young man. He should be given a chance to head INEC so that Nigerians will benefit from his wealth of experience.”

Before the March presidential elections, there were reports that Prof. Femi Mimiko, brother of the Governor of Ondo State, Olusegun Mimiko, had been penciled for the position but investigations by our correspondents showed that the former Vice Chancellor of Adekunle Ajasin University, Ondo State may no longer be in contention.

Also, the loss of the presidency by the PDP may have put paid to Mimiko’s chances of becoming Jega’s successor, given the insinuations in some quarters that his only claim to the job is the expectation that former President Goodluck Jonathan, in his search for a moderate loyalist to replace Jega, whom he was rumored to be keen on sacking back then, would hand over the headship of the electoral commission to the university don, as compensation for Governor Mimiko’s support for his re-election bid.

Culled from The Nation

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