Attahiru Jega, the man who conducted the 2015 general election in which an incumbent President was ousted, must be feeling like a super star. He must be thumping his chest for a job well done. He probably feels that he has recorded a milestone, something remarkable in Nigeria’s electoral history.
That explains his recent magisterial disposition. He struts about like a village headmaster, believing, as it were, that he is the best man around.
The Jega story, if truth must be told, is hardly palatable. But his sins were buried under the rubble of intrigues that attended the power play of the time. He was a frontline member of the band of conspirators that worked towards a predetermined outcome in the 2015 presidential election. Jega was an electoral craftsman, a strategist who knew that to rig an election you have to begin the process at least two years to the actual conduct of that election.
Long before 2015, Jega’s electoral commission registered voters and distributed permanent voter cards ( PVCs) in such a way that a section of the country was in possession of about 70 per cent of the cards. It was an arrangement that overpopulated one section and depopulated the other in the voters’ register. Jega invented a devaluation process that saw the entire South East of the country competing with Kano State alone in numerical superiority. It was easy and normal to say that only one-quarter of a million people voted in Abia State, while Kano alone recorded over two million votes. The huge vote that Kano recorded in 2015 is now being mystified. It has now come to be believed that the votes of Kano alone can cancel out those of five or more states put together. That is why Governor Abdullahi Ganduje is already boasting about 2019. He has said that he will deliver five million votes to his party in the presidential election. We then ask: when did all this start? When did Kano become the country’s minefield of votes? Kano has, indeed, become a study in numerical gerrymandering and Jega’s 2015 elections can be used as a case study.
But then, whatever Jega did in 2015 went largely unnoticed. Nigerians did not bat an eyelid because those who ought to have stopped him in his tracks looked morosely while he perpetrated the electoral sleight of hand. A government that was on the alert would have aborted Jega’s designs. But he was allowed to run the full race. It was because he delivered on his agenda without a whimper that the man is feeling that he is the best thing that has happened to our electoral system.
The Jega we have today is a product of our acquiescence. When an abnormality goes unchallenged, it becomes the norm. Human imagination has a way of appropriating and adapting to situations whenever there is no conscious effort to navigate it out of that set-up. Falsehood can be taken for the real thing, if it is not debunked. It is this kind of situation that has catapulted Jega to where he keeps himself now. He is simply the oracle of elections and electioneering in Nigeria.
The former boss of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) displayed his oracular powers recently when he stepped forward to counsel the current INEC chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, on what to do whenever he is confronted with certain odds. The National Assembly had, in its wisdom, rearranged the order of elections to be held in 2019. It jettisoned the earlier order announced by INEC in which the presidential and National Assembly elections were to hold first. The lawmakers preferred to have the presidential election as the last of them all.
Weeks after the National Assembly voted in favour of this arrangement, there was no objection from INEC. It went ahead with its preparations for the elections. Then Jega stepped in. He told Yakubu to reject the intervention from the National Assembly. He told the sitting INEC boss that the action of the lawmakers amounted to an intrusion, an erosion of the powers and independence of the commission. He asked INEC to go to court, if the National Assembly does not reverse itself. In line with that advice, Yakubu, who, until then, was reticent about the reordering of the elections, has come out to reject the position of the legislators. He said the commission would stick to its own arrangement, unless the Electoral Act dictates otherwise. This is where Jega’s objection has landed INEC. He has provoked a rebellion in Yakubu. If the commission sticks to its guns, it then would seem that it is working at cross purposes with the National Assembly.
But Yakubu should tread cautiously. He should try as much as possible to extricate himself from Jega’s tutelage. He should, like William Blake, the English romantic poet, construct his own system rather than be enslaved by other people’s systems.
Rather than worry about the order of elections, Yakubu should take interest in the numerical mystery that Kano has become. The electoral commission should take interest in Kano’s underage voters. Why is Kano singularly guilty of this infraction? During the 2015 presidential election, underage voters took over the queues in Kano State. Jonathan saw it. Jega saw it. But it was treated like a non-issue. Jega ignored it because it fitted into his design. Jonathan looked the other way as if he was under a spell. He certainly was not seeing clearly at that point in time.
Nearly three years after, underage voters have resurfaced in Kano. The recent local government election in the state tells the whole story. Videos and photos of underage voters went viral as the elections were going on. INEC has said it was not to blame because the elections were not conducted by it. But it is interested in finding out if the state’s electoral commission actually made use of the voters’ register made available to it by INEC. Consequently, the commission has set up a committee to investigate what took place in Kano.
Regrettably, however, the chairman of the committee, a certain Abubakar Nahuce, has jumped the gun. He has submitted that there was no evidence of underage voting in Kano even when the committee is yet to commence investigations into the allegations of underage voting. Yakubu should take interest in the recklessness of the committee chairman. He should be relieved of the national assignment, if he is not properly disposed to it. Nigerians are waiting to see how Yakubu’s INEC will deal with this national embarrassment. It must ensure that the anomaly called underage voting does not rear its ugly head again in our electoral history.
There are other issues of importance that should engage the attention of Yakubu and his commission. Continuous voter registration should be one of them. The commission is, at the moment, working hard in this regard. But it must strive to move away from the lopsidedness that discredited the exercise during the reign of Jega.
Yakubu really has an onerous task ahead of him. The 2019 elections will be a major litmus test for him. He will succeed if he weans himself and the commission of the decadent past that they inherited.