Human beings will always be human beings, displaying sickening selfishness everywhere. Nigerians will always be Nigerians, driving against traffic which could lead to death. Politicians will always be politicians, hiding behind one little fingers to heat up the polity. Haters of Nigeria will always be desperate for Nigeria to remain Nigeria -where excellent experience is shouted down into second place just so mediocrity, cronyism and politics would continue unchallenged.
In the last 5.5 years of the Muhammadu Buhari presidency, so many Nigerians have tended to give him the thumbs down whenever appointments were announced. Almost always, citizens anchor this chronic rejection on what they call the president’s penchant for nepotism or the fact that the people so-chosen are never the most qualified and suitable. Fortunately, the president’s renomination of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Chair, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, does not belong in that cesspit. An alarming majority of Nigerians have lauded the president for this one because, judging from how the man in the mix approached his last two major national assignments, there’s unanimity he proved himself a transformative catalyst.
Come with me, if you can, to the tertiary education interventionist federal agency, TETFUND (Tertiary Education Trust Fund). Until the Bauchi state-born serial award winner educationist arrived in 2007 as helmsman, the Fund was just a palliative organ of government that doled out grossly irregular, insufficient doses of financial droplets to public education institutions. That’s the reason stakeholders always wanted the body scrapped. However, all of that changed when then-President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua (now of blessed memory) decided to get an academic to run the academic Fund, for the first time ever.
In came a man so used to being first. The first (and to-date only?) first class graduate of history from the northern part of the country, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, who at the time was on secondment from Nigeria Defence Academy where he was a lecturer, to the Federal Ministry of Education (where he also helped out as member of Minister Oby Ezekwesili’s Educational Transformation Team). His uncanny ingenuity and innovative leadership quickly turned around the fortunes of TETFUND, culminating in the Federal Executive Council and National Assembly accepting his recommendation to rejig the enabling law in 2011. He also established National Book Development Fund, National Research Fund, and ensured resuscitation of publication of over 100 Higher Education Institution-based journals and 18 exceptional doctoral theses.
In those five Mahmood Yakubu TETFUND years, thousands of lecturers and students -from universities, polytechnics and colleges of education across the six geopolitical regions of the country- benefited from the most aggressive overseas training in the history of tertiary education in Nigeria. Even his criics appreciate and applaud that monumental achievement without knowing that, before him, each university only got a paltry N1.75 million to sponsor postgraduate studies. Furthermore, having created a smarter way of collecting Education Taxes, under the auspices of FIRS, the Mahmood Yakubu TETFUND generated so much revenue. In fact, between 2008 and 2010, TETFUND got almost double the 1.78 billion of between 1994 and 2007.
This led to instant high impact intervention which raised the quality of personnel and facilities of our tertiary institutions. The harvest of an important low-hanging fruit was another first: in 2012, six Nigerian universities were listed among the top 100 in Africa. Above all, throughout his glorious tenure, TETFUND maintained an enviable record of accountability and transparency in addition to warding off political interference. Alas, when he rounded off that first term in 2012, his sterling performance notwithstanding, a tiny minority of naysayers and enemies of Nigeria succeeded in thwarting the opportunity and therefore the prolongment of the good times in that sector.
It is this memory at such a critical juncture as now that compels this clarion call on all citizens of goodwill and all lovers of this country to wake up and -as we say in Nigeria- shine their eyes. The 2012 forces of abortion have gathered again in 2020, their sight trained on INEC this time. We cannot and must not allow them to take our country decades back. Thankfully, they left it too late, unlike eight years ago.
These are the facts of the matter. President Buhari made Prof. Mahmood Yakubu INEC Chair in October, 2015. He resumed the following month after ratification by Council of State and Senate’s say-so. He rounded off the five years this month, a couple of weeks after his reappointment had been announced. The Nigerian thing to have done in the circumstance would have been to sit tight, while awaiting screening and confirmation by Senate.
We have seen so much of that in this country. But, Prof. Yakubu chose to be gentlemanly different. On 9th November, the exact same day he clocked five years in office, he stepped down; handing over to retired Air Vice Marshal Ahmed Mu’azu. Surely, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu understands the weight and values concomitant with public trust.
He as well proved his dexterity on the job, beyond every reasonable and unreasonable doubt during his first term. Apart from the initial baptism of fire (then, we all called him Professor Inconclusive); what with the Edo and Ondo governorship electoral deadlock in 2016 and the same ghost reappearing in 2019 to haunt the governorship poll in Benue, Kano, Adamawa, Bauchi, Plateau and Sokoto. Yet, INEC under him quickly shook off the teething embarrassment, recalibrated its workings and won back the respect of the electorate, political class as well as local and international observers. Unlike in the past when some results of elections in the country looked more like daylight robberies or at best concoctions, Prof. Yakubu changed the narrative and allowed justice and the will of the people to prevail.
There’s not a single evidentiary fact of infraction or injustice perpetrated by this electoral umpire in the last five years. He ran INEC clean, fair and party-blind. Even, recently, when Edo and Ondo states chose their governors, his INEC kept the process sane and balanced. Lovers of Nigeria should encourage our senators to expedite action on his confirmation to enable him jump right back to work.
Unfortunately, his team and he have so little time but so much work and so much more people expectation, going forward. For instance, this country needs to move on from its current neanderthal voting system. We should create an electronic set-up that simultaneously makes voting and counting less cumbersome and less prone to manipulation. Plus, INEC has to mobilise and sensitise the populace and electorate not only to rally around it seeing it cannot go it alone but also to stand up for their electoral rights and privileges.
As for the feeble noises here and there, we must contextualise and subsequently dismiss them for what they are: a late, unpatriotic attempt to deny our country and citizens those gains derivable from only sustained electoral progress and excellence. On resumption, the Chair and his team must hit the sky flying, apply experience, gain altitude and stabilise in time to use Anambra 2021 as proof of readiness for 2023. That will be a fantastic way to concretise what has become known as the Mahmood Yakubu legacy of integrity, result and class. God bless Nigeria!