“My kind of loyalty was loyalty to one’s country, not to its institutions or its office-holders”–Mark Twain
Times and events have shown that being the chief umpire and coordinator-in-chief for elections in Nigeria is not a job for the chicken-hearted. Your muscles must be made of steel and your patriotism of the highest quality to face the tides, else you create fault lines or cause an inferno that can never be extinguished.
Therefore, having bravely and successfully weathered the pre- and post-election storms of the 2019 general election in Nigeria with the expertise and confidence of a man on top of his job, it became increasingly more obvious that Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, the iconic chairman of thr Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), did not merely come to occupy the seat vacated by his predecessor, Prof. Attahiru Jega, but to offer service, add value to our electoral dynamics, and change narratives in the corporate interest of Nigeria.
And, judged comparatively by available records in the light of the past and the present, it would be neither exaggeration nor a case of sentimental favour to say that this professor of history and international studies, a highly respected world class pedagogue, quintessential public service administrator, seasoned manager of human and material resources, a catalyst of positive change and patriotic Nigerian in whom there is nothing to question about his integrity and accountability, has not only tried but scored far above average.
With his first appointment into that office on October 21, 2015, hopes and expectations were high. After five years, his successful conduct of one presidential election and many lower level elections nationwide may have compelled President Muhammadu Buhari to reappoint this great Nigerian. There can be no greater vindication. And, let it also be said that the reappointment didn’t come as a surprise.
Certain things accounted for Prof. Yakubu’s outstanding performance: vision, tenacity of purpose, personal idiosyncrasy, cerebral acumen, service philosophy and populism. Right from the Ivory Tower where he originally was sourced, and following his superlative performance at TETfund, Prof. Yakubu’s record remains a reference material for excellence. His reappointment does not only tell a triumphant story of a patriotic and capable Nigerian who truly knows his onions, but also opens fresh spectrum for the re-assessment of the true Nigerian character based on individual and service delivery than by stereotypes and generalizations.
First, the Bauchi man’s second coming will provide ample space and time for INEC leadership to solidify and better translate dreams into reality. His reappointment will help the commission tap from the commonwealth of experience that has so far been created for more efficient services and improvements in the conduct of future elections, concretize methodologies and reforms that should boost confidence of candidates and the electorate in the ballot box, and help in redeeming cumulative promises by the Nigerian leadership of dependable electoral processes.
One of the greatest hindrances to effective management and conduct of elections in the country has been the generational inability of electoral bodies to tidy up every election within schedule and without catalogues of litigations by bad losers. It is on record that in the first one year of Prof. Yakubu’s first tenure, INEC conducted 163 elections across the country, out of which 21 were controversially declared “inconclusive”. However, in the course of time, this number was significantly reduced with the aggression and innovations adopted by the commission to curtail or forestall a repeat. It implies that the next five years will offer the chairman considerable time and space to progressively remove the grey areas and reset the commission on a mission to excellence.
Thirdly, commonplace complaints relating to voter register, memory cards and other technical components and aspects of electoral processes are matters now better known by the incumbent leadership and the general public. The hope is that this second tenure shall give opportunities to the chairman to remove perceivable bottlenecks and perfect the processes. Prof. Yakubu is expected to also use this window in giving serious attention to certain matters of exigency which the constitution is not explicit on. We rue the comedy of legal rhetoric that emanated from the unforeseen death of Alhaji Abubakar Audu, a former governor and All Progressive Congress (APC) candidate in Kogi State, in the thick of the 2015 elections.
The reappointed chairman has advocated time without number and without any pretensions the need for the country to take fuller advantage of 21st century technology in managing its elections. Whereas this possibility depends almost equally on the shoulders of INEC and supervising arms of government like the Legislature and Executive, the next five years should ensure that all that were necessary for these wishes and options to be actualized were put in place.
No matter how well qualified in academic credentials, rich in work experience and suitable for an office one might be, Nigeria, typically, is not a place one is given appointment without sparks and smoke from critical and cynical circles. Therefore, when someone is appointed into a strategic and enviable office like INEC in a country of over of two hundred million citizens and there seems to be little or nothing left for criticism, the beneficiary of such appointment must be celebrated as a rare and extraordinary Nigerian worthy of honour, deserving of commendations, and due for support and encomia. That is Prof. Yakubu.
It is not uncommon for some nominees to certain offices to meet instant rejection at various levels of scrutiny by constituted panels of assessors. It is therefore of auspicious effect that Prof. Yakubu’s reappointment has come with the same quiet and general acceptability that heralded his first appointment. This, said or unsaid, is a vote of confidence in him by the citizenry, the presidency and hopefully the national Assembly.
No gainsaying that this historic reappointment, which makes this alumnus of the prestigious Cambridge University the first INEC boss in Nigeria to do two straight terms, has been predicated on display of tested competence in running of the complex affairs of the electoral commission.
He has clearly proved to be that conscientious Nigerian character who believes that things can be done right and within the limits of obligations, for the lessons there were to serve. In him the three cardinal “Es&C” – Education, Experience, Exposure and Character – effectively complement each other and make him an indispensable factor in the Nigerian Project.
It should be the collective prayer of all Nigerians that such a time should come sooner than expected when all Ministries, Departments, Agencies, Commissions and parastatals are manned with the same level of professionalism, dynamism, innovativeness and pragmatism that make Prof. Mahmood Yakubu a distinctive brand.
There can be no doubt that this particular reappointment shall help INEC correct many observable mistakes of the past, deepen relationships with strategic allies, strengthen synergies, inspire innovations towards the repositioning of the commission for better service delivery. But that, for sure, will largely depend on the utilitarian application of those ideas, which the past five years of the chairman’s first term were scarcely enough. Suffice it to say that all that this great Nigerian patriot needs now is genuine support and constructive criticisms from critical stakeholders like the media, political parties and social commentators. I hope INEC has a channel for that feedback and contribution from the people!
•Chief Obot-Nature, a public analyst, writes from Lagos