INEC chair: Can Prof Yakubu break the jinx?

Group Politics Editor, EZEOCHA NZEH, takes a look at the history of the nation’s election umpire and its chairmen, and asks if current INEC chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, can be a jinx breaker, as he battles to secure a second term in office, when he completes his tenure on November 9

Nigeria has passed through so many Election Organizing Commissions, in its chequered history of democracy, dating back to the period before independence, when the Electoral Commission of Nigeria (ECN) was inaugurated in 1958 to conduct the 1959 federal elections.

That colonial commission, ECN, was headed by an expatriate, Ronald Edward Wraith, with four Nigerian members representing each region and the Federal Capital Territory of Lagos.

The first indigenous electoral commission in Nigeria was however established in 1960, with the name, Federal Electoral Commission (FEC), to conduct the first post-independence federal and regional elections of 1964 and 1965, with Eyo Esua as the Chief Electoral Officer

History has it that no chairman of the nation’s elections organizing body has stayed more than one term in office, starting from the military established commissions to the present day democracy, which commenced in 1999

From Chief Eyo Esua (1964–1966), Chief Michael Ani (1976 – 1979), Justice Victor Ovie Whisky (1979 – 1983), Professor Eme Awa (1987–1989), Professor Humphrey Nwosu (1989–1993), Professor Okon Uya and Chief Sumner Dagogo-Jack (1994–1998), Justice Ephraim Akpata (1998 – 2000), Dr. Abel Guobadia (2000-2005), Professor Maurice Iwu (2005-2010), Professor Attahiru Jega (2010-2015), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu (2015-Date), it has always been a one term tenure as the commission has passed through different names, but delivering same task

Of all the commissions, it was the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), under Professor Maurice Iwu that witnessed a very contentious battle as the then President Goodluck was locked under serious dilemma on whether to retain or sack the Professor of Pharmacology cum chief election umpire

The anti Iwu camp, which was majorly dominated and sponsored by rich politicians from the opposition camp, however had their way, when the President yielded to pressure to sack Iwu, who conducted the 2003 and 2007 presidential elections that returned former Head of State, General Olusegun Obasanjo and late Umaru Yar’Adua, both of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as presidents. The two defeated incumbent President, Muhammadu Buhari, then of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP).

Following Iwu’s ouster, President Goodluck Jonathan nominated the renowned political scientist from Kebbi State, Professor Attahiru Jega, as the new INEC chairman on 8th June 2010, to conduct the 2011 and 2015 polls

Aside from the postponements and violent skirmishes that trailed the 2011 general elections in some northern states, both the 2011 and 2015 elections conducted by the Attahiru Jega-led INEC were acknowledged as free and peaceful by international and local observers. This also earned Nigeria some commendations in the outside world

Nevertheless, Jega was criticized by both the opposition and the ruling party in the run-up to the 2015 general elections, following his commission’s surprise decision to postpone all the elections, citing insecurity

Despite declaring the opposition winner of the 2015 general elections, amidst protests from certain quarters, as well as the accolades that trailed the 2015 general elections, Jega’s tenure was not renewed by President Buhari, leading to his leaving office upon the expiration of his tenure on 31 June 2015

With the exit of Professor Jega as INEC chairman, President Buhari, on October 21, 2015, forwarded the name of a certain professor of History, Mahmood Yakubu, from Bauchi State to the Nigerian senate for consideration as the 5th INEC chairman.

Upon his screening and clearance by the senate, Yakubu succeeded Amina Zakari, who had acted in that capacity since June 2015 when Jega left office.

Yakubu, a former Director General of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND), came to INEC with a tall resume’ and an impressive record of intelligence as the first Nigerian from the North to obtain a first-class degree in history

In his inaugural chat with the media, Yakubu had described himself as an accomplished Nigerians, having come from a humble home, “from a humble teaching background to a lecturer who rose to the highest academic rank of professor. “God has given me his grace, to the extent that I also rose from becoming TETFUND DG to this exalted job of becoming my country’s Chief Election Umpire,” a humble Yakubu explained with the assurance that he would raise INEC’s bar from where Professor Attahiru Jega left it

It was not however a rosy beginning for professor Yakubu and his commission, especially as it was adjudged a complete failure at his first task of conducting the governorship election in Kogi state

On 22 November 2015, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared the Kogi state governorship election inconclusive, after it had earlier announced the results of the election from all the 21 local government areas in the State.

The results announced in all the polling units which make up the state, saw the APC candidate, late Prince Abubakar Audu, scoring 240,867 votes, while then incumbent Governor, Captain Idris Wada, of the PDP scored 199,514. The margin between the two candidates was 41,353 votes

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), which declared the election inconclusive, after Audu was pronounced dead, while counting was on, cited other legal reasons to back its action
The conduct of that Kogi governorship election left an impression of a Yakubu led INEC that lacked the capacity to move Nigeria’s democracy to the next level, after Jega

The impression was further heightened when the same INEC conducted governorship elections that were adjudged flawed and questionable in Ekiti and Osun states, were retrogression from the gains made in free and fair election in 2011 and 2015 were clearly noticed.

INEC under Professor Mahmood Yakubu continued with its wobbling and fumbling, up to is last-minute postponement of last presidential and National Assembly elections in 2019, which no doubt put Yakubu on the spotlight.

As if those elections were trial grounds for the Yakubu led INEC, the commission rose up to embrace the challenges on board, as it conducted several other midterm and bye – elections with several laudable innovations

Starting from its laudable innovation in the use of Zpad and direct electronic upload of election results at the polling units, INEC under Yakubu may have given Nigerians hope for future polls as the innovations have reduced the risk of result falsifications, hijack of ballot boxes and many other challenges

Starting with the Nasarawa Central state Assembly bye – election, to the last two governorship elections in Edo and Ondo states, coupled with its push for electronics voting, as well as electronics transmission of results, INEC has through its innovations raised the bar in the conduct of elections in Nigeria, as well as hope of electorates in future elections. This however, can only be achievable, if the government plays its own part by giving the commission a free hand to conduct free, fair and credible elections. This it can do by ensuring that like it did in Edo and Ondo, future elections are not militarized

Even as the lobbying by interested groups have commenced in the race for who becomes the 6th INEC chairman, one obvious point here is that despite its shabby beginning, the present INEC under Professor Mahmood Yakubu has raised the hope Nigerian electorates ahead of future polls, going by its recent result oriented innovations

President Muhammadu Buhari may have opened the race for who becomes the new INEC chairman, when he submitted four names, including his media aide, Lauretta Onochie, amidst criticisms, to the senate for consideration as national commissioners. The nominees, if cleared by senate are expected to replace four national commissioners who would be exiting at the commission same day with Professor Yakubu

Though the nominations may have left Yakubu’s fate hanging, since as at this moment, the presidency has not forwarded any name as his replacement, the erudite scholar has continued to do his job without any hindrances, even as the lobbying is intensified by those who want his job

As few opposition have mounted against his possible retention for a second term in office, Professor Yakubu has also attracted lots of admirers, especially from the recent feet he has achieved at the commission, hence some analysts have maintained that like it is said in football, “you cannot change a winning team,” and called on the President to waste no time to give the chairman the nod to complete the reforms he has started at INEC

As the storm continues to gather with intense lobbying, could President maintain the one term statusquo, which he met, by submitting a replacement for the outgoing INEC chairman?, or could professor Yakubu put his name in the history of Nigerian election umpire, as a jinx breaker, when he eventually secures a second term in office, as he completes his first term on November 9, 2020.?

This and other questions would remain on the lips of watchers of the Nigerian electoral process as we expect the much awaited letter for or against, from the President and the National Executive Council (NEC), to the Senate in the next few weeks

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