Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Jega’s unfinished business at INEC

On the eve of the expiration of the tenure of Prof. Attahiru Jega on June 30, 2015, I granted an interview to RayPower 100.5 FM on the tenure of the cerebral political scientist as the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission. In the discourse which was aired last Wednesday, I analysed his achievements, challenges and pointed the way forward for the electoral management body. In fact, Jega and his team could be said to have come, seen and conquered. Among the unprecedented things Jega’s tenure did at INEC are the many reforms he initiated.
Among the innovations brought to bear on the country’s electoral process are the introduction of the chip-embedded Permanent Voter Card and smart card reader. These two increased the integrity quotient of Nigeria’s electoral process. Jega conducted a wholesale voter registration in January/February 2011 and thereafter Continuous Voter Registration. I recall that after the 2011 elections, INEC under Jega went through a lot of restructuring. This was not done spontaneously. A notable organisational management consulting firm was invited to take a look at INEC’s organogram and operational efficiency. It was based on the report of the consulting firm that the restructuring was carried out. In it, many departments were merged and new scope of work given to new directing staff. Of course, some directors lost their exalted job in the process. His tenure also added another layer of administrative officers below the Electoral Officers which before his coming into office was the lowest level of electoral administration in INEC. These admin officers are known as Registration Area Officers who now take charge at the Ward level.
Jega improved on the security features of the sensitive election materials such as ballot papers, ballot boxes and result sheets. He introduced the colour coding system to frustrate election riggers. He introduced the Re-Modified Open Secret balloting system where accreditation and voting are done at different times. In 2011, accreditation was done from 8am-12noon with 30 minutes of voter education before voting would commence at 12:30pm with sorting, counting and announcement of result taking place at the Polling Unit once the last accredited voter in the queue voted. Under this voting system, there was no official closing time for polling. In 2015, the timing was adjusted by an hour increase. That is, accreditation starts at 8am and ends by 1pm while voting commenced at 1:30pm. For the first time, INEC under Jega developed a home grown Strategic Plan 2012-2016. This was put together by INEC staff.
Jega’s term enjoyed a lot of goodwill from the international donor community. These donors supported INEC directly and indirectly by funding some of its programmes and projects. Areas in which their support were most pronounced were Voter Education, Voter Registration, Election Security and Election Day logistics. The support from the International Foundation for Electoral Systems which has been working collaboratively with INEC since 1998 led to the establishment of the INEC Graphic Design Centre where the commission now designs and prints some of its election and administrative materials; Election Management System and Election Operation Support Centre from where election day logistics is now tracked. Other donors like the UNDP assisted INEC to produce first of its kind Gender Policy while I-IDEA supported the commission to produce an Election Risk Assessment tool.
A lot of encomiums have deservedly been poured on Jega. However, former Presidents Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan should equally be commended. While Yar’Adua initiated electoral reform way back in 2007 which culminated in the legal reform of 2010 which among other things put INEC’s funding on the First Line Charge on the Consolidated Revenue Fund, Jonathan should be lauded for appointing the immediate past INEC Chairman and board members as well as for not interfering in the activities of the commission unlike many of his predecessors. Also praiseworthy are Jega’s lieutenants. By this I mean his 12 national commissioners, 37 resident electoral commissioners, technical assistants as well as the management and staff of the commission. A tree does not make a forest and if these people had not shared in Jega’s vision, such laudable goals would have been dead on arrival.
A number of things are unique with Jega’s term apart from all the aforesaid. It was the first to conduct two general elections; that is 2011 and 2015. It was under him that we had the first successful merger of political parties to form a formidable opposition party. Hitherto, we had working alliances among the political parties. Jega was the first to also conduct a general election in which a ruling party lost at both the executive and legislative arms of government at the centre.   It was under him that INEC began the monitoring of candidates campaign finances. It is also noteworthy that at present both the acting chairman and the secretary of INEC are women. This is unprecedented! Now, Jega is out with six of his national commissioners and about 16 of the resident electoral commissioners. The immediate challenge before President Muhammadu Buhari’s government is how to find suitable replacements for these crops of patriots who have served their country meritoriously.
The question about what should be the character of Jega’s replacement was posed to me in the radio interview mentioned at the beginning of this article. My response was and still is that Buhari should go for the Justice Muhammadu Lawal Uwais committee report of December 2008 and follow the laid down guidelines for appointment of INEC chairman and board members. The recommendation calls for public advertisement and shortlist of three nominees by the National Judicial Council to the Senate for final selection. I am in full support of competitive selection process not only for INEC chairman but also the national commissioners and the resident electoral commissioners.
The current system where members are handpicked is not too tidy and above board. Even if President Buhari will not want to cede the power to the NJC, then he needs to ensure that Jega’s replacement and team members have unassailable character, sound knowledge of elections and are team players. We do not need people who will learn on the job as time is very short before off-cycle elections will start rolling in. Between now and 2019, when the next general elections will hold, there are going to be statutory governorship elections in Bayelsa, Kogi, Anambra, Edo, Ondo, Ekiti and Osun states. This is the least as election petitions tribunals currently reviewing the 2015 general elections could still order re-run elections while by-elections would still hold as a result of death, impeachment or resignation of some political office holders. I suggest that Buhari may wish to toe the line of Jonathan by picking from the midst of the 22-member Justice Uwais Electoral Reform Committee of 2008.
It is worth mentioning that Jega, in spite of his sterling performance, left many unfinished business in INEC. Some of the reforms he initiated are either inchoate or yet to be properly mastered. Among them are the issue of distribution of Permanent Voter Cards and the use of Smart Card Readers. Others include the operationalisation of the Election Day logistics particularly the use of Registration Area Centre camping to ease distribution and movement of election materials. The failed Memorandum of Understanding with the leadership of the National Union of Road Transport Workers which led to the late movement of election materials and commencement of voting procedures during the last elections needs to be revisited. Also deserving of being looked into is the lingering issue of special salary scale for INEC workers and the aborted   amendment of the fourth amendment of the 1999 Constitution and Electoral Act 2010. The new INEC board needs to lobby the Eighth National Assembly for quick passage of the new electoral framework. Lastly, the incoming board of INEC needs to sustain the goodwill enjoyed by Jega’s board with donor partners, the civil society as well as the political parties under the auspices of the Inter-Party Advisory Council.