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2019 polls: Beyond calls for INEC boss to resign

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Election season provides an unusual opportunity for understanding the interplay between politicians’ vested interests and the institution charged with the conduct of elections. At such frenzy season comes a stormy tenure for the Chairman of the Electoral Commission. It will, therefore, be unusual in our own historical democratic circumstances for the chief electoral umpire not to expect a lot of flak, sometimes strident calls for him to resign ahead of crucial elections.

Little surprise then that our politics is always a fun to follow. Let’s go back in time. For example, ahead of 2011 general elections, some vested interests assembled, with one mission in mind: Prof. Maurice Iwu must go as Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC). They mounted pressure on President Goodluck Jonathan to sack Iwu. Current Governor of Ondo State, Chief Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN), who was then, National President of Nigerian Bar Association(NBA) delivered the most scurrilous attack on Iwu at the association’s conference in Ilorin. He claimed that our democracy would be under threat if Iwu remained as INEC Chairman.

Jonathan couldn’t see beyond the veil of the well-orchestrated attacks on Iwu. They arm twisted Jonathan. He succumbed. Iwu was sacrificed. Jonathan asked him to proceed immediately on disengagement leave,effective, April 28,2010.

And Prof. Attahiru Jega came on board less than one year to the 2011 general elections. But,the vested interests emboldened by seeing their first target gone, were not done yet. They gathered again, with Chief Edwin Clark and Dr.Chukwuemeka Ezeife as the arrowheads of ‘Jega must resign’. This time around, Jonathan did not succumb to their pressures. He probably learnt his lessons from the hurried disengagement of Prof. Iwu. Yet again, the wolves are crying again. They want to take down the current INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu.

Just last week, the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) demanded the immediate resignation of Yakubu and that of the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Ibrahim Idris. PDP National Chairman, Uche Second us said the duo (Yakubu and Idris) would compromise 2019 elections, and therefore, should leave now. It’s very unlikely President Buhari will listen to the call to sack them.Yes, he won’t. Neither will the two men on vortex of the storm resign.

I am not a fan of the IGP. The Nigeria Police Force he leads is yet to win the confidence of majority of Nigerians. It’s because of the way the police have handled security issues in recent elections. For Yakubu, I want to look beyond the calls for him to resign. Instead, I agree with the position of former military head of state and Chairman, National Peace Committee, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar who has called for the support of stakeholders for INEC ahead of 2019 general elections. After members of the National Peace Committee met with Yakubu last week, the former Head of state said the outcome of the meeting indicated that the commission was ready for the general elections.

But, let’s not dismiss outrightly those who are demanding that INEC and its leadership should show good faith and conduct a free, fair and credible elections next year. That’s a legitimate demand. This is because an electoral umpire’s integrity and competence essentially derive from public belief in the powers vested in it to conduct a transparent election, favouring no one, not beholden to the government in power. Election is one of such critical moments to test the character, the impartiality and the leadership ability of the chief electoral umpire, in this case, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu.

That’s why the job of the Chief electoral officer is a d**n tough assignment that requires,among other things, an eye on the ball,on the goal, an uncommon courage, sincerity of purpose, strong independent of mind, not willing to succumb to pressures, always acting on strong, unflappable conviction, that when people go out to cast their ballots, they expect that their votes must count. That’s the minimum requirement.

I want to believe that Prof. Yakubu is acutely aware that history beckons on him in 2019 to acquit himself creditably. Good a thing he’s first and foremost, a first class historian. Therefore, history will be kind to him if he delivers a free,fair and credible election that Nigerians and the international community will commend. But historians will not spare him if he fails. It is important to remind the INEC boss that the commission he leads is confronted with challenges of a more immediate sort. No excuses will be allowed. For now, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt, hold the final cheer until the presidential election takes place in February . The ball is now in Yakubu’s court.

The challenges of a more immediate sort that I referred to earlier which Yakubu must constantly ponder are legion. Top on the radar is government’s interference. The fact that his predecessor, Prof. Jega ‘delivered’ was because, Jonathan, according to people close to power, gave INEC chair “no orders”. Will President Buhari do same? He has promised a free and transparent polls, even if that would be his only legacy, his aides said recently. Last week, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar 111, urged the Federal Government to ensure the conduct of free, fair and credible election in 2019. Let’s wait till the sun goes down before weknowhowsplendidthedayhasbeen.

When the Chairman of Ghana Electoral Commission, Dr. Kwadwo Afri-Gyan visited Nigeria In 2008, and was asked what was the ‘secret’ of his success in Ghana,hesaidinone sentence: Lack of external meddlesomeness that he enjoyed and the integrity of his lieutenants – the Resident Electoral Commissioners. RECs very often determine success or failure of elections. How does Yakubu monitor them and extract their unflinching trust during election?

Former Governor of Cross River state, and now, the presidential candidate of Social Democratic Party (SDP),Donald Duke, in an interview he granted The Guardian newspaper in 2010, captured the dilemma that the INEC Chairman faces during elections. This is what Duke said:”The chairman of INEC has little or no bearing on the success of election. The best he can do is perhaps draw up a blueprint, but the implementation of that blueprint is outside his control “. Duke claimed that, from his experience as governor, the RECs determined the outcome of elections at state levels.

Again, I ask: Can Yakubu trust his RECs? Can he trust the security personnel – the police, the DSS officials, deployed to supervise the elections? What about insecurity in any part or some parts of the country? What about litigations emanating from party primaries? These are issues outside his control, but he carries the can when things go wrong. Election is like football team. It’s not a squad. Two persons are enough to form a squad. But election requires more than 22 players on the pitch. Yakubu is just the referee, the Chief umpire. He needs the cooperation of all the participants to conduct a free, fair and credible election. But he must take the blame in the event of failure. That’s the burden of his job.

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