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The killer job at INEC – Part 3

By Eric Teniola
25 January 2023   |   3:30 am
The Decree amends the Electoral Decree 1977 to provide that in the case of a run-off election relative to the President, all persons elected to the National Assembly and State Assemblies shall be constituted into electoral colleges to elect one of the two most successful candidates as President...

INEC

The Decree amends the Electoral Decree 1977 to provide that in the case of a run-off election relative to the President, all persons elected to the National Assembly and State Assemblies shall be constituted into electoral colleges to elect one of the two most successful candidates as President while in the case of a Governor, the persons elected to the House of Assembly. of the State concerned shall similarly be constituted into an electoral college for the run-off election”.

There were five major contenders in the 1979 Presidential Election- Alhaji Waziri Ibrahim (The Great Nigeria Peoples Party (GNPP), Alhaji Aminu Kano (Peoples Redemption Party (PRP), Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe (The Nigerian Peoples Party  (NPP), Chief Obafemi Awolowo(Unity Party of Nigeria(UPN) and Alhaji Shehu Shagari (National Party of Nigeria(NPN).

On August 11, 1979, the Presidential election was held. Chief Michael Ani and his team including the then Chief electoral officer, Alhaji Ahmadu Kurfi, who was then the Secretary of the Federal Electoral Commission, thought they have conducted the best election ever.

On August 12, the results started coming in and as expected, the results of Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Ondo and Bendel states were the first to be announced. It was not until August 14, 1979, that the results of Kano, which was the last to come and Alhaji Shehu Shagari only scored 19.9% of the votes which made it impossible for him to be declared President since he had 25% in twelve states and could not secure 25% in Kano state. There were nineteen states in the Federation at that time. The assumption was that you must secure 25% in 13 states before you could become President.

The night before Chief Michael Ani’s FEDECO had completed arrangements for an Electoral College for the two candidates with the highest votes, Alhaji Shehu Shagari of the NPN and Chief Obafemi Awolowo of the UPN. As a matter of fact their spokesmen, Alhaji Suleiman Takuma (14 April 1934- 1 September 2001), from Takuma Village in Niger State of the NPN and Chief Mele Chukelu Kafu Ajuluchukwu (10 February 1921-9 October 2003) from Nnewi in Anambra state of the UPN, addressed the media that, their Principals were ready for an Electoral College.

The newly appointed Clerk of the National Assembly, Alhaji Gidado Idris, was at FEDECO headquarters to collect the names of the elected members of the National Assembly who would now vote in the Electoral College. He told newsmen that the list of the members of the Electoral College has been given to him and that the former House of Representatives at Race Course would be the venue for the holding of the Electoral College.

The Supreme Council did not want to take chances on who should be the next President.

The Supreme Military Council then headed by General Olusegun Obasanjo GCFR, drafted officials of the Federal Ministry of Justice to the Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO) office at Onikan, Lagos. At the end of the marathon meeting, the Chief Returning Officer of the Presidential Election, Mr. F.L.O. Menkiti announced to the anxious media men and women in the conference room of FEDECO that day, that the percentage scored by Alhaji Shehu Shagari in the twelve states and the 19.9% scored in Kano was tantamount to his being declared as President. He therefore declared Alhaji Shehu Shagari as the next President of Nigeria.

The declaration was a nullity to the Decree signed by General Obasanjo on July 23, 1979. The expectation was that there would be an Electoral College who would elect a new President.

At the Press Conference that day, I sat next to Chief Osuolale Abimbola Richard Akinjide SAN (4 November 1930 – 21 April 2020). Chief Akinjide who was then the Chief Legal Adviser to the NPN, only echoed the conclusion of the officials of the Federal Ministry of Justice and the Supreme Military Council. He was not the author of the twelve two third formula, which later made him famous.

Nobody knew who Chief Menkiti was until that day. I later inquired through gazette No 78 Volume 55 of 1976, that he was an administrative officer grade 1. He was transferred from the eastern state public service to the Federal Public Service on February 27, 1967. In the modern day regulation, he would have been a director.

When Chief Menkiti made that announcement that day, we were stunned; Chief Menkiti’s declaration was expectedly challenged by Chief Obafemi Awolowo of the UPN. The case ended in the Supreme Court presided over by Mr. Justice Atanda Fatai Williams GCON (22 October 1918 – 10 April 2002) of which two judges in the court, Justice Kayode Eso (1925-2012) and Justice Andrew Otutu Obaseki (1925-2017) objected to the majority judgment in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court verdict was made 72 hours before the inauguration of President Shehu Shagari.

I covered the 1979 campaign, the Supreme Court Judgment and the inauguration of President Shehu Usman Aliyu Shagari GCFR (25 February 1925 – 28 December 2018) on October 1 1979. In spite of his success in 1979 election, Chief Michael Ani had no hand in what happened after the August 11, 1979 election.

This year will mark the 30th anniversary of the June 12, 1993 Presidential election. Professor Humphrey Nwobu Nwosu (81) from Ajali in Anambra state conducted the election and he did all he could in ensuring a successful Presidential election.

He wrote in his book titled “Laying The Foundation For Nigeria’s Democracy”: “Given the peculiar position of the Chief electoral officer in Nigeria, which includes being an impartial arbiter in electoral competitions, it became clear to me that whatever major decisions and actions the chief electoral officer decides to take, must serve the best interest of Nigerian State and nation. My actions and decisions throughout my tenure were directed to serve the corporate existence of Nigeria, It is the duty of the chief national electoral commissioner of the federation to advise the Nigerian Government on actions and measures that will not only enhance the existence of a credible electoral system but which will result in the conduct of “Free and Fair Elections”.

I devoted my four and half years as the Chairman of the National Electoral Commission in erecting basic logistics, infrastructure and creating congenial social environment within and outside the commission for the conduct of free and fair elections. Towards achieving these goals, I remained accountable and responsible to President Babangida, who in turn supported my efforts. He generally accepted my reforms and innovations up to the conduct of June 12, 1993 presidential election. Finally, a Chief National Electoral Commissioner worth his calling would own accountability and responsibility to his conscience and his family.

To be continued tomorrow

Teniola, a former director at the Presidency, wrote from Lagos.