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Avoidable references as Yakubu sets to ‘repeat’ term at INEC

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Chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, has made history as the first chief executive of the electoral umpire to get a second term. But as an academic and a historian, the INEC boss knows what it means to repeat a session in an academic institution. 
 
Despite his outstanding academic accomplishments and experience garnered over the years, especially at the Nigeria Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPPS), Kuru, near Jos; Prof. Yakubu came into INEC on November 9, 2015, as a rookie. And within the past five years as INEC chairman, he discovered that the commission was a peculiar institution that demanded more specialized knowledge and expertise garnered from hands-on experience.

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Unlike his immediate predecessor, Prof. Attahiru Jega, who was a consultant to INEC prior to his appointment by then President Goodluck Jonathan, Prof. Yakubu was a total outsider, taken from the academia to superintend over Nigeria’s very contentious election management institution.
 
By the time Jega left the commission after conducting the 2015 general elections, it was not generally known whether he acted the way he did out of modesty, decency, or exasperation. Some watchers of the country’s democracy said the former INEC boss called quits not to give room for speculations that he favoured the emergence of a northern president to win a second term in office.
 
Others however contended that Jega did not want to stay beyond the loud ovation that greeted his near-excellent delivery in addition to paving way for the appointment of a successor from the Southern part of the country given that the new president hails from the same geopolitical zone as he. President Muhammadu Buhari, who won the 2015 presidential poll, comes from Katsina State, while Jega hails from Kebbi State, both of which are in Northwest.
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But without leaving room for speculations about whether he would be reappointed for a second term or not, Prof. Jega declared his intention to bow out of the commission after his constitutional five-year tenure elapsed.

Change of mood
THE brief confusion as to what to do after Jega’s tenure expired was a quiet pointer to what was to become of not only INEC but also of the governance style of the new administration of President Buhari.
 
Jega had, in keeping with normal administrative principle, handed over to Ambassador Ahmed Wali, as the most senior officer in the commission. But, not minding that the outgoing INEC chairman announced his decision not to serve for another term, no action was taken to avoid a vacuum, only for the presidency to override Jega and settle for Amina Zakari.
   
The exit of Jega, who was seen as the hero of the change of baton from the incumbent president to the opposition candidate in the election, marked not only a change of mood in the commission but also a gradual somersault in the fortunes of the electoral commission, especially in the areas of reforms and transparency.

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It was as if the ground opened in the Maitama headquarters of INEC that June 31, because not only was Jega leaving while the ovation was loudest, he left alongside some six strong hands that assisted him in delivering the watershed 2015 poll. Mrs. Gladys Nwafor, from Abia, Col. M. K. Hammanga (Adamawa), Mrs. Thelma Iremiren (Delta), Prof. Lai Olurode (Osun), Dr. Ishmael Igbani (Rivers), and Dr. Nuru Yakubu from Yobe, were the national commissioners that retired with the former INEC chairman.
   
As he left the INEC headquarters Prof. Jega told journalists that he felt great, assuring that the future is bright for the commission and Nigeria. Also, the then INEC Secretary, Mrs. Augusta Ogakwa, disclosed that Jega sustained his optimism about the future of the commission in his handover notes.
 
Ogakwu said Jega tasked INEC to ensure that gains already recorded must not be allowed to go down, “because Nigerians and the world must have taken interest in the country’s election management system.”

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Although Zakari was senior to Wali, the fact that she was to retire by July 31, 2015, informed the decision to handover to him pending the nomination and appointment of a substantive successor to Jega, especially given that both Wali and Zakari all hail from the Northwest geopolitical zone. Wali is from Sokoto, while Zakari is from Jigawa State.

However, it took public outrage against the Presidency’s plot to emplace Mrs. Amina Bala Zakari as INEC chairman for President Buhari to look towards the Northeast to select Prof. Mahmood Yakubu on July 31, 2015, for confirmation by the council of state and the senate screening.

Coming with cold
PROF. Yakubu did not have much time to settle down and acclimatize with the challenges of his new office before the baptism of fire. Barely one week after he was inaugurated into office as chairman, the Kogi State gubernatorial poll was due and threw up serious challenges.

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The death of one of the candidates, Prince Abubakar Audu of All Progressives Congress (APC), midway into the collation of results of the election left Yakubu searching for clues. Owing to the obvious lack of experience in election management, the chairman had to rely on Mrs. Zakari for inputs.

Mrs. Zakari was also being pilloried for being a relation of President Buhari and when the question of what to do with the earned votes of the deceased candidate arose, the chairman had to fall back on the unsolicited counsel of the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami.

INEC had declared the election inconclusive during which time interparty schemes affected the scheduling of new dates and choice of new standard-bearer or replacement for the deceased APC candidate.

Analysts believe that denying James Faleke, Audu’s running mate the opportunity of inheriting the earned votes in the ballot was based on Prof. Yakubu’s naivety. Although the death of a candidate midway into an election was unprecedented, commonsense and logic dictated that Faleke should have been asked to pick a running mate and continue with the process or an outright cancellation to begin a new process.

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The second-guessing and subtle yielding to the governing party continued as the INEC chairman took time to learn on the job. All that left behind ugly memories.

The glitches in the 2016 Edo State governorship poll, which held after a similar exercise in Bayelsa State, left a dark patch on Prof. Yakubu’s first term.

It was at Bayelsa that the idea of simultaneous accreditation and voting was introduced. In 2016 when he visited the headquarters of The Guardian in Lagos, the INEC chairman disclosed that he had conducted many elections, especially court-ordered bye-elections than any other chairman in the history of Nigeria’s democracy.
   
On the constant criticism that trailed his tenure, Prof. Yakubu explained that ‘inconclusive’ was his own way of addressing the interference of violence with the electoral process. “When the number of canceled ballots exceeded the number of votes separating the winner and the first runner up based on the Permanent Voting Cards (PVCs), the right thing is to declare the election inconclusive according to the Electoral Act,” he stated. 

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Observers look back at the governorship polls in Kogi, Edo, and Osun States, as well as the 2019 general elections to conclude that in his first term, Prof. Yakubu seemed to have pulled back gains recorded during the Prof. Jega era. The inability of the commission on Yakubu’s watch to fulfill the promise of Central Server transmission of results in the 2019 elections despite assurances and budgeting also earned him a low rating.

Reports by reputable election monitors, including the African Union (AU), European Union (EU), and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) blamed ineptitude for INEC’s inability to foresee shortcomings that led to the postponement of the 2019 general elections six hours to the commencement of voting.

Transition, self-improvement
THE outcome of September 19, 2020, Edo State governorship poll showed that the INEC chairman was prepared to remedy the shortcomings that defined his first term. Perhaps, it is in recognition of the fact of the visible improvements in the performance of Prof. Yakubu’s INEC that President Buhari announced his reappointment for a second term.

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The general expectation is that with a clear head and the fact that President Buhari would not be on the ballot in 2023, Prof. Yakubu would be challenged by his second term to give his best, particularly as he has ample time to prepare adequately for the next election cycle.

Main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) seems to have recognized the opportunities open to Prof. Yakubu to write his name in gold in the history of election management in the country.

In a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbodiyan, PDP said the INEC chairman cannot blame inexperience in his second term, stressing that he should be mindful of the aphorism that “to whom much is given, much more is expected, his reappointment comes with a lot of expectations by Nigerians.”

According to PDP, Prof. Yakubu “must quickly take a painstaking look into issues that aid manipulations, rigging, violence and inconclusive elections which marred most of the exercises conducted in his previous tenure.

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“In the light of this five-year extension, our party hopes that the failures, disappointments, and miscarriages that characterized the first five years tenure of Yakubu will have no place in the new order.

“It is, therefore, instructive to state that with his re-appointment, Prof Yakubu has been given ample time and opportunity to redeem himself, the image of the commission and preparation for credible, free and fair elections in our country.

“Furthermore, we consider this reappointment by President Buhari as an impetus to demonstrate readiness for a free fair, and credible election, which Mr. President had always promised to bequeath at the end of his second and final term in office in 2023.

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“We, therefore, charge the INEC Chairman to spend the nearly two years ahead of the next general election to rejig the commission, work out appropriate electoral policies and guidelines and push for the amendment of the Electoral Act, in conjunction with the National Assembly, to give our nation a credible electoral process.”

Mahmood Yakubu was a lecturer, guerrilla warfare expert, and Professor of Political History and International Studies at the Nigerian Defence Academy. Before his first appointment as INEC chairman, he served as the Executive Secretary of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND).

The INEC chairman also served as Assistant Secretary of Finance and Administration at the 2014 National Conference.

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