Certainly, the exit from office of the immediate-past Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Attahiru Jega, last month marks the end of an era, which many analysts say the electoral body recorded a mileage in the conduct of credible elections.
It was the first time an INEC chairman conducted two general elections (2011 and 2015), widely considered as credible.
Before the advent of Jega in 2010, the public image of INEC was at a very low ebb given the controversies that trailed the conduct of the 2007 general elections by the Professor Maurice Iwu-led commission. The poor conduct of the 2007 election overshadowed the innovations that Iwu initiated.
Ahead the 2011 general polls, it was evident that any electoral umpire that worked hard to strengthen the process would be highly revered. Many Nigerians over the years had linked some of the seeming intractable challenges facing the country to the nation’s faulty electoral system, arguing that if power really comes from the people, any elected officer will work hard to improve on the living standard of the people.
The game changer
Jega began by cleaning up the voters’ register, which hitherto had contained names of even well-known foreigners as part of the Nigerian electorate, a clear underlining of the fact that elections in Nigeria could have been anything but free and fair. But due to the short time before the 2011 general elections, the register was only cleaned-up with the removal of some multiple registrants as well as names of well known foreign celebrities. The 2011 elections were adjudged as one of the best conducted elections in the history of the country.
The next line of action was the registration of voters for the 2015 elections through what was known as Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) exercise. At the end of the exercise, 68.8 million voters were registered.
Most of the seeming innovations for which INEC under Prof. Jega thrived like the use of the Direct Data Capture (DDC) machines for the registration of voters were initiated by his predecessor, Prof. Iwu.
However, Jega introduced what politicians now referred to as the ‘game changer.’ The Smart Card Reader (SCR) machine which worked alongside the Permanent Voters Card (PVC) was what many analysts believe reduced to a significant level the incidence of electoral fraud in the 2015 general elections.
It is a well known fact that most politicians loathed the introduction of the Card Reader especially when it became clear that it was going to take care of multiple voting and ballot stuffing which used to be major features of our electoral system.
The short-comings: However, the device either by omission or commission did not checkmate the incidence of child-voters. In some parts of the country, the rate at which children who were clearly under the constitutional voting age of 18 participated in the last general elections was very alarming.
Many of those who believed that it was not really Uhuru with Jega argued that it was either the former chief electoral umpire was biased to have allowed that to go unhindered or that he was incompetent because the children had a smooth ride through all the stages of the election – registration of voters, verification, collection of PVCs, accreditation to vote and actual voting on Election Day.
One area many people especially the staff of the commission believe that their former boss performed very poorly is in the area of staff welfare. Apart from the fact that it took a lot of time for allowances and other sundry claims to be paid, there was no form of salary enhancement.
“Let me tell you that the only thing I can say despite the fact that Jega himself was always bragging with it, is that he managed to sustain the hazards allowances which Prof. Iwu approved for every staff during elections. Staff welfare was rather poor under Jega and this is probably due to the fact that he came with a negative mindset that INEC was corrupt,” an INEC staff said.
The issue of staff welfare especially the junior ones which used to be a cardinal policy of INEC under Iwu was jettisoned by Jega even as at today. The Commission had in 2008 commenced the construction of staff quarters for the junior and inter-mediate staff at Aco Estate, along the Abuja Airport Road but till now, nobody has added another block on that project.
Allegations of favouritism
The last-minute directorate promotion exercise which Jega carried out on the eve of his departure from the commission is still causing ripples among the concerned staff. A reliable source at the Commission alleged that Jega, who left office on Tuesday, June 30 had on Friday, June 26 approved the promotion of some staff without due regard to the existing Federal Character principle and even guidelines he issued himself.
According to the source, the Commission had come up with a policy that for anybody to be promoted to the directorate cadre, such a person must have passed the promotion examination which was conducted many times. However, after the exercise most of the people who did well were denied promotion while other criteria that were not specified were used to promote some of those who were elevated.
“They told us that due to the fact that there were limited openings for promotions that the examination would be used as a criterion to promote people. We were informed that if there was a vacancy in your state or zone that the person who scored the highest mark shall be promoted; but curiously all these were not observed. In fact I can say that except for one or two states, the guideline was observed in breach and that is already causing a lot of disaffection in the Commission.
Denial of promotion
“For example, I know of a Deputy Director who scored 75 percent in his state but the person that was promoted had 66 percent. Also in another North Central State, the person who came first with 76 percent was denied promotion while someone who scored 59 percent was promoted. In fact, this approach has left some deputy directors in the same position for over 10 years. It is very wrong for people to be stagnated because of favouritism.”
The former INEC boss who has since returned to the classroom at the Bayero University Kano (BUK) was further alleged to have favoured some staff from certain parts of the country to the detriment of those from other parts.
“They are promoting some people using criteria that are different from some others. For example, from the North-East and North-West, somebody with even less than 50 percent will be promoted whereas those from the South-East and North-Central will not be promoted even with 70 percent and then you will now be answerable to a man who is inferior to you intellectually because of where he comes from. This certainly is breeding bad blood because it is daylight assault, many people are hurting,” a source lamented.
Urgent tasks before Amina
Consequently, staff welfare and addressing the injustice arising from Jega’s last-minute promotions constitute the first major tasks before the INEC’s Acting Chairperson, Mrs Amina Bala Zakari. From information available to us, it is evident that if nothing was done urgently to address this issue, many of the staff will be working half-heartedly and this will never be in the overall interest of the commission and the country. People must be seen to have been fairly and justly treated no matter the part of the country they come from.