Professor Attahiru Jega is surely the man of the moment in Nigeria, the African continent and the entire world. All eyes were on the head of the electoral umpire of the just concluded presidential and National Assembly elections in the most populous black nation in the world. He was undoubtedly on the “hot seat”. As counting of votes went on, virtually all Nigerians home and abroad were glued to their TV and radio sets. As we waited for the official announcement of the winner of the presidential poll, as we waited for this watershed in our history, it is befitting to recognise the enormity of responsibility that has been placed on the shoulders of this one great and incredible man.
The former Vice Chancellor of Bayero University was nominated by President Goodluck Jonathan as INEC chairman subject to Senate confirmation in 2010. He replaced Prof. Maurice Iwu who oversaw the highly controversial elections of 2007. A former President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Jega is widely seen as an astute intellectual with a strong sense of ethics and morality. His appointment as INEC chairman was welcomed and largely seen as a positive development at the time. Politicians, civil society groups and teeming Nigerians, all welcomed his appointment due his unblemished record. He successfully conducted a free and fair 2011 election, which local and foreign observers and the international community generally saw as credible. In fact, the conduct of the election was seen by many as the most credible election Nigeria has had in its democratic history.
In the run-up to the 2015 elections, however, Prof. Jega faced fierce criticisms from both the ruling party and the opposition. Each claimed he was out to favour the other. In 2011, he masterminded the introduction of the Temporary Voter Cards to check-mate electoral malpractices such as rigging in the electoral process. In the run-up to the present elections, he introduced the Permanent Voter Cards that would be verified by an electronic card reader machine, all in a bid to curb electoral malpractices. This innovation albeit impressive, was kicked-against by some politicians. However, Jega did not back down. He stuck to his guns in employing any legal means in making sure that this election is free, fair and credible. He was made to extend the elections for a further six-week due to “security concerns”. Also, the threat of his dismissal and suspension from office began making rounds in the dailies and social media. However, this did not deter the Kebbi State-born academic.
So far, Jega has shown an enviable and rare grace, strength and humility in carrying out his responsibilities as INEC chairman. Under pressure as the INEC boss, he has constantly stared the lion in the face and never backed down. His much talked about integrity has shown like a beacon during this electioneering process. He has shown that as a Nigerian saddled with this humungous responsibility, one can still remain neutral and apolitical. Despite his shortcomings, accusations and criticisms, many would attest to the fact that Prof. Jega has largely emerged as a true Nigerian hero and a patriot. He hasn’t allowed religion, ethnicity, or materialism to influence his judgment in carrying out his duties as INEC chairman.
Surely, this juncture of our history is a defining moment in the life of Nigeria. This generation is indeed lucky to have such a scrupulous and honourable individual in the driver’s seat. Whatever the outcome of the elections would have been, albeit everyone wouldn’t be satisfied. But one thing everyone is likely to agree on is the fact that Prof. Jega has really stepped up to the plate and has faced the risks and challenges that come with the territory head on and with immense integrity and courage. Along the way on several instances, he could have thrown in the towel; but he admirably refused to. He stayed and remained steadfast for the benefit of the 170 million people whose lives and future remained in his hands.
Every day on the “hot seat”, Jega allegedly faced untold advances and threats from unscrupulous persons, aiming to derail our budding democracy. However it would appear Jega has rebuffed such advances and threats. For that, every Nigerian and future generations owe Prof. Attahiru Jega a huge debt of gratitude.
Professor Jega is a hero to me and every Nigerian, whether they appreciate it or not, whether they know it or not. He is a man who left the comfort zone of the mythical Nigerian government office holders, as we know it and re-defined the shilouette of his calling. He is a hero because, as he leads us on the road of Nigeria’s democratic journey, he is unafraid to stand for the rights and in the image of the ordinary Nigerian. He is a hero because he has faced his duty with courage and determination. He is a hero because he has held the hope of Africa’s biggest democracy and as a result will inspire generations yet to come. He is a hero because he has given his nation an opportunity to unite, build, forgive and to once again be true. He is a hero because he has given us a home we can once again be proud of. He is a hero because Nigeria called on him and he obeyed.
On behalf of every Nigerian, I’m using this medium to say a big thank you to a Nigerian national treasure, Professor Attahiru Jega. I believe the Prof will continue to seek the declaration of truth and virtue in all his endeavors, regardless of any interference or pressure he may face in life.