I did not pay mind to the vicious campaign attending the appointment of Mrs. Amina Bala Zakari as acting Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission by President Muhammadu Buhari, having, from its earliest stir, perceived it as typical partisan mischief championed by those who blame the President for even slight changes in the weather since May 29. As some of us waited for that episode of our political drama to end, only half-reading the memos of the campaigners, which identified the appointee as a relation of the President and one whose expired tenure was only extended as an act of nepotism, the inspiration for that streak of rejectionism was like neon signs in our dark political sphere.
Zakari is a victim of what I’ve always pointed to as the reason the heart of Nigeria fails: dysfunctional institutions. She’s not only a victim of a mindset, but also a product of a society that doesn’t recognize procedures in of favor the orders of “Oga at the Top” (who have registered their interests as the actual codes and conducts of public service and even the life outside). We’ve built a sociopolitical space in which certain individuals are more powerful than institutions established to resist the imposition of personal preferences. All rebels against such interference have found nooses tightened around their necks.
The attempt to attribute Zakari’s appointment to her relationship with Buhari, being witnessed, is a proof of this institutional dysfunction. It’s a perception allowed to germinate because of our ignorance of the procedures of an institution. Consequently, there is the tunnel-vision return that a professional citizen in public service can only be judged based on “connections”. Competence? Qualifications? These partisans of jingo clearly cannot imagine these as criteria.
The acting INEC boss, even IF she’s a beneficiary of connections, membership of a network or clique, definitely didn’t get to where she is on the kind heart of Buhari. She was first engaged by former President Olusegun Obasanjo as a Special Assistant and then by former President Goodluck Jonathan as a Commissioner at INEC. These happened at the time these former heads of the country were in tough political wars with the Buhari now being referred to as her benefactor. If anything, with commonsense applied in our political inferences, Buhari ought to have actually marked her as an enemy, having been a part of two administrations that frustrated his political ambition and will.
Even though Zakari has denied being a relation of Buhari in an interview, she’s not the first victim of an alleged relationship with Buhari. In the period running up to the March 28 presidential election, Alhaji Sani Musa, a board member of Act Technologies, a company tasked with supplying the Commission with Permanent Voters Card, was arrested by the Department of State Security for, as the news revealed, expressing support for the presidential aspiration of Muhammadu Buhari on his social media platforms. That arrest could’ve been employed as a cheap escapism by the PDP if the elections weren’t just fairly won by Buhari, with its candidate conceding defeat even before the official declaration of results. Similarly, the argument that Zakari could have the system compromised was unbelievably mundane, but then again mundaneity has always found a legion of zealous supporters in Nigeria.
If, also, we subscribe to this logic that an appointee at an institution with constitutionally prescribed independence, panders to the interest of his appointer, why didn’t Professor Attahiru Jega play by the book of his own appointer? One word: integrity. So, if Amina is seen as possessing this virtue to resist the impositions of her phantom “uncle” or “in-law”, why are we losing our mind over her appointment?
Hers could only be intelligently dismissed as disastrous if the traducers had shown us an evidence of her incompetence or a task which she had failed to carry out as a public servant, and how they thought she was the least qualified to head the Commission. She was, from the information available, one of the two most senior Commissioners at INEC, and the probability of her selection was the same as that of the other Commissioner. Knowing the psyche of this nation, even if Buhari had chosen a Yoruba, the appointee would’ve still been ridiculed as a cousin of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. In fact, even the appointment of an Ijaw as INEC boss now would, discerning their propensity for mischief and pedestrian logic, still be ridiculed as a ploy by the APC to manipulate the Bayelsa elections.
What we must assert is the need to revamp our critical public institutions and emphasize their autonomy as stated in the constitution. This way, we may forestall a repeat of the Lamido Sanusi saga, which typifies the systemic dysfunctions of, and interference with, autonomous public institutions by ambitious politicians. May God save us from us.