THANK YOU, PROFESSOR ATTAHIRU JEGA By Dele Momodu

jega“Most of us give up too early.

Failure is an absolute essential
In life.”
-Bryce Courtenay

“Risk it, go for it. Life always gives you another chance,
another go at. It’s very important to take
enormous risks.”
-Mary Quant

Fellow Nigerians, please permit me to congratulate us all on the success of the March 28 elections in our dear beloved country. But kindly allow me to single out one man, Professor Attahiru Jega, Chairman of INEC, for his exceptional performance. My darling wife has asked me to focus special attention on this perfect gentleman for doing such a thankless job almost perfectly. In Attahiru Jega we found the hope of a New Nigeria. Everything we are celebrating today would have evaporated and disappeared into thin air but for the kamikaze daringness of Jega and his glorious team.

Let me spend a little more time on Jega. His achievement is not too surprising to those who knew his antecedents as a world class scholar and social activist. I remember when his name was announced as INEC Chairman by President Goodluck Jonathan on June 8, 2010. It came as a shock to many of us who had followed his trajectory as an upright and incorruptible man, in particular, during his headship of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, under the Babangida military junta. He was a vociferous and irrepressible critic of the Babangida administration. He was seen at the time as a Leftist with very close affinity to the Nigeria Labour Congress.

I had received the news of his appointment in Accra, Ghana, where I was hosting one of Jega’s colleagues and comrades, Dr Abubakar Momoh. We were both elated that Nigeria had reached the stage where credibility was beginning to count. Dr Momoh had assured me that Jega was going to deliver contrary to the tradition of most radicals turning coat on attaining powerful positions. On a personal observation, my main worry was how Jega was going to be able to change the mind-set of those under him who may be tempted by our politicians to capitulate when it matters most.  I’ve been watching Jega ever since.

Jega started his job slowly but steadily. He took his time in warming up to the delicate and precarious assignment. The 2011 elections were not perfect but acceptable. He must have learnt some useful lessons from it and reasoned that the only way to deal with and obliterate the artful dodgers from our political landscape was to employ the new vista offered by technology.  The resultant effect of that revelation was the birth of Permanent Voters’ Cards and the Card-readers! Those who thought they could rig themselves permanently into power couldn’t imagine what hit them like thunderbolt. By the time they understood the gravity of what was coming at them, they kicked vehemently against the introduction of this efficacious machinery and sought a return to our pre-historic ways of conducting elections. Everything was done to frustrate Jega, including resorting to vengeful attacks but the man remained stoic in his fervent disposition like a Tibetan Monk. But if he thought he had succeeded in achieving his aim, he was in for a crude shock.

On March 28, Jega’s enemies succeeded in frustrating and destabilising his lofty ideals. By whatever magic or esoteric design, the President of Nigeria and his wife presented the world a pitiable spectacle as they approached an electoral officer to cast their votes in the presence of global media. The world came to standstill as the card-reader failed abysmally to accredit the First couple. It was such an embarrassment of tragic proportion. For about 30 agonising minutes, the INEC officials sweated profusely while battling with the fiendish machine. And the rumours began to fly like space-shuttles across the orbit. Many were convinced that someone had used a jammer to block the machines from performing its duty. In fact, I was feverish on behalf of Jega. How can this controversial machine fail so miserably at such a crucial moment?
I wondered what Jega was going to do to salvage this chaotic situation. We saw the President talking by phone and in a conversation with Jega in what lasted lasted a few minutes. In panic or frustration or both, Jega succumbed and caved in to the use of manual registration for President and Mrs Goodluck Jonathan. That was the carte blanche always wanted and now freely given to potential trouble-makers to annihilate what had started as a beautiful exercise with the prompt and blistering accreditation of General and Mrs Muhammadu Buhari. At that stage, the fate of Nigeria was hanging in the balance. The election went ahead anyhow but not as competently scheduled. Allegations flew right, left and centre about manipulations here and there. We all panicked about the possible derailment of our closest range to having a positive change in our strange polity since June 12, 1993. But we managed to pull through somehow.

While on the final laps, we noticed several lapses. The election results were trickling in snail-like as we waited in suspended animation. Nigerians, and indeed the world, were help spellbound as we stayed glued to our televisions and live-streams via internet links. The suspense reached a crescendo when Jega suspended the announcement and postponed it to the next day. Many people became so paranoid. I was scared stiff wondering if we were not going to have a sorrowful repeat of the 1993 elections when Professor Humphrey Nwosu, the then INEC Chairman, was arbitrarily stopped from releasing the full official results. That was my worst imaginable nightmare.

I assumed the worst was over when Jega and his many Professors resumed their tedious work the following morning until Elder Peter Godsday Orubebe came in to pour petrol into the fire in a most childish manner. I’ve never been so on edge in my life as I watched the show of shame live on television. Thank God for the uncanny maturity and remarkable sagacity of Jega, that act of indiscretion could have caused Nigeria a most outlandish conflagration. After the old man calmed down, I knew God was truly in control and expected that the next thing would be how to get President Jonathan and by extension PDP to accept the results and apparent defeat in good faith. I was privy to some high level information about pressure from local and international forces trying to persuade our overwhelmed President to accept his fate with equanimity and convince his acolytes also to do the needful.  I shall return to this shortly.

Thus my special tribute goes to Professor Jega who seemed to have been specially sent to this world for the sole purpose of breaking the jinx of useless elections in Nigeria. Born in Jega, Kebbi State, on January 11, 1957, Attahiru attended Sabon Gari Town Primary School, Jega, from 1963 to 1969, before leaving for Government Secondary School, Birnin Kebbi and later enrolled at Ahmadu Bello University Zaria’s Bayero College, Kano in 1974. He bagged a BSc degree (Second Class Upper Division) in Political Science and lectured briefly before winning a Fellowship that teleported him to Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, United States of America, from 1981-84, where he awarded a PhD in Political Science. He came back home to continue his teaching appointment at Bayero University.

I can now move on to celebrate other key actors in the whole saga. I must acknowledge the patriotism of President Jonathan in several ways. First, for appointing the right man for the job, Professor Attahiru Jega. Second, for allowing him some free hand in doing his job. Three, for staying calm when it seemed Murphy’s Law was at play as everything that could go wrong started going awry and berserk. Fourth, for conceding defeat when it was most crucially necessary. That was probably the most difficult decision ever taken by the President but, trust me, that’s the wisest and most profitable as well. In endless epistles, I had forewarned the President that he was being scammed by those comparing him to Mandela, Lee Kuan Yew and Jesus Christ. I’m not sure if he ever had the chance to read any of those open letters I wrote most passionately and in good faith. Week after week, I was thoroughly insulted and washed down by the many busy-bodies that appointed themselves as Jonathan defenders on cyberspace.

I will pick my favourite contributors in no particular order. Top on my list is the one and only Baba Iyabo, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who ostensibly got us into the Jonathan quagmire. According to impeccable sources, General Obasanjo was so traumatised by the Jonathan debacle that he had to beg God to give him the opportunity to exterminate the pestilence he brought upon Nigeria. God obviously answered his prayers as Jonathan fumbled and wobbled from one crisis to another which made reconciliation practically impossible with his erstwhile benefactor. General Obasanjo rallied many of the retired Generals like Ibrahim Babangida, Abdulsalami Abubakar, Theophilus Danjuma on the need to exorcise the PDP demons from our political landscape. It was surprising to see how Baba buried his personal differences with old foes like Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu, in order for APC to germinate and grow into the hydra-headed party that tormented and bullied PDP into submission. It was a classic case of the enemy of my enemy is my friend and it paid off handsomely.

It did not end there. Foreign governments were enjoined to help Nigeria avert the monumental tragedy that was heading dangerously towards us at the speed of light. Special thanks must definitely go to the US government for its total commitment to the enthronement of true democracy in Africa’s most populous nation. Just imagine that the American Secretary of State, John Kerry, flew physically to Nigeria to meet both President Jonathan and General Muhammadu Buhari. The American Vice President, Joe Biden soon followed up with direct phone calls to the two leading candidates. The climax was the unprecedented broadcast to Nigerians by President Barack Obama which left no one in doubt of America’s special commitment despite its frosty and endangered relationship with Abuja.

One cannot underrate  the powerful intervention of the European Union, United Kingdom, The African Union, ECOWAS, Dr Kofi Annan, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, President John Dramani Mahama of Ghana, His Eminence The Sultan of Sokoto, Professor Ibrahim Agboola Gambari, and so many others who intervened and worked frenetically for peace. The churches prayed and fasted. So many young stars on social media seriously canvassed for peaceful elections. The determination to achieve peace was hugely massive.

The youths of Nigeria demonstrated their seriousness about the Change Project in Nigeria despite being let down by some of their hustling celebrities and role-models who tried everything to kill the dream. I always wondered when some of our friends would use their powerful influence to bring about change in our country. I had learnt so much from the Oprahs and JayZs who went all out to support and actualise the Obama phenomenon in America. I hope our superstars have now gained new insights into how to help a nation desperately in need of rescue. It was not possible for President Jonathan to turn all of them into billionaires anyway. The problem is the unfortunate belief that only governments can make us rich. This has to change.

I doff my hat to the leading opposition party APC for a job well done. Many had expected the party to collapse even in its embryo and when that did not happen the enemies thought it would after the Primaries. It was one of those modern day miracles that the party did not disintegrate as predicted by doomsday prophets. My utmost respect goes to all those who bonded against all odds to prove the cynics wrong. The choice of General Buhari was a masterstroke that sent PDP into unrecoverable state of stupor. General Buhari’s amazing tenacity would be a case study for doctoral students and researchers in the near future. His abiding faith in his ability to bring Nigeria back from the precipice of destruction will inspire many generations to come. Also, his wisdom in picking the erudite scholar, accomplished legal luminary, a man of God and Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s son-in-law, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, sealed the deal.

I must congratulate all the candidates who contested. It is not always about winning, I know that the participation is always the beginning of a long journey in the wilderness of politics. General Buhari had been taunted over the years as a failure but we can all see how God has lifted him up. The pride he has restored to Nigeria through his winning this election is immeasurable. And it serves a didactic purpose to all of us. Our security forces, election monitors and others did their best. The youth corpers really put their lives on the line.  May God bless them all.

I have been instructed by my young bosses on social media to tell our President-elect that the new generation is now in charge and their expectations must be met by fire by force. This is an impatient and angry group that won’t listen to excuses. They are not interested in the politics of power but the power of politics to assemble our best materials in order to deliver excellent performance. They are not willing to sit by idly only for the usual enemies of Nigeria to crawl back through the rear door. As such the government is expected to hit the ground running from day one.

There is so much to write but space and time won’t permit me. I will thank myself like the lizard that fell from the iroko tree for putting everything at risk at a time it seemed very foolish to do so. I actually feel like I won the election and not Buhari. Even those who opposed him are now rejoicing with us.

Such is the sweetness of victory.