‘Do not pray for tasks equal to your abilities, but pray for abilities equal to your tasks. Then the performance of your tasks will be no miracle, but you will be the miracle.”
–Thomas S. Monson
By Omoniyi Salaudeen
There is no more cause for national anxiety about the new leadership of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). That apprehension has already been laid to rest by the swearing-in ceremony of Prof Mahmood Yakubu performed on Wednesday by President Muhammadu Buhari for him to continue as the Chairman of the electoral umpire for another term of five years. His reappointment followed the constitutional requirement of the Senate screening process.
With his reappointment, the erudite Professor of History has made history as the first INEC boss to be reappointed for a second term. And it is not just for the mere fun of it; it is the reward of his comparative impressive performance in the last five years. There is a general consensus that the electoral body has not done too badly given the circumstances of the time.
Though his predecessor, Prof Attahiru Jega, had begun some of the reform agenda carried out by Yakubu, the notable improvement recorded in the recent elections in Edo and Ondo states has further pulled the commission out of its credibility crisis and integrity deficit. It can only get better. It is still a work in progress. It is not perfect yet, but there is hope in the horizon; after all, there is no ideal political system anywhere in the world. And there has never been. The contestation that trailed the declaration of Joe Biden as the America President-elect has shown that democracy has its dark drama. But above the din of contention, what the Americans have that is working for them is the resilience of their institutions; otherwise, the outgoing President Donald Trump would have brought down the entire democratic structure in that country.
Now, the onus is on the INEC chairman to lead the country to building an enduring electoral process that would deepen the present democratic governance. He has a huge task to do a solid consolidation of democratic tenets, as well as cultivating an enlighten citizenry imbued with genuine democratic norms and ethos through constant campaigns and direct stakeholders’ engagement. All these must start immediately or else the 2023 elections will be another hell of rowdy and riotous endgame. The signals are ominous, especially with the cacophony of noise about power shift, as well as endless struggle by the state actors to outwit one another. It is obvious that the political elite in this country have not learnt any lesson from the past experience, as some are already spoiling for war even when the race has not started.
Primarily, this do-or-die attitude is what INEC must stamp its feet to contain in order to change the narrative about leadership selection process in the country.
Arranged in the perking order of importance and urgency, speedy passage of the Amended Electoral Act should be the topmost priority of the commission. The immediate past National Assembly had towards the twilight of the last administration passed the new act and presented it to the president for assent, but for reasons best known to him, he refused to sign it into law. Based on popular opinion of the stakeholders, the amended bill, if passed into law, would not only address some of the fundamental problems resulting in easy electoral manipulation, but also empowers the commission to prosecute offenders.
This being at the heart of the reform agenda of the returned helmsman, the INEC must also begin to seek collaboration with the current leadership of the National Assembly with a view to ensuring speedy process of implementation of the bill. As they say, time is of essence. Of course, no amount of time can be enough to do adequate preparation, but much can still be achieved in terms of experimentation and correction within the timeframe for the next election. With a watertight electoral process, other things would definitely fall in place.
As Prof Yakubu has already unveiled in his address at the commission’s headquarters while formerly assuming duty, the cleanup of voters register, deployment of improved technology into voters enrolment process, as well as capacity building through succession grooming would be the fulcrum of his new reform initiative. As he succinctly put it: “The immediate area of attention for the commission is the resumption of the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) exercise by the first quarter of next year and this will continue at least until six months to the 2023 general elections.”
Without a doubt, institutional capacity is quite germane for continuity and sustainability of the process. It is the surest way of telling the people of Nigeria who have literally become idle spectators in the selection of their leaders that it is no longer going to be business as usual. It is the pathway to becoming a beacon of democracy in Africa and beyond.
To whom much is given, so they say, much is expected. Beyond rhetoric, Yakubu must recognize that failure does not know past achievements or current distinctions. He must accept the fact that in the final analysis, it is not what he says about his reform that matters, but what he is able to achieve with it.
Born in Bauchi in May 1962, Yakubu started his teaching career with a Grade II Teachers’ Certificate in 1980 coming on top of his class. Thereafter, he secured admission into the University of Sokoto (now Usmanu Danfodiyo University) and graduated in 1985 with a first class honours degree in History, winning the Waziri of Sokoto Prize for the Best Graduating Student. Pursuant to his desire for full-time academic career, he proceeded to the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom in 1986 with the Cambridge Commonwealth Trust Scholarship and obtained the Master of Philosophy (M.Phil) degree in International Relations in 1987. He later enrolled at the University of Oxford where he also bagged Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in History in 1991 at the age of 29 years. At Oxford, he was a three-time winner of the Overseas Research Students’ Award of the Committee of Vice Chancellors of United Kingdom Universities and the Beit Fund Research Grant.
All through his academic career spanning over three decades, Yakubu towered above his peers winning laurels in all his field of endeavours. As the INEC helmsman, he has proved himself as a man of strong character. Expectations are high that he would do a reform of the commission for better performance.