THE current Independent National Electoral Commission headed by Professor Mahmood Yakubu is perhaps the greatest threat to the growth, flowering, and faith in the electoral process in Nigeria since 1999. This isn’t flippant hyperbole. Yakubu’s INEC is out and away the most incompetent and most compromised INEC Nigeria has had since the rebirth of democracy.
Given the well-known, inherent weakness of institutions in Nigeria, government agencies habitually assume the character and temperaments of their heads. For example, NAFDAC used to be vibrant, visible, and virile because of the vivaciousness and vitality of Dora Akunyili. Now, people barely know NADAC exists. Those who know it exists no longer have any faith in what it does.
Hamman Tukur’s fearlessness and forthrightness gave visibility and verve to the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC). Now no one hears about the commission anymore. Yemi Kale’s aggressive independence and analytical rigor has rubbed off on the National Bureau of Statistics, a hitherto nondescript government agency, and has made it influential in national discourse. Should he be replaced as boss of the NBS by someone with a different temperament, you can bet that it will go the way of NAFDAC and RMAFC.
The examples are legion, but the important point is that in the absence of enduring self-sustaining structures to nurture institutions in Nigeria, the personal attributes of heads of agencies have come define the character and performance of institutions. Weak, corrupt, compromised people reflect— or, more correctly, infect—their moral failings on the institutions they head.
When Professor Attahiru Jega was appointed head of INEC, he brought his enormous social capital and strong moral character to bear on the organization. Suddenly, people began to invest faith in the sanctity of the electoral process. Even though his midwifery of elections wasn’t faultless, it was comparatively transparent and progressively corrective. It was the personal example of fierce independence and transparency he brought to the job of heading INEC that inspired what I called “misplaced PVC [Permanent Voters Card] optimism.”
For the first time since 1999, people had been led to believe that their votes could actually make a difference, that their votes would count. But current INEC chairman Yakubu has shattered that illusion, and faith in the electoral process is now the worst it has ever been. This is a reflection both of the frail moral character of Yakubu and of the integrity deficit of Buhari’s desperately fascist regime.
First, there are indications that Yakubu got his job as INEC chair on the recommendation of Abba Kyari, Buhari’s notoriously avaricious Chief of Staff who is sullied by visible ethical stains. He is Yakubu’s puppeteer and doesn’t even hide it. For instance, on October 26, 2018, Kyari invited Yakubu to his office at the Presidential Villa for a closed-door meeting. There is no parallel for that level of explicitly unabashed meddlesomeness in the electoral process in Nigeria’s history.
Strangely, no one protested. Not even the Atiku campaign, to my knowledge, protested. And it went downhill from there. As I pointed out in a previous column, the Chief of Staff to the President is not even a constitutionally recognized position. It’s an informal contrivance that incompetently mimics the American system. In other words, an unconstitutional Chief of Staff to the President can’t legally summon the INEC boss for a meeting in his office, but he did.
Of course, Yakubu himself has an unflattering record as Executive Secretary of TETFund from 2007 to 2012. And that’s the nicest thing anyone can say about his horrible record there. So Yakubu was susceptible to blackmail from government agents because of his sordid record at TETFund. Most importantly, though, his moral deficiencies, absolute lack of principles, and right-down incompetence have come to define INEC. The once relatively transparent and effective INEC that Jega headed has now come to assume Yakubu’s morally questionable personality make-up.
The result is that elections are now a cruel charade, and people have lost confidence in the electoral process. I warned about this. In my Daily Trust column of October 6, 2018 titled “Three Reasons You Should be Worried about the 2019 Elections,” I wrote: “So, obviously, APC has a new rulebook of rigging, and it goes like this: Can’t win an election fair and square? No problem. Get INEC to declare the election ‘inconclusive.’ During the rescheduled election, hire police officers, soldiers, and thugs to intimidate voters, openly steal PVCs, and then brazenly rig. And, voila, you’re a winner! The more electorally vulnerable APC is, the more vicious these agencies will be in their partisanship and strong-arm tactics.
“If that doesn’t work, hire thugs to screen voters who will allow only those who will vote for you to be at the polling station.
“Or, as happened in Kano, just manufacture arbitrary but fantastical figures from nowhere and pass them off as the number of votes your preferred candidate won. Because APC has gotten away with these newfangled rigging strategies, they will perfect and replicate them in 2019. Watch out.”
It’s incredible how my prediction has materialized with almost mathematical precision, with the Kano daylight electoral heist of March 23 being the latest.
In other past columns and social media interventions, I warned Nigerians about Yakubu’s INEC. For instance, in a viral February 12 social media post titled “Atiku’s Fiercest Foe Isn’t Buhari; It’s the INEC Chairman,” I pointed out that a source close to Yakubu told me Yakubu “has a deep-seated animus toward Atiku and has made many nasty, unkind remarks about Atiku in private. That, in and of itself, is not the problem. We are all entitled to our personal predispositions and biases as long as they don’t interfere with our judgement on occasions that invite our neutrality and fair-mindedness.
“However, the same source told me the INEC chairman has a profound personal investment in APC’s electoral successes, like Maurice Iwu had in PDP’s victories.” I wrote further: “I’m so sure of my information that I can swear by Allah that Professor Yakubu isn’t neutral toward Atiku and has said unmentionably disparaging things about him in private. I invoke the wrath of Allah upon me if I am making this up. I hope Professor Yakubu, who is a Muslim like me and with whom I have personal familiarity, can do the same.”
In the October 6, 2018 column I quoted earlier, I wrote, among other things, that, “The current INEC chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, is known to me personally, too. He is one of the most brilliant scholars anyone can ever wish to meet. His razor-sharp intellect is outmatched only by his piercing wit. Nevertheless, he is no Jega. He isn’t encumbered by the sort of self-imposed moral burden that drove Jega to reform INEC and to remain above the fray. Yakubu sees himself as an APC appointee who is beholden to the party. I have no confidence in his capacity to be fair in the 2019 presidential election. I hope he proves me wrong.”
Yakubu didn’t prove me wrong. He had a chance to write his name in gold, to redeem himself, by doing the right thing, but he blew it. The judgment of history, which he studied and taught, will be harsh on him. In spite of the colossal resources at his disposal and the technology he purported to deploy during elections, the conduct of the 2019 election was the most dismal we have ever had. No one, except deluded, low-wattage Buhari minions, believes elections mean anything in Nigeria again. That’s the greatest disservice to democracy.