Attahiru Jega: The Measure Of Excellence And Integrity
THE TOYIN FALOLA INTERVIEWS
A Conversation With Prof. Attahiru Jega (1)
Many people know Professor Attahiru Muhammadu Jega as a Nigerian intellectual with a zeal for excellence and a flair for brilliance. His popularity came from his roles and involvement in the recent political history of the country where he served as the umpire of the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) in Nigeria in 2015, presiding over the electoral process of the period that went down as one of the most credible and transparent democratic processes in the history of the country. The success of his tenure as the umpire of that institution during that period could be attributed to his intellect and brilliance, knowing that doing such a great job and having a national appeal for being reasonably fair in an election in Nigeria’s political engagement could be difficult, if not impossible. However, more than the assignment required brilliance and intelligence; it also demanded courage and determination. Courage because of political machinery and chaos agents who were usually hired or engaged by willing political figures to scuttle the electoral process for their provincial intentions. Determination because Nigerian political evolution is at a stage where it could be potentially overburdened by numerous distractive events such as the deliberate sabotage by politicians themselves or the apathy of the citizens, the former reason of which is done for an apparent end.
Due to his date with excellence and purity of intentions, Jega’s involvement in the said elections eclipsed his remarkable actions in other human endeavour spheres where he had recorded equally laudable milestones and landmarks. Not many people know that he was a golden success in academics where he reached the pinnacle of his career, of course, because academics are notorious for being hidden from the face of the public as they are not politicians. This is not because academics are naturally anti-social but because the nature of their engagements prevents them from being personally known by many people. So, if one gets to the level of being publicly identified, two things might predictably have been the case. First, they must have been crucial to the reshaping of their social world because of the solutions they bring to the table, and as a result, society is not an ingrate to overlook their contributions. Second, they must have belonged to the political class of the academic circles. It is hard not to pinpoint Professor Jega to any of this as he was and still is a success in each of his involvements, which has singled him out for accolades and recognition from across the world.
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Professor Jega was born in 1957 and raised under the supervision of foresighted parents. It would have been generally impossible that he lacked the requisite knowledge of the country’s political escapades and its various episodes of wonderful and exhilarating experiences. Of course, there were projections in 1960 and the period that preceded Nigeria’s independence that the country would break into different nationalities, presumably because there were reasons to concede to the opinion that the country is divided along ethnic and religious lines. To be candid, it was a miracle that the country had disappointed the world as this assumption has become more of a hallucinating product than an empirical conclusion. No one would understand how the country survived in the habit of planting nationalist spirit that could be sustained much even after the famous civil war of 1967. All these political events are responsible for the mounting of pressure on individuals who are selected to function under some institutions because not only does the history of the country perpetually reminds them of the possibility of communal suspicion, but it also tells them why they could trigger national controversies provided they are not careful in their duty. But beyond being excellent in these situations, Jega is a success in vocational skills, policy knowledge, and professional engagements amidst others.
The professional life of Attahiru Jega is worthy of attention because the attraction that an academic usually has is determined by the fecundity of his intellectual productions. The intellectual who wants to be in a public discourse must always produce something on which the society can feast intellectually. In 2015, Jega published a work titled Election Management in Nigeria: The Evolution of the Nigerian Electoral Process 2010 – 2015, an enlightening document that sheds light on the challenges that engulf the country’s electoral challenges. The book highlights the relationship between Nigerian politicians and those over whom they conduct their political businesses. It stresses that while the former has continued to outsmart the people by devising numerous processes of manipulations, the latter have refused to refrain from being pawns in their political chessboard. The professor is aware that the problem does not inherently lie with the victims as they are often helpless in decision-making in the country. They are rigged out in the elections that would shape their economic and social life by the individuals determined to achieve their parochial ambitions to the detriment of others. In such an environment, the power does not and cannot be said to belong to the masses per se.
For people in academia, this particular book remains something that feeds their minds and cleanses it of dirt because not only does it exemplify the electoral process between the years involved as something that can give a clue as to the political progress of the country, but of course, as also something that can educate them as to why the political class takes the route that they take in getting power. The issue is that many of these power hunters have been so attached to it that other aspects of their lives are poorly fed. And because these aspects are languishing in the abyss of abandonment, they cannot see the impermanence of power and the brevity of relevance that accompanies it. Nearly all elections held in the country, as the book reveals, are marred by various inconsistencies that are caused by violence and hostilities of unknown magnitude. In elections organized within these highlighted periods, as it is nearly all others, there were perpetual cases of ballot boxes snatches, votes-buying even in the queue of voters who performed their statutory duties, and underage voting. Regardless of these issues, there are also the more significant political issues in the ring of power where impositions are made on the ones in control of elections. Apart from the fact that there are situations where monies meant to run the elections are deliberately reduced to stifle their efficiency.
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Jega’s cardinality to the country’s political development is strengthened by the fact that he had released similar academic works that validate the heinous disposition of politicians in the country some five years before he released Election Management in Nigeria. It is interesting to know, for example, that in Nigeria at Fifty: Contributions to Peace, Democracy and Development, a book he co-edited in 2010, the country’s history was examined, as well as how it has substantially maximized its potential to facilitate peace or improve the democratic culture of the country. For all it is worth, the book x-rays the country’s trajectory and comes up with the finding that it has defied torrential tides that would naturally have capsized it in the process. It registers that the country has experienced the displacement of its nationalist entitlement at different times and has surprisingly repositioned itself back to the appropriate level where it can seamlessly operate without contradictions. But then there are the dots that often challenge the country’s unity because it stains their lives and taints their collective image. In the said 50 years, Nigeria has experienced all sorts of things that could have threatened its survival, for example, the politicians showcasing their greed when in power, but the country remains indivisible because there seem to be the Trojan horses that save them in times of critical challenges.
More appealingly, Jega has worked so expansively and commendably on the issues of elections and has penned down some books that address persistent electoral shenanigans, apparently because he has a theoretical understanding of the issue and has most predictably considered how challenges associated with elections organizations can be curbed. This explains his intellectual brilliance in Strategies for Curbing Election-Related Politic Violence in Nigeria’s North-West Zone, published in 2003. The work is a beautiful piece that can help the country win the war against electoral violence that has been enshrined in national politics and political attitude. Although the book concentrates on how the issues around electoral violence in the North-West zones of the country can be solved, it does not score low in helping to paint the issue of electoral manipulations that occur in every quarter of the country’s politics. More than anything, a close relationship is established in the book between the idea of not properly educating the younger ones (the youths generally) and their susceptibility to being used as an instrument of destabilization and destruction during electoral processes. When individuals are not exposed to the opportunity of studying, they would be preoccupied with some frivolities that would be inimical to the collective safety of the society itself. This is the structural maladjusted nature in some parts of Nigeria that makes its people prone to election violence.
However, the book reveals that beyond the issue of education is the insincerity of the political leaders. Leaders are usually perpetrating elections violence because they gain exceedingly from that engagement. The problem has remained because they fail to understand that the democratic culture is entrenched first by the attitude that leaders show when they lose elections, which contributes incredibly to the escalation of violence or the promotion of peace. The fact that their reactions in every post-election period would ultimately determine what their followers would do. When leaders contest, lose and refuse to accept defeat, it sends a wrong signal to the people. Their followers who want to impress them double-cross the process and scuttle it whenever they realize it would yield negative results for their paymasters. In essence, the book explains that the beginning of violence is attributed to these conditions because they first determine the people’s attitudes toward elections before inspiring their negative responses. In short, the book provides the structural and systemic downsides of the country’s electoral institution and offers practical solutions to the myriad of challenges consuming the process of elections there. The strategies offered in the book range from the government granting autonomy to the institution to giving them appropriate reinforcement and reimbursement for the project, among many other things.
Jega has given an unquantifiable magnitude of benefit to the country, and we cannot deny his ambience of productivity that he stands to give more. Because of his intellectual posture and productions, he has added to the excellent image of the country and thus demystified all manner of assumptions and conclusions. Jega has functioned as the Pro-chancellor and Chairman, Governing Council, University of Jos, from June 2021, where he has added numerous feathers to his already dignified cap of excellence. Adding many epoch-making accomplishments as an administrator, his position has redefined the office, and he has not reneged on making outstanding contributions in nearly all academic works targeted to improve the sociopolitical and socio-cultural milieu of the country. Undoubtedly, he is expanding the frontiers of knowledge and information by redefining what it means to be a leader and how essential leadership roles are to advancing a people or civilization. Between 2004 and 2010, when he was the Vice-Chancellor of Bayero University, the school felt the presence of a great man who continues to reshape the activities of the institution for important landmarks.
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In the same spirit, Jega has been a Member, National Universities Commission (NUC), Strategy Advisory, and Nigerian Universities Reforms Committee from January 2018 till the present. His assignment on the committee has already begun to register his numerous ideological convictions, great as they are, as he continues to provide them with beautiful and excellent ideas that can be used to launch the country to its deserved position in the committee of nations. The NUC has realized that the advancement of the country’s academic system requires individuals with values and vast experience because, without dynamic thinking, there would be challenges in advancing the course of a society. And it is evident that the community that refuses to adapt to changes that can be got from the association of people to emerging trends would be perpetually languishing in the abyss of degeneration. This awareness informed Jega’s selection into the commission, and there is no question that he would revolutionize it with his outstandingly impressive ideas. He has done it with the electoral commission he headed between 2010 and 2015, and almost anyone familiar with the democratic culture of the country would confess to the excellence of his engagements.
A cursory look at Jega’s research engagements immediately reveals that he is given to peace advocacy and dialogue. He has been an ambassador of peace not necessarily by the mandate of any association but by his behaviour and the ways he conducts every activity designated to him. We have seen this on several occasions where he was very meticulous with his duties and responsibilities. Numerous of his research works centre on the issue of peace and how it can be sustained in the global society. This is predicated on the fact that the world would encounter numerous challenges if people cannot integrate their multicultural and multidimensional identities that are mixed aggressively. The fact that nature is complicit in this interrelationship cannot be underplayed, as people who depend primarily on agricultural production, for example, are usually forced to leave their habitat in search of a better alternative due to the ecological conditions of the places where they are, except they want to perish with time. How is it, therefore, possible to attain peace when it is discovered that the migrants, for instance, would require land for the survival of their identity, and their host communities also need the same land for the protection of their economic values? These issues demand a new paradigm, which the Professor has offered in many of his books.
The man is arguably incomparable with his contemporaries in terms of community service. The fact that he is involved in society-improving activities consolidates the assumption that he cannot be undermined in the political and sociocultural limelight associable with the country. This humble Professor has contributed to several workshops, both in and outside the country. His contributions are those of a resource person whose knowledge and intellect are used to improve the quality of academic and community engagements. Part of being a valuable individual to the community is when you bless the society with your knowledge or intellectual fecundity. Numerous public lectures are held by Jega, where he gives people the opportunity to interact and interrogate ideas that would be used for the benefit of mankind. Not many people would forget in a hurry how his contributions in the newspapers in the country contributed to their intellectual growth.
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One would marvel at his systematic approach to issues of public and national interest, given the ability to adapt to events regardless of their ethnic or religious colouration. But when one realizes that his areas of interest are vast and can accommodate a wide range of intellectual angles, one would see the reason for his flexibility and simplicity. For all it is worth, Jega’s interests span across politics and governance in Nigeria, democracy and democratization in comparative perspectives, African political economy, elections and electoral processes, among other things. In essence, anyone interested in politics must have an accommodating view of issues and matters, mainly because the complexity of politics is informed by the interaction of groups and their interest, and anyone who would have a good view of the idea would be open-minded to issues around it. It, therefore, explains why Jega is naturally accessible to all in this context. Nigeria’s politics is so broad that it requires corresponding openness for the people to better understand it.
Anyone who has put in the magnitude of work that Jega is putting up would undoubtedly have results to show for it. In reality, it is a universal truth that when people are diligent in their engagements, they will receive the appropriate rewards that match their dedication. Jega has received several awards from prestigious bodies for his remarkable contributions to the issues he presides or conducts research on. In 2015, he was honoured by the Nigerian Higher Education Foundation (NHEF) in New York, which conferred the Integrity Award. Likewise, this cerebral individual was given an Achievement Award by the Kebbi State Government, Birnin Kebbi, at the State’s 25th Anniversary in 2016. This did not deny him the honour of being singled out in 2017 as an Honorary Member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 237 Class, for his involvement and contributions to various academic activities that promote ethical scholarship.
There are so many other ones than can be mentioned here. What has remained constant is that Prof. Jega is an exceptional man across the board. Please join us for a conversation with this renowned Nigerian academic and former Vice-Chancellor of Bayero University, Kano.
Sunday, December 12, 2021
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10:00 AM Austin CST
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Falola is a Nigerian historian and professor of African Studies. He is currently the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin.
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Toyin Falola Interviews Holds Conversation With Kunle Afolayan
Touching Base With Dr Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi’s Perspectives On Nigeria’s 2023 Elections
By Toyin Falola
Dr Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi is a well-versed law professor, international relations activist, and commentator. It was delightful to have her join us, alongside Miriam Oke, Chido Onumah, and Jibrin Hussaini, at the last edition of the Toyin Falola Interviews, where we discussed Nigeria’s 2023 elections.
If anything, the primaries being organised in the nation’s two most influential parties, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress, are pointers to what should be expected of the 2023 Nigerian elections. As is customary, the primaries have been rife with electoral malpractices, vote-buying, and unscrupulous voting figures, and there is a shocking video posted on Twitter by Bashir Ahmad, former Personal Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on New Media, who lost his bid to secure the ticket of the APC to contest for a seat in the House of Representatives primaries in his home state of Kano. The video shows how supposed delegates are handed pre-ticked ballot boxes and are asked to put them in the ballot box without even batting an eyelid at the malpractice.
The ball is being set in motion. Atiku Abubakar is the People’s Democratic Party flag bearer for the presidential seat. The All Progressives Congress has recently screened its presidential hopefuls and will soon appoint its flagbearer. Peter Obi, who defected from the People’s Democratic Party to the Labour Party and has since been elected as the party’s flagbearer for the presidential seat, is a seeming third wheel in the routine two-dominant-party multi-party system practised in the country. The stage is set. Or is it?
This piece is not much of a sequel to the one on Chido Onumah’s perspectives on the 2023 elections because Dr Akiyode-Afolabi had her unique views on the questions asked. Nonetheless, it will follow a similar pattern, where we will examine points touched on by Dr Akiyode-Afolabi during the interview.
Electoral Violence and Nigeria’s 2023 Elections
Sad as it may seem, electoral violence is an immemorial issue rocking the Nigerian state. Throughout all its republics, Nigeria has witnessed killings and maiming during election periods — whether at the polling booths on election day or among political rivals setting targets on each other’s backs. Nigeria’s electoral process is peculiar, involving the recruitment of violent electoral mercenaries, often branded as party thugs. These thugs sign off their loyalty to a political party and wreak havoc on the party’s behalf — from ballot snatching to intimidating voters to bow to their party’s will.
In the Nigerian political scene, these party thugs sit with political kings. They are deemed crucial to the electoral process and candidates’ success. The recruitment and payment of these party thugs consume huge financial resources. However, political leaders and public officeholders fail to consider the expected uselessness of the party thugs within the governance period of three to four years that separate pre-election and election years. Having tasted ill-gotten wealth that far surpasses what they could have earned honestly, and without any honest and paying job, these party thugs resort to all sorts of vice to pay their bills and keep themselves in shape. Thus, it is not uncommon to find that party thugs become robbers, kidnappers, bandits, and street-terrorising thugs who incessantly cut holes through the state’s peace, security, and quiet.
In most cases, we would rather relate the incessant kidnappings and unrest to unknown gunmen or herdsmen-bandits rather than the true perpetrators of the evil — anarchical party thugs with weapons they were equipped with during the election period. Thus, the rivalry for power and politicians’ insatiable desire for control, regardless of the extent they go to get it, could be strongly linked to the violent crises that have rocked the country for a while now.
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For Dr Akiyode-Afolabi, violent political mercenaries in Nigeria and the political aspirants and parties who are their enablers act out of an abundant enjoyment of sheer impunity — the knowledge that they can do and undo, wreak whatever havoc they want to, without bearing the consequences. Although several of the perpetrators of this electoral violence are known, nothing is done to bring them to justice, further reinforcing the need to carry out their vice during the next election. Over the years, electoral violence has become a norm in Nigeria, and nothing is being done to curb the menace, especially in punishing the perpetrators. Thus, the electorate have joined the camp of political aspirants and political thugs who see electoral violence as part of the electioneering process in Nigeria. For members of the electorate who have difficulty processing electoral violence as a part of the electioneering process, the option of apathy kicks to the surface — especially among women and the youth who earnestly believe politics in Nigeria is a dirty game, and electoral violence is inevitable. Thus, it is not surprising that Nigeria has had a low voter turnout over the years.
The case of electoral violence and the state’s reaction to it is like several other policies in Nigeria. While the Electoral Act was proactively drafted to cover electoral violence and how to punish offenders and culprits, there has not been any action to make that part of the Act functional. It is akin to the numerous nation-improving policies whose existence has never gone beyond the paper. If we were to dig to the roots of why the aspect of the Nigerian Electoral Act that punishes electoral violence has not been enforced, we would be quick to find out that the average Nigerian politician is either directly or indirectly complicit. Thus, those at the helm and those willing to take over from them are all involved, making them reluctant to enforce the punishment for electoral violence, that is, if they consider punishing the crime at all.
Nigeria’s Three-faced Need and the Importance of a Long-term Agenda
The need for a long-term agenda should not be misconstrued as supporting the cabalistic unending Northern presidency agenda or any other agenda that does not mean well for Nigeria as a nation. Rather, it represents Dr Akiyode-Afolabi’s thoughts on what is truly needed to get Nigeria out of its current quagmire. The international relations activist considers the 2023 elections in Nigeria a big issue for the country, particularly because there are more people interested in the presidential position than we have had in quite a while. Nonetheless, most of these aspirants are people who have either held a political position or currently hold one. They are people we know so well. Given their deeds while in office, it will be difficult to convince any right-thinking Nigerian that there is hope for the country if any of the candidates being paraded were elected as president.
The double tragedy that is Buhari’s eight years in office has seen the country go from bad to worse. The country’s debts keep piling up, with no way of repaying them year after year. The people are impoverished, and the currency continually suffers a blow of worthlessness and devaluation, inflation, and the unemployment rate keeps rising. To make matters worse are the rife killings, banditry, and the near state of anarchy that the country has been thrown into. Has any of the numerous candidates aspiring for the presidential seat shown they are the visionary yet pragmatic leaders that can help Nigeria realise a remarkable positive change?
Careful consideration of the likeliest players at the 2023 polls, vis-à-vis the criterion above, would show that Nigeria is not prepared for an election. Dr Akiyode-Afolabi proposed a three-aspect strategy to help us discover a new Nigeria. These are aspects that cannot be fully realised within a four-year term. Thus, there is the need for Nigerian politicians, regardless of their differences—although there are no marked differences in Nigerian politics—to consider government as a continuum and treat it as such. This will help ensure that even if power falls to the opposition camp, the remarkable and change-focused plans that have been kicked into action by the previous government will continue to be nurtured by the new government. This is the only way we can fully realise the three-dimensional solution proposed by Dr Akiyode-Afolabi.
Dr Akiyode-Afolabi’s first proposed dimension is the need for an empowered political class. The Nigerian political field is riddled with whimsical people who are of the anything-goes breed as long as they get elected to office. That is why serial defection is nothing to them, and they can shamelessly befriend a foe today and betray a friend tomorrow. They are overly selfish lot who constantly put personal needs and gains before national needs and expected gains. The Nigerian political class needs to be empowered enough to engage the electorate in an ideological and issue-based manner. A look at the pre-campaign clamouring in the camps of the presidential aspirants will show that they think so little of Nigerians that they believe not much is needed in the way of plans and strategies to convince the people. It is also why Nyensom Wike, who lost his party’s presidential ticket, deemed it fit to incessantly chant, “give me power… power!” To him, that was enough to get him the ticket to become Nigeria’s next president.
The coming months will show us lamentable political campaigns with no depth, so shallow that every reasonable Nigerian would be too ashamed to identify with a country where such gimmicks pass as enough campaign to convince the people to vote for someone. There is a need to empower citizens and help kick structures in place to organise Nigerians and help them truly understand what they want. Nigeria has so much suffered from poor governance that asking the average electorate what they expect from the aspirants — what they look forward to hearing that could convince them to vote for an aspirant — would most likely render them stammering.
In Nigeria, constitutional reformation is of great necessity. The Nigerian Constitution has outlived its essence. What use is a constitution if it does not amply meet the state’s needs nor adequately answer its citizens’ burning questions? The systems of the constitution no longer effectively serve us as a nation, which is why there have been agitations and clamouring for secession, restructuring, regionalisation, and central policing, among other issues raised. In the end, until Nigeria intentionally kicks these three dimensions into action, and until there are successive tenures that consider the government as a continuum and reach a knowing agreement to nurture and not impede the realisation of the three-dimensional issue, a new and positive Nigeria will be anything but reality.
- *** This is the third and final report on the interview held on May 22, 2022, on the 2023 elections in Nigeria. The views of our distinguished panelists have traveled wide and have been reported in several newspapers.
For the transcript, see:
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