Guest Columnist

The Killer Job at INEC, By Eric Teniola

Eric Teniola
Eric Teniola

Professor Mahmood Yakubu (60), Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has a date with history in February. He will be the only Chairman of the Electoral Commission to conduct two presidential elections in Nigeria. He conducted the Presidential election on February 23, 2019. He will do the same on February 25 this year.

No doubt the February 25 election will make or mar him. If he succeeds, Professor Yakubu will go quietly and live the rest of his life in Kobi, his hometown, in Toro Local Government Area of Bauchi state or remain in Abuja like others. He may even go back to the University since that is his calling. He may decide to write a book since he is an author. He has written more than three books already namely Crisis And Conflict Management In Nigeria Since 1980, Western Education In Northern Nigeria:Challenges And Strategies And Emirs And Politicians:Reform, Reaction And Recrimination In Northern Nigeria.

If on the other hand he fails, his remaining life, is better imagined. In the last few weeks, he has been assuring Nigerians that he will succeed. Words don’t always depict reality. The only way to make something happen is to make a tangible action. Saying it is different from doing it. What you do is more important than what you say. Actions speak louder than words. We pay less attention to what Professor Yakubu and his team are saying but watch what he and his team will do. For anyone who loves Nigeria must wish Professor Yakubu best of luck during and after the elections. This is a country of over 200 million people whose lives must not be messed up by desperate politicians.

In ancient Greece, a young man asked Socrates the “secret to success”. Socrates told the young man to meet him at the nearest river the next morning.
Next morning, the young, being very determined to learn something from the great philosopher, was very prompt and they met. Socrates asked the young man to walk with him into the river. Wondering what Socrates was about to do, the young man was very apprehensive. “Perhaps one of Socrates’ many philosophies”, the young man thought…
The water was now up to their waist…

When the water got up to their neck, Socrates suddenly seized the young man by surprise and pushed him under the water. The boy struggled to get up but Socrates, being a strong man, held him under the water until the boy started turning blue. Socrates pulled his head out of the water and the first thing the young man did was to gasp for air, choking and breathing desperately to stay alive.

Socrates asked, “What did you want the most when you were down there?”
Still in shock, the young boy replied, “Air”.
Socrates remarked, “That is the secret to success”.“When you want success as badly as you wanted the air, then you will get it. There is no other secret of success”, Socrates said.

But sometimes a successful conduct of an election does not necessarily guarantee stability. And this has happened to the past chairmen of the Nigeria’s electoral body. These past chairmen included Eyo Esua (1964–1966), Michael Ani (1976–1979), Victor Ovie-Whiskey (1980–1983), Eme Awa (1987–1989), Humphrey Nwosu (1989–1993), Okon Uya (1993, June-November), Sumner Dagogo-Jack (1994–1998), Ephraim Akpata (1998–2000), Abel Guobadia (2000–2005), Maurice Iwu (2005–2010), Attahiru Jega (2010–2015) and Mahmood Yakubu (2015-present).

Let us take Chief Eyo Esua (14 January 1901 – 6 December 1973) as an example. He was a teacher and trade unionist. He was the first chairman of the Electoral body in the country. Chief Esua was a school master and a founder member of the Nigeria Union of Teachers. He was the first full-time general secretary of the union from 1943 till he was appointed Chairman of the electoral body. He was an Efik, Calabar man, renowned for his dedication to duty and uprightness. He did all he could to ensure a successful 1964 general election.

On December 29, 1964, the then President of Nigeria, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe GCFR (16 November 1904 – 11 May 1996) held a meeting in State House with the four Regional Premiers—Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola (West), Dr. Michael Okpara (East), Sir Ahmadu Bello (North) and Chief Dennis Osadebe (Midwest) and Governors and the Prime Minister-Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa  (December 1912 – 15 January 1966). Sir Ahmadu Bello (12 June 1910- 15 January 1966) and Chief Ladoke Akintola (6 July 1910 – 15 January 1966) declined to turn up. The Prime Minister announced after the meeting that it had been agreed the elections were to go ahead as planned. This was denied later by UPGA’s McEwen. The Electoral Commission announced that it was deadlocked on the question of the holding of the elections.

Two of its members, Mr. Aniegolu (East) and Mr. Akenzua (Mid-West) resigned. At that time, the regions were represented in the commission. UPGA said its boycott continued. Sit-down strike was called for by Mr. Wahab Omorilewa Goodluck(11 July 1923- 10 September 1991) a leading unionist who later became the founding President of the Nigerian Labour Congress, but with apparently limited response. UPGA vans patrol Lagos announcing “Don’t vote.”

Sir Ahmadu Ibrahim Bello  (12 June 1910 – 15 January 1966) said that the President’s meeting in the State House was to discuss the secession of Eastern Nigeria from the Federation. If it wanted to do so “because of its oil interests” it should be allowed to do so in peace. Since the discovery of oil in the East the NCNC has been growing steadily colder about their relations with other parts of Nigeria and had tried to “make themselves so intolerable that other Nigerians will take the initiative of getting Eastern Nigeria outside the Federation and thereby winning sympathy for the NCNC in the world at large.” A conference to divide assets should be called as the President had already suggested. Socialist workers and Farmer’s Party (SWAFP) announced that it too would boycott the election.

A “partial” election took place with “brisk voting” in the North, “moderate” in the West, where there had been some destruction of polling booths, very limited in Lagos, where booths had also been destroyed and one man was injured in a riot, and non-existent in the East, where the UPGA boycott was complete. In the evening, UPGA issued a statement saying it would not accept any government formed on the basis of the elections which would be “compromising with evil.” It called on the President to summon a conference of all political leaders to “break up the Federation peacefully.” A statement from the President denied Sir Ahmadu’s allegation that the State House meeting of December 29 was to discuss secession. The object was to preserve Federal unity.

(To be continued)

  • Teniola is a former Director at the Presidency. He wrote from Lagos.

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