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Nigeria: Jega outlines need for electoral reforms

“I regard my nomination for the INEC job as the greatest challenge of my life, and I will do everything to ensure that I excel,”  says Chairman-designate of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Attahiru Jega,  during his confirmation hearing at the Senate

Unfolding his plans for the country if his nomination is ratified, Jega said his mission at INEC is to give competent and effective leadership that will bring about a free and fair election.

The university don said his mission is not to make illicit money but to go to INEC and make a difference.

“I want to be remembered as a person who led the INEC that conducted the freest and fairest election in the country,” he said.

Jega, the Vice-Chancellor of Ado Bayero University, Kano, pledged to put in place proper policy framework to guarantee an election whose results would be generally acceptable to Nigerians.

As a prelude to this, he said his priority areas on assumption of office will be: prompt review of the voters register; internal reorganization of INEC and a comprehensive voters’ education.

“The credibility of the 2011 election will be predicated on the credibility of the voters’ register”, he said, stressing that his main challenge is to ensure that the voters’ register is done well and is acceptable to the majority of the people for it to serve as a good framework for a credible election.

He admitted that corruption is a very serious issue at the commission, pledging, however, that he would run a corrupt-free body as a prelude to conducting a credible, free and fair election next year.

Jega was nominated by President Goodluck Jonathan and endorsed by the National Council of States two weeks ago for the job. His nomination has elicited commendation across the country with few Nigerians calling for caution, saying the fact of Jega’s appointment alone cannot guarantee free and fair election.

Jega also pledged to effect “a fundamental reorganization of INEC within the law to put the right people in the right places to ensure competence and efficiency,” adding that ad-hoc staff that constitute more than 60 per cent of the commission’s staff strength at election periods would be carefully selected, well trained and well motivated to insulate them from corruptive tendencies.

On voters’ education, he explained that one of the key functions of INEC is to seek to change voters’ attitude to elections in the country, saying “we will try to change mindsets and tackle the attitudinal issues that affect the conduct of elections, because no matter the laws in place if attitudes don’t change laws will have little impact”.

When asked about the challenges of violence during elections, the Professor of Political Science pledged to tackle it through creative dialogue with community leaders and all persons, including security agencies involved in keeping the peace.

To a question on how he intends to shun any undue pressure from the President who appointed him and his party for any electoral favour, Jega said he did not expect the President or his party to put him under pressure for any favour.

In any case, he said, the constitution has clearly spelt out his functions and duties which are quite different from that of the presidency

Pointing out that he is satisfied with assurances from the President on his commitment to free and fair election, he said, however, that his relationship with the President “is already defined by the law and we will let it be like that.”

He said: “We will be very neutral, impartial and we will create a level-playing field for every political party and contestant.

“Our relationship with every participant will be defined by the law and we will use the law to deal with any problem associated with the issue of godfatherism.”

Saying he would not underestimate the expectations of Nigerians from him based on his antecedents, Jega expressed confidence that he would do his best not to disappoint his admirers.

On his relationship with the former INEC boss, Prof. Maurice Iwu, and the allegation that he was a consultant to the commission during Iwu’s tenure, Jega said during his ASUU days, he worked with Iwu for about six months, adding that though he would not deny his friends, “it cannot be said that he influenced me or that I influenced him”.

He denied that he was ever a consultant to INEC, saying, however, that as an academic, he used to be invited from time to time to present papers at INEC seminars as a resource person.

“Most of the papers I presented were mostly approved by Bayero University, Kano Consultancy Services. I have never offered advice to Iwu outside the occasional papers I presented at the seminars,” he said, explaining that, “Iwu never came to me privately to seek advice on the operations of INEC”.

On the controversy surrounding his appointment by the President instead of by the National Judicial Council (NJC), as recommended by the Uwais Committee on Electoral Reforms of which he was a member, Jega said although he stood by all the recommendations of that panel, he was satisfied with the process followed in his appointment “under the existing law”.

He pointed out that the belief of members of the Uwais panel was that the recommendations would go a long way in sanitizing the nation’s electoral process but added that “our role is to recommend and we have no illusion as to whether all the recommendations would be accepted”.

He said he was aware that the INEC job would not be an easy task, stressing, “it’s going to be a very challenging and demanding task, but I promise to give it all my best”.

He urged the senators to give a thought to the establishment of the Political Parties Regulatory Commission as a way of taking some burdens off the shoulders of INEC and allow it concentrate on core election matters.

One of the highlights of the screening was the advice given Jega by Senator Olorunnimbe Mamora from Lagos State that he should “do more and say little” in apparent allusion to the loquacious tendencies of some former INEC chairmen.