By Eric Teniola
As expected the tenure of Professor Mahmood Yakubu (58) as chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission ends on Monday, November 9. Then came the announcement by Professor Yakubu that the presidential election will hold February 18, 2023, that is eight hundred and eighty-five days away. It is the first time Nigerians have been given eight hundred and eighty-five days’ notice for a presidential election. The announcement came twenty-six days before Professor Yakubu’s tenure as Chairman of INEC terminates. One would have expected that the INEC Chairman announce the dates for the gubernatorial elections in Anambra, Ekiti, and Osun states slated for next year. I am a bit prying and nosy at the timing of the announcement of the date of the presidential election. I am sure critics of Professor Yakubu will think that the announcement is a campaign alert of his readiness to be allowed to be reappointed and that he is flying a kite having been intoxicated by INEC’S so-called success in Edo and Ondo gubernatorial election. It’s like the Bauchi born Professor is throwing bits of bait into the waters for the attention of President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR. No doubt he is qualified for reappointment, he is fifty-eight. He has served as the Executive Secretary of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) (2007-2012) and also served as the assistant secretary of Finance and Administration of the 2014 National Conference of President Goodluck Jonathan, GCFR.
If you push your luck too far, you may risk losing the good favor and the good fortune you have garnered thus far. That is a simple lesson about life.
It is the constitutional responsibility of President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, to consult the National Council of State before submitting a name to the Senate for confirmation as Chairman of INEC. The President may choose to nominate any other person entirely. It is up to President Buhari. I am sure the President will be under pressure on this issue now. Whoever the President chooses is expected to conduct the Anambra, Osun, and Ekiti state gubernatorial elections and the 2023 presidential election of February 18, 2023.
The past chairmen of the commission are Mr. Ronald Wraith (1958-1963), Eyo Esua: 1964-1966, Michael Ani: 1978-1980, Victor Ovie-Whiskey: 1980-1983, Eme Awa: 1987-1989, Humphrey Nwobu Nwosu: 1989-1993, Okon Uya: 1993-1994, Summer Dagogo-Jack: 1994-1998, Ephraim Akpata: 1998-2000, Abel Goubadia: 2000-2005, Professor Maurice Mmaduakolam Iwu (2005-2010), Professor Attahiru Muhammadu Jega (63) (2010-2015) and Professor Mahmood Yakubu(2015-)
I have two observations about the past and present chairmen of the electoral body. The first is that no woman has so far been appointed as the chairperson of the electoral commission. I find it so hard to believe that all those who have nominated chairmen of the electoral commission could not find a suitable woman among all the talents we have in this country to head the commission. A country that could nominate a 66-year-old princess, Ngozi Okonjo-Eweala, from Ogwushi Ukwu in Delta state to be the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation made up of 164 countries cannot nominate a woman to head the INEC. The other observation is that no person from the SOUTHWEST has so far been appointed to head the electoral body. I do not know why. I do not know the yardstick considered for the nomination for the chairmanship of INEC and why someone from the SOUTHWEST is not qualified for the nomination.
In Nigeria, the spirit of Federal Character is entrenched in the constitution but not adhered to and ethnicity is a major factor in Nigeria. In terms of appointments, President Muhammadu Buhari has raised the bar of partisanship and nepotism to the highest level, without pretense. And this is in a country where true nationhood is still a dream. The major responsibility of a leader is to promote unity among his or her people despite religion or tribe. A leader must be an agent of unity especially in a fragile, friable, and frangible society like Nigeria. I am equally worried that the job of the chairmanship of the national electoral body appears to be jinxed.
The first person to head that body, a Briton, Mr. Wraith, was summarily removed. He was bitter about his removal and in the books, he wrote later, he exposed corruption in the electoral system in Nigeria. The man who took over from him, Chief Eyo Ita Esua, who organized the first post-independence general election of December 20, 1964, and the October 11, 1965 election into the Western Region House of Assembly was equally bitter to the end. He refused to take up any appointment again when offered. He died seven years after leaving the office in Calabar in 1973. His children still idolize the outstanding qualities of Chief Esua till today in Calabar.
And the man who took over from Chief Esua, that is, Chief Michael Ani in 1976 also died six years after leaving the job on December 18, 1985, also in Calabar. Justice Ephraim Omorose Ibukun Akpata (1927-2000) who conducted the 1999 general elections died in office during his tenure on January 8, 2000, in Abuja. Sir Abel Goubadia (1932-2011) who took over from Justice Akpata and conducted the 2003 Presidential election died seven-year after leaving office in Benin on February 4, 2011.
Professor Maurice Iwu who took over from Sir Goubadia has a 1.2 billion naira fraud charge around him by the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) at the Federal High Court now. Professor Eme Awa (1921-2000) was sacked from the office by General Ibrahim Babangida, GCFR. Also sacked was Professor Humphrey Nwosu, who conducted the freest and fairest election in the country on June 12, 1993. In fact, the presidential election of June 12, 1993, was annulled. Professor Okon Edet Uya from Oron, Akwa Ibom state, the hometown of my friend, Senator Victor Akan, who took over from Professor Nwosu, was not able to conduct any election before he was removed when General Sani Abacha assumed power. Professor Okon Edet Uya later became Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Acting Vice-Chancellor of the University of Calabar. The last undergraduate course he taught was the Atlantic Slave Trade.
Under Chief Summer Karibi Dagogo-Jack (90) from Abonnema, Akuku-Toru LGA, Rivers State, there was no presidential election. The commission under him conducted elections for the local government councils and the National Assembly but overstepped the bounds of its authority in some cases. He too was sacked after General Abacha died.
The only consolation is Professor Attahiru Muhammadu Jega (63) who is free now. If we are to believe in the Kebbi born professor, he is now talking about restructuring.
Except for Professor Nwosu, who is equally a friend of Chief Fab Uche, a friend of mine, none of these men wrote their memoirs.
On Friday, November 23, 1979, the Chairman of the then Federal Electoral Commission FEDECO, Chief Michael Okon Nsa Ani, CFR, (November 30, 1917, to December 18, 1985) finally granted my outstanding request. He granted me an exclusive interview on his last day in the office at Onikan in Lagos, in the presence of the Secretary of the Commission, Alhaji Ahmed Kurfi, and the National Electoral Commissioner on information, Alhaji Alade Odunewu (1927-2003) alias Alla-De. His verdict on his job was that “being FEDECO chairman is the most hazardous and risky job in the country. How do you adjudicate in a chaotic situation. I am happy it is over now”. Chief Ani thanked me for the coverage of his tenure, shook my hands, and drove off. I never saw him again. Chief Ani should know about the hazard of the job, for he was the only man reappointed for the job.
The late Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Chief Allison Akene Ayida (1930-2018) in a lecture in Calabar on July 26, 1989, gave insight into how Chief Ani was appointed and reappointed as Chairman of the electoral body. On that day he declared “ it seems those halcon days for the civil service which Chief Michael Ani and his colleagues tested and nurtured, are gone forever. We are here to honor a man who spent the better part of his life defending the integrity of the public service as the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Establishments and Service Matters(Personnel Management to the new generation), and Member of the Federal Public Service Commission. He is better known in Calabar as the Administrator for the Liberated Areas of South-Eastern State during the civil war, and the Founding Father of the South-Eastern State Civil Service as its first Secretary to the Military Government and Head of Service. He attained international recognition when he was appointed Member of the International Civil Service Commission in 1974, having previously served on the UN Panel of Experts on Public Administration for setting up the proposed Federal Service for Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania in 1963. When I was appointed to act as Permanent Secretary to the Federal Ministry of Economic Development, 1963, I was the youngest Permanent secretary in the Federation. It was part of an experiment to try out the then-new breed in the civil service as PermSecs. I had to look up to senior colleagues such as the late Chief Ani for guidance and leadership. We received their full co-operation. If the experiment succeeded, it was due partly to Chief Ani’s fatherly guidance and support. It is not generally known that Chief Ani retired prematurely from the Federal Civil Service in 1965 to accept the challenge of the late Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, for him to be appointed the Chairman of the Federal Electoral Commission. I was one of the people he consulted and I advised against the move. But Chief Ani decided to accept the appointment for two reasons: first, as a good civil servant he felt obliged to respect the Prime Minister’s wishes and, second, he was anxious to demonstrate that Nigeria’s election could be conducted fairly and justly without fear or favor. Before he could demonstrate this, the Military seized power on 15 January 1966 and Chief Ani suddenly became an unemployed pensioner at the tender age of 49 years, judging by the standards of those days! But an act of providence, when the Obasanjo administration was in 1976, searching for a suitable person to head the Federal Electoral Commission to supervise the elections for the return to civil rule in 1979, I was the Secretary to the Federal Military Government and Head of Service. When consulted, I advised that the man the late Prime Minister appointed in December 1965, never functioned and was untainted. But I told General Obasanjo, that the late Chief as a good civil servant, might not be sufficiently independent of the Government to be seen to conduct the elections fairly and that the FMG might be seen to have a preference for one of the Presidential candidates. The General, to my surprise, replied, that is the man we want.”
When Chief Ani was approached, he came to my house to seek my opinion once again as a trusted friend. I told him candidly what transpired between General Obasanjo and me and once again, I advised him against accepting the reappointment as Chairman of FEDECO but he still saw it as a challenge and an opportunity to establish that Nigerians could conduct an impartial and fair democratic election. The rest of the story is better left to the verdict of history but I believe the Chief did his best in the difficult circumstances of the countervailing powers and conflicting instructions on the 1979 elections”.
Chief Ani was not the first Chairman of the electoral body and neither was he the first indigenous to hold the post. The first Chairman of the electoral body then known as the electoral commission of Nigeria was Mr. Ronald Edward Wraith who conducted the 1958 and 1959 general elections. He was born in 1908. He was a British Scholar on public and colonial administration.
Wraith was born in Derbyshire; his father worked for the Midland Railway. He studied economics at the University of Birmingham. He spent two years in Australia and New Zealand before becoming the warden at a Tyneside community center managed by the Tyneside Council of Social Services when the worst of the Great Depression was over. In 1938, he joined the Education Department of the Borough of Southampton as the Secretary of Youth Services and served in the position through World War II. In 1945, he was the head of the London School of Economics’s department involved in colonial studies, also known as the Colonial Social Science Certificate Course that was previously headed by Audrey Richards. In 1946, he visited Africa and worked with the Housing and Social Services Department of Gold Coast. In 1947, he was placed in charge of another course, the Post War Devonshire Courses for colonial and West African administrators. Wraith later published a book on local government, comparing the West African and the English local government systems and expressing doubt about the transferability of the English model to West Africa. He was a researcher with the University of Ibadan before he was appointed the only expatriate chairman in the Nigerian electoral commission. Mr. Wraith went on to write several books on corruption, local government, and public administration in developing countries. One of the books is titled “CORRUPTION IN DEVELOPING COUNTRIES” which he published in 1963. The book has 211 pages. In 1964, the then Prime Minister Alhaji Tafawa Balewa appointed Chief Eyo Ita Esua(14 January 1901-1973), as the chairman of the Federal Electoral Commission. Esua was a schoolmaster and a founder member of the Nigerian Union of Teachers. He was the first full-time general secretary of the union from 1943 until his retirement in 1964. The Esua-led commission organized the December 1964 election, which was mired in controversy. Two members of the commission notably, Sir Kofoworola Adekunle Abayomi(1896-1979) disagreed with the chairman and resigned from the commission. Chief Esua also conducted the 1965 Western Region election, which was violent and was disputed by the opposition United Party Grand Alliance. A few days before these elections Esua acknowledged that his organization could not guarantee a free and fair poll.
General Yakubu Gowon did not appoint any Chairman of any electoral commission in his nine years in power.
After Chief Michael Ani resigned, President Shehu Usman Aliyu Shagari, GCFR, appointed Mr. Justice Victor Erereko Ovie-Whiskey (6 April 1923-July 18, 2012) as the chairman of the Federal Electoral Commission, FEDECO. On July 21, 1980, the Senate approved the appointment of Justice Ovie-whiskey along with members of the commission. They are Chief J.B.C. Anyegbuna(Anambra), Mrs. Ethel Onwu(Anambra), Alhaji Ahmed Kari(Bauchi), Mr. O.I. Afe(Bendel), Brigadier L.N. Obeya(Benue), Alhaji Mustapha Umara(Borno), Mr.R.F. Uko (Cross River), Mr. A.N. Adumanu(Imo), Alhaji Liman Umaru(Kwara), Mrs. Husa Iro Luko(Kaduna), Alhaji Aminu Salihu(Kaduna), Alhaji Mohamadu Mashabaru(Kano), Alhaji Zubairu Danbatta(Kano), Dr. (Mrs)Mabadeje(Lagos), Alhaji Umaru Audi(Niger)Dr. Lateef O. Aremu(Oyo), Alhaji M.B. Ibrahim(Plateau), Mrs. E.A. Pam(Plateau), Chief P.G. Warmate(Rivers), and Alhaji Garba Jabo (Sokoto).
According to Wikipedia, Chief Ovie-Whiskey attended King’s College Lagos, Yaba Higher College, and University College, Ibadan (now the University of Ibadan). He worked as a clerk, and for a short period as a teacher, before being admitted to study law at the University of London. He was called to the bar in 1952. He practiced as a lawyer until 1960 when he became a magistrate in Western Region. In 1963 he was appointed chief magistrate of the newly formed Mid-Western Region, renamed Bendel State in 1976.
At the time of Ovie-Whisky’s 1980 appointment as head of FEDECO, he was the Chief Judge of Bendel State and was seen as upright and non-partisan. However, the general elections of 1983 were marred by widespread irregularities, and the electoral officials were accused of rigging the results in favor of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN). Ovie-Whisky declared that he was largely satisfied with the electoral process in 1983, but said: “We did not expect to be perfect”. He denied wrongdoing, and when questioned by reporters on whether “water passed under the bridge” in the elections, he said that he would faint if he saw N1 million cash.
In April 2009 the Ijaw Monitoring Group said Ovie-Whisky was in poor health and his condition required urgent attention from the Delta State Government.
When Major General Muhammadu, GCFR, took over on December 31st, 1983 till he was toppled on August 27, 1985, he did not appoint any electoral chairman neither did he conduct any election. On July 15, 1987, General Ibrahim Babangida then appointed Professor Eme Ewa as the chairman of the electoral commission. He was a Professor of Political Science at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He conducted the September 4, 1987, local government election. There were irregularities during the election. On December 24, 1987, the National Electoral Commission under Professor Awa ordered fresh elections in 312 wards for the December 12 local government election. On March 20, 1988, another election was conducted by the electoral commission. At that time it became apparent that Professor Awa, who is from Ohafia, could not conduct a credible election that would be accepted by all. He was sacked thereafter. On February 28, 1989, General Ibrahim Babangida appointed Professor Humphrey Nwosu, a commissioner for Rural Development and Chieftaincy Affairs under Governor Samson Emeka Omeruah as Chairman of Electoral Commission. Incidentally, Professor Nwosu was a student of Professor Awa at the University of Nigeria Nwosu. Before the appointment, Professor Nwosu was a member of the committee on the review of the local system in 1984 led by the late Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Ibrahim Dasuki.
Professor Nwosu was born into the family of the late Chief Nwosu Nwafor, the Eze V of Ajalli and Grace Uzoaku Nwafor in Ajalli on October 2, 1941. Both the poor and the rich value education highly in their community. In 1948, he was admitted into the Government Primary School, Ajalli before being transferred to Saint Michael School Enugu, where he lived with his senior brother in Abakaliki in 1952. Professor Nwosu worked briefly at Shell BP. He was the head of the Department of Political Science at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka before he was appointed the Chairman of the National Electoral Commission. It was his commission that conducted the controversial June 12, 1993, Presidential election, which was later annulled by President Ibrahim Babangida. Observers are still pressing that National Honours be bestowed on Professor Nwosu.
It is up to President Muhammadu Buhari to choose who heads the electoral Commission. We are waiting.