His unveiling as Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on October 21, 2015 during one of the Council of States meetings, generated not a few questions. People asked: who is Mahmood Yakubu? Where is he coming from? What’s his political and administrative pedigree? Can we trust him? But those within the academia, particularly the elite class of the military, had no questions about his identity.
The reason is that Mahmood Yakubu, a professor, had since 1993, been teaching at the Nigerian Defence Academy; which is Nigeria’s military university. Described by a writer as “a fine gentleman clothed in humility,” Yakubu, unlike his two immediate predecessors at INEC, did not make a name as an activist. Dressed in unquestionable intellectual garb, he came to INEC as a tested hand in administration.
From his first day at work after Senate confirmation, Yakubu’s stand-by challenge was how to fit into the orchestrated larger-than-size shoes left behind by his immediate predecessor, Professor Attahiru Jega. Many Nigerians considered Jega to have been a success story at INEC. He conducted the first election that produced Goodluck Jonathan as President and the second one that sent Jonathan packing from the Presidential Villa.
It is still the opinion of many Nigerians that Jega’s success story was based on the failures of his predecessors. An analogy may well explain this better: if your grandfather lived in a thatch house and died, he would certainly be considered and judged to have been a poor man if your father, during his lifetime, is able to put zinc on the same thatch house and goes ahead to plaster the walls. If you, the grandson, decide to paint the plastered walls in rainbow colours and perhaps connect electricity to it, then you become the man of the moment.
Jega inherited a system that did not enjoy the confidence of majority of Nigerians. As a labour leader while at the university, a lot was expected from him based on his background. On assumption of office, he introduced certain changes in the system which he believed would help add legitimacy to the conduct and results of elections. For instance, he brought in his colleagues from the universities to supervise and actually conduct elections.
This meant that he had no confidence in the staff of INEC. In doing this, he rendered INEC staff redundant and useless. Money that should have been spent in training those career staff for future elections was spent on salaries of ad-hoc staff. Yes, he achieved success and made a name for himself. But he failed to build on or consolidate existing institutions that would make the conduct of future elections easy and credible.
Born on May 15, 1962, Yakubu had always wanted to be a teacher. He trained as a Grade II Certificate Teacher at the Teachers College, Toro, in Bauchi State. From there, he then went to the University of Sokoto in 1980 and graduated in 1985 with a first class honours degree in history. From Sokoto to Cambridge where he bagged a Masters of Philosophy degree in international relations; he moved to Oxford for a doctorate in history.
As a student and teacher of history, Yakubu went to INEC conscious of the judgement of history and perception of the people about his predecessors. Today, some of his predecessors can hardly walk the streets of certain parts of Nigeria without being jeered and probably stoned by those who do not even have an idea of what it takes to run a politically complex institution like INEC. Anyone who fails election in Nigeria blames it on INEC. For those declared victorious, INEC is also made to share in the glory.
Yakubu may not be complaining, but it is obvious that he is not having it easy. For instance, the present INEC, unlike the previous one, has only six national commissioners. Jega’s had 12. In fact, one of the commissioners is said to have left in September this year. As one official of INEC said, this implies that an assignment originally meant for 13 people is being performed by half the number. One question comes to mind here: how do you expect to achieve efficiency under the circumstance?
One tag that some people have pinned on INEC under Yakubu is that it is famous for conducting inconclusive elections. There is no doubt that some key elections have been left inconclusive since Yakubu took over. A typical example is that of Rivers State. While people keep talking about Rivers State, several Nigerians are yet to know that in the last one year, under Yakubu, INEC has conducted 141 inherited inconclusive elections; including those cancelled by the courts under the previous leadership.
Out of this number, 120 of them are said to have been concluded at the first ballot. If this is true, then the impression that Yakubu is ‘Mr. Inconclusive’ is misplaced. For someone who is learning on the job; for someone who has never been involved in any electoral matter until he was appointed to head INEC, scoring 120 out of 141 is more than ordinary.
The case of Rivers is peculiar in many ways. The warfare-atmosphere there is far beyond the capacity of INEC. It is the duty of the security agencies to create a war-free environment that would make the conduct of elections peaceful and conclusive. Where the major political parties and their sponsors resort to intimidation and violence, there is very little INEC can do to ensure a free ballot. When the election took place in March this year, we were witnesses to enormous bloodshed that resulted in the death of a corps member who served as an INEC’s ad-hoc staff.
While it is correct to say that INEC should do everything possible to have another election, nobody seems to care about the death of the corps member and why the killers have not been brought to book up till now. That does not seem like the statutory function of INEC.
Despite the worry about inconclusive elections, the good news however is that none of the elections conducted so far since Yakubu took office has been nullified by any court. Perhaps, this is an indication that all the elections have been conducted and results declared in line with the Electoral Law and other guidelines adopted by the commission. For instance, the successes recorded at both the Edo and Ondo States Governorship Elections is a pointer to the fact that inconclusive election is not Yakubu’s permanent feature.
Information available at INEC office shows that the unwieldy number of court cases facing INEC from the 2015 General Elections has been a great distraction to the new chairman. Since that election, it was learnt that the Commission has been dragged to court by angry politicians over 680 times. Out of these, 600 of the cases were dismissed by the courts. Based on the outcome of the remaining cases, INEC has so far conducted 80 re-run elections.
That’s quite some headache to deal with. Add this to the conflicting court judgments and you will spell distractions in capital letters. Reports indicate at one time INEC was loaded with five conflicting judgments within 10 days. Then between May and September this year, INEC was served 11 judgments and orders from 11 different courts of coordinate jurisdictions. Some of these were said to be in conflict.
It is natural to assume that when Yakubu received notice of his appointment as INEC chairman, he never envisaged what happened in Kogi State which helped expose the weakness, not only of the Electoral Act but also the 1999 Constitution as amended. INEC was faced with a situation where a candidate in an election died shortly after he was declared the winner. Who was supposed to succeed him became a complicated legal cobweb. Both the Electoral Act and the Constitution have no provisions dealing with such an issue. It is therefore necessary for Yakubu to approach the National Assembly for amendment of the Act in this regard.
Yakubu said on assumption of office that he would consolidate on the innovations and gains recorded by his immediate predecessor. He must understand that some of those innovations need to be reviewed. That is why the decision of INEC to ensure that voters who go out to the polling centres must get accredited and allowed to vote at the same time instead of being asked to go home and return for voting later, is good. This is a commendable innovation that must be experimented and sustained.
So, in the last one year, there have been hiccups no doubt. At a certain point, confidence was almost erased as questions arose. Truly, success in every endeavour is a product of challenges. Yakubu has had a cup full of them. Good enough, he has moved from inconclusive to conclusive election. As 2019 beckons, it’s time for him to come out of the shadows of the past and march forward with confidence.
Akpe is an Abuja-based journalist.