IN DEFENCE OF MAHMOOD YAKUBU

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Suleiman Abubakar argues that the INEC Chairman has earned his name as an achiever

Nigeria is becoming notorious for always attempting to destroy some of her best brains in different fields of human endeavours, and it is the reason why some men of good conscience often run away from public service for fear of hurting their hard-earned reputation. For lack of continuity in some of our institutions, we have suffered some setbacks. In other climes, you hear Senators and Congressmen spending 30 and 40 years as lawmakers, yet the people would still continue to vote for them to exploit the experience garnered over the years. The recent deliberately orchestrated attacks on Professor Mahmood Yakubu, the Chairman of INEC, are to say the least, most unfortunate. The one that caught my attention was the flippant allegation that the INEC Chairman expended about N3b to railroad his second term nomination by Mr. President. How reckless! In the business of journalism, especially on an issue as weighty as an allegation of financial impropriety, the ethical thing to do was to seek the response of the INEC Chairman or his spokesman, for the sake of balance and fair-hearing.

This idea of concocting hearsays, generating smoke without fire, using insider account that never exists, just to flesh up skeletons in order to give the INEC Chairman a bad name, smacks of junk journalism. As a thoroughbred professional, University Lecturer, intellectually fecund mind with a rich knack for research, Professor Yakubu has gradually etched his name in gold, in the improvements he has brought to bear in the conduct of free, fair and credible elections in the country. He is neither acquisitive nor conquistadorial, as can be attested to by those who know him closely. He is also never wasteful in the management of funds yearly allocated to the electoral body. When he resumed duty on 9th November, 2015, he inherited 17 mobile policemen as security aides in his convoy, previously used by his predecessor. He immediately cut that figure down to two mobile policemen, who provided personal security services to him despite the tempestuous nature of elections in Nigeria. He was neither afraid nor frightened by the fact that elections come with threats to life. His philosophy of life is anchored on the fact that God alone has the power to give and take life, no matter the evil machinations of men.

As a stickler for rule of law, despite being nominated for a second term, he still decided to hand over the banton to AVM Ahmed Muazu, one of the National Commissioners who is to act as Chairman, while awaiting the Senate clearance of his second term nomination. Were Mahmood to be a desperate job seeker, like some Nigerians are wont to do, he would not have handed over since his confirmation would be just a matter of days, all things being equal. Just like he noted in his interim hand-over speech, the electoral body is a product of the constitution, hence the need to follow the law without sentiments. No sooner he handed over than spin doctors went to work, to raise frivolous and unsubstantiated allegations of fraud, to put spanners in the works and ensure that Mahmood’s fabric is publicly stained. Even though these orchestrated spins are connected to the scramble for 2023, the idea of dragging the chairman’s name into the discourse is to incredulously hurt the credibility of the chairman’s topnotch profile. The whole idea is to rubbish him with frivolous allegations without giving him a fair-hearing, generate enough smoke, provoke a protest by propping up those deregistered briefcase political parties, and even go a step further to institute a court action over nothing.

It should be noted that Mahmood Yakubu’s nomination or appointment is not a fresh one, having earlier fulfilled the conditions and requirements precedent to his appointment ab initio. It will amount to repetition to go through the earlier process he has fulfilled in 2015. This current nomination is a continuation of his earlier process which the Senate will need to confirm or ratify to grant him that continuity. Secondly, it is in the interest of Nigeria democracy to have Mahmood and some other National Commissioners continue for the sake of tapping into their experiences. By 2022, almost 34 Resident Electoral Commissioners would be exiting from INEC due to expiration of tenure. Five National Commissioners have already exited. In 2021, additional six national commissioners would also be exiting. That will make for fresh new appointments to fill the vacancies. The responsibility of conducting credible, free and fair election is better guaranteed if experienced hands are made to conduct the exercise. It is the reason for the improved election of Attahiru Jega-led INEC in 2015, because of lessons learnt from the 2011 elections that were fraught with too many credibility problems. INEC cannot afford to go into the 2023 election with almost entirely new appointees, reason why the continuity of Mahmood Yakubu’s tenure becomes apposite. It will also serve the interest of credible election for other national commissioners who have not served the mandatory two terms to be re-appointed to help strengthen the electoral process.

For those who may not know, Professor Yakubu served as the Executive Secretary of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND), during which he introduced a lot of innovations to strengthen infrastructural development of tertiary institutions across the country, enrich their curricula content, and encourage research-based approach to widening the scope of university education in the country. Till date, his record of achievements remains unbeaten during his five years stint at TETFUND. He transformed it from a funding agency for all levels of education in Nigeria to focus more on tertiary education in line with the original idea of ASUU whose struggle led to the establishment of the agency in the first place. He also worked with the National Assembly to amend the law to exit basic and secondary education, as standalone agencies. Mahmood brought transparency in the management of the agency by introducing for the first time, the annual stakeholders meeting at which funds allocated to benefitting institutions by the Board of Trustees in line with the enabling law were made public. Aside from that, he started the Academic Staff Training & Development programme through which thousands of lecturers of public Universities, Polytechnics and Colleges of Education were sponsored for postgraduate studies within and outside Nigeria.

During his tenure, he introduced the sponsorship of academic staff for conferences in Nigeria and abroad which broadened their horizons. In 2008, barely a year into his appointment, he initiated the National Research Fund domiciled at TETFund to sponsor academics for research and innovation on a competitive basis, as well as commenced the National Book Development Fund to enable academics in public institutions to publish scholarly books out of their dissertations and/or research works.

As an academic with a profound understanding of the workings in the universities, he supported the revitalisation of professional journals by making available seed grant to over 100 professional associations in addition to procuring copies of these journals for distribution to libraries of public tertiary institutions. Much on the physical infrastructure on the campuses of Nigerian public tertiary institutions are from TETFund intervention. As a way to ensure judicious use of the funds, he initiated the Special High Impact intervention in which considerable amount of funds were allocated to institutions on the equality of geopolitical zones. For example, the tallest building–10-storey–in Yaba is built on the campus of Yabatech through this intervention to alleviate the acute problem of space on the campus. In the area of learning resources, much of what is available in public tertiary institutions in Nigeria is from TETFund intervention, whose operational foundation he laid.

It is part of these experiences and innovations he has brought to bear on INEC to strengthen and enrich the electoral processes through staff training, human capital development, improving the conduct of credible elections, and ensuring a more workable card reader system during voting. Under his leadership, he has stabilised the operations of INEC by making it more digitally compliant to best practices the world over. The Edo and Ondo elections are good references. Those who are presently trying to give Yakubu a bad name in order to hang him should know that his trajectory and upward swing has been a product of character, distinction, intellectuality, diligence and capacity to impact meaningfully in any given assignment.

Abubakar wrote from

Ilorin, Kwara State