ERIC TENIOLA writes the 2023 election is crucial to the image of the chairman of the electoral body

Professor Mahmood Yakubu, 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. Socrates asked the young man to walk with him into the river. Wondering what Socrates was about to do, the young man was 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, 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”.

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 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 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. Sir Ahmadu Bello and Chief Ladoke Akintola 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, 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 Bello 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.

Chief Esua also conducted the 1965 election in Western Region which was marred with misconduct and thuggery. The then Prime Minister appointed Chief Michael Ani to replace him.

In his book, the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Chief Allison Akene Ayida gave insight into how Chief Ani was appointed to the head of the electoral Commission by Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. Chief Ayida wrote, “When I was appointed to act as Permanent Secretary to the Federal Ministry of Economic Development, in 1963, I was the youngest permanent secretary in the federation. It was part of an experience to try out the then new breed in the civil servant as Perm Secs. 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 partly due 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 those 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 Nigerian elections could be conducted fairly and justly without fear or favour. 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 standard of those days.

But an act of providence, when the Obasanjo administration was, in 1976, conducting the search for a suitable person to head the Federal Electoral Commission to supervise the elections for 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 in 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 election fairly and that the Federal Military Government 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 Olusegun 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”.

During the tenure of Chief Ani as chairman of Electoral Commission, he was very generous to me in giving me exclusive stories on the commission including the disqualification of Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe and Mallam Aminu Kano from the 1979 polls until the court restored them, the twelve two third issue on the outcome of the 1979 Presidential election and many other numerous stories.

Through the then INEC Commissioner, Alhaji Alade Odunewu alias ALLAH DE, former Editor of THE DAILY TIMES, I was able to access Chief Michael Ani regularly. He was a seasoned civil servant, and I will say a patriotic Nigerian.

In anticipation of a stalemate in the Presidential election, General Obasanjo, the then Head of State promulgated a decree. The decree is titled Decree 32 of July 23 1979, which created an Electoral College to decide the Presidential Election.

The Decree states “Supplement to Official Gazette Extraordinary Na.34, Vol. 66, 23rd July,1979 ELECTORAL (AMENDMENT) (No. 3) DECREE 1979 Decree No. 32. [23rd July 1979]

THE FEDERAL MILITARY GOVERNMENT hereby decrees as follows:—SS . 1. Section 34a of the Electoral Decree 1977 (as inserted by the Electoral Amendment (Amendment) Decree 1978) is hereby amended as follows, that is— (a) for subsection — (3) thereof, there shall be substituted the following new subsection— “(3) In default of a candidate duly elected under‘ subsections (1) _(b) and (2) of this section, the Electoral Commission shall, within 7 days ‘of the result of the election held under the said subsections, arrange for an election by electoral colleges composed as follows, that is to say— (a) of all persons who were elected to both Houses of the National Assembly and convened at the same venue ; and (5) of all persons who were elected to the House of Assembly of every State in the Federation with each such group being convened separately for each such State ; with a view to determining which of the two candidates shall be elected – President, and the candidate who has a simple majority of all votes ‘cast at such election shall be deemed to have been duly elected as President.” ; and (6) for subsection “6) thereof (as substituted by the Electoral (Amendment) Decree 1979), there shall be substituted the following new sub-section— “(6) In default of a candidate duly elected in accordance with subsection (5) (6) of this section, the Electoral Commission shall, within 7 days of the result of the election, arrange for an election by an electoral  college comprising all persons who were elected to the House of Assembly of the State concerned at which the only candidates shall be— (a) the candidate who secured the highest number of votes at the election ; and  (b) one among the remaining candidates who secured a majority of votes in the highest number of local government areas in the State, so however that where there aré more than one candidate with a majority of votes in the highest number of local government areas, the candidate among them with the highest total of votes cast at the election shall be the second candidate; and the person who has a simple majority of votes cast at such election shall be deemed to have been duly elected as Governor of the State.” 2. For section 2: of the Electoral (Amendment) Decree 1979, that is Decree No. 26 of 1979, there shall be substituted the following, that is— “Citation. 2. This Decree may be cited as the Electoral (Amendment) _ (No. 2) Decree 1979.” 3. The Electoral (Amendment) Decree 1979, that is Decree No. 15 of 1979, is hereby consequentially repealed. 4, This Decree may be cited as the Electoral (Amendment) (No, 3) Decree1979.  

MADE at Lagos this 23rd day of July 1979.

Teniola was a Director in The Presidency

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