Citing the experiences of past electoral umpires in Nigeria, using anecdotes from Joseph Stalin, a defunct Soviet Union leader and Aristotle, the philosopher, Eric Teniola, a former director at the Presidency, advises Professor Mahmud Yakubu, Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission, to learn from history, saying, the job can make a man a hero or a villain.
By Eric Teniola
Professor Mahmood Yakubu (60), 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 and they met. Socrates asked the young man to walk with him into the river. Wondering what Socrates was about to do, the young man was very 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, choking 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”, Socrates said.
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 (14 January 1901 – 6 December 1973) 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 GCFR (16 November 1904 – 11 May 1996) 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 (December 1912 – 15 January 1966). Sir Ahmadu Bello (12 June 1910- 15 January 1966) and Chief Ladoke Akintola (6 July 1910 – 15 January 1966) 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(11 July 1923- 10 September 1991) 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 Ibrahim Bello (12 June 1910 – 15 January 1966) 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 (1930-2018) gave insight into how Chief Ani was appointed to the head of the electoral Commission by Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa (December 1912 – 15 January 1966). 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 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 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 Obansanjo 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 GCFR (16 November 1904 – 11 May 1996) and Mallam Aminu Kano (9 August 1920 — 17 April 1983) 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 ( 20 November 1927-26 July 2013), 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 Olusegun 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 as 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 are 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.
GENERAL O, OBASANJO, Head of the Federal Military Government, ‘ Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, _ Federal Republic of Nigeria _
The Decree amends the Electoral Decree 1977 to provide that in the case of a run-off election relative to the President, all persons elected to the National Assembly and State Assemblies shall be constituted into electoral colleges to elect one of the two most successful candidates as President while in the case of a Governor, the persons elected to the House of Assembly. of the State concerned shall similarly be constituted into an electoral college for the run-off election”.
There were five major contenders in the 1979 Presidential Election- Alhaji Waziri Ibrahim (The Great Nigeria Peoples Party (GNPP), Alhaji Aminu Kano (Peoples Redemption Party (PRP), Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe (The Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP), Chief Obafemi Awolowo(Unity Party of Nigeria(UPN) and Alhaji Shehu Shagari (National Party of Nigeria(NPN).
On August 11, 1979, the Presidential election was held. Chief Michael Ani and his team including the then Chief electoral officer, Alhaji Ahmadu Kurfi, who was then the Secretary of the Federal Electoral Commission, thought they have conducted the best election ever.
On August 12, the results started coming in and as expected, the results of Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Ondo and Bendel states were the first to be announced. It was not until August 14, 1979, that the results of Kano, which was the last to come and Alhaji Shehu Shagari only scored 19.9% of the votes which made it impossible for him to be declared President since he had 25% in twelve states and could not secure 25% in Kano state. There were nineteen states in the Federation at that time. The assumption was that you must secure 25% in 13 states before you could become President.
The night before Chief Michael Ani’s FEDECO had completed arrangements for an Electoral College for the two candidates with the highest votes, Alhaji Shehu Shagari of the NPN and Chief Obafemi Awolowo of the UPN. As a matter of fact their spokesmen, Alhaji Suleiman Takuma (14 April 1934- 1 September 2001), from Takuma Village in Niger State of the NPN and Chief Mele Chukelu Kafu Ajuluchukwu (10 February 1921-9 October 2003) from Nnewi in Anambra state of the UPN, addressed the media that, their Principals were ready for an Electoral College.
The newly appointed Clerk of the National Assembly, Alhaji Gidado Idris, was at FEDECO headquarters to collect the names of the elected members of the National Assembly who would now vote in the Electoral College. He told newsmen that the list of the members of the Electoral College has been given to him and that the former House of Representatives at Race Course would be the venue for the holding of the Electoral College.
The Supreme Council did not want to take chances on who should be the next President.
The Supreme Military Council then headed by General Olusegun Obasanjo GCFR, drafted officials of the Federal Ministry of Justice to the Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO) office at Onikan, Lagos. At the end of the marathon meeting, the Chief Returning Officer of the Presidential Election, Mr. F.L.O. Menkiti announced to the anxious media men and women in the conference room of FEDECO that day, that the percentage scored by Alhaji Shehu Shagari in the twelve states and the 19.9% scored in Kano was tantamount to his being declared as President. He therefore declared Alhaji Shehu Shagari as the next President of Nigeria.
The declaration was a nullity to the Decree signed by General Obasanjo on July 23, 1979. The expectation was that there would be an Electoral College who would elect a new President.
At the Press Conference that day, I sat next to Chief Osuolale Abimbola Richard Akinjide SAN (4 November 1930 – 21 April 2020). Chief Akinjide who was then the Chief Legal Adviser to the NPN, only echoed the conclusion of the officials of the Federal Ministry of Justice and the Supreme Military Council. He was not the author of the twelve two third formula, which later made him famous.
Nobody knew who Chief Menkiti was until that day. I later inquired through gazette No 78 Volume 55 of 1976, that he was an administrative officer grade 1. He was transferred from the eastern state public service to the Federal Public Service on February 27, 1967. In the modern day regulation, he would have been a director.
When Chief Menkiti made that announcement that day, we were stunned; Chief Menkiti’s declaration was expectedly challenged by Chief Obafemi Awolowo of the UPN. The case ended in the Supreme Court presided over by Mr. Justice Atanda Fatai Williams GCON (22 October 1918 – 10 April 2002) of which two judges in the court, Justice Kayode Eso (1925-2012) and Justice Andrew Otutu Obaseki (1925-2017) objected to the majority judgment in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court verdict was made 72 hours before the inauguration of President Shehu Shagari.
I covered the 1979 campaign, the Supreme Court Judgment and the inauguration of President Shehu Usman Aliyu Shagari GCFR (25 February 1925 – 28 December 2018) on October 1 1979. In spite of his success in 1979 election, Chief Michael Ani had no hand in what happened after the August 11, 1979 election.
This year will mark the 30th anniversary of the June 12, 1993 Presidential election. Professor Humphrey Nwobu Nwosu (81) from Ajali in Anambra state conducted the election and he did all he could in ensuring a successful Presidential election.
He wrote in his book titled “Laying The Foundation For Nigeria’s Democracy”: “Given the peculiar position of the Chief electoral officer in Nigeria, which includes being an impartial arbiter in electoral competitions, it became clear to me that whatever major decisions and actions the chief electoral officer decides to take, must serve the best interest of Nigerian State and nation. My actions and decisions throughout my tenure were directed to serve the corporate existence of Nigeria, It is the duty of the chief national electoral commissioner of the federation to advise the Nigerian Government on actions and measures that will not only enhance the existence of a credible electoral system but which will result in the conduct of “Free and Fair Elections”.
I devoted my four and half years as the Chairman of the National Electoral Commission in erecting basic logistics, infrastructure and creating congenial social environment within and outside the commission for the conduct of free and fair elections. Towards achieving these goals, I remained accountable and responsible to President Babangida, who in turn supported my efforts. He generally accepted my reforms and innovations up to the conduct of June 12, 1993 presidential election. Finally, a Chief National Electoral Commissioner worth his calling would own accountability and responsibility to his conscience and his family.
As I stated earlier, any action that is not in accordance with the dictates of ones conscience inflicts a permanent psychological wound on the person. Conscience and family honour were two steady companions that strengthened me throughout the difficult days of June 10 and 11, 12 and 23, 1993. Above all, whoever believes in God will be rightly guided in all his endeavours in good conscience done in the service of humanity”. No doubt, Professor Nwosu and his team did all they could to ensure a successful 1993 Presidential elections.
At the eleventh hour of announcing Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola GCFR (24 August 1937 – 7 July 1998) from Abeokuta in Ogun state as the winner of that election, the Armed Forces Ruling Council of General Ibrahim Babangida (81) GCFR, issued the following statement : “In view of the spirit of litigation pending in various courts, the federal government is compelled to take appropriate steps in order to rescue the judiciary from intra-voyaging. Those steps are taken so as to protect our legal system and the judiciary from being ridiculed and politicised, both naturally and internationally.
In an attempt to end this ridiculous charade which may culminate in judicial anarchy, the Federal Military Government has decided to stop forthwith, all court proceedings pending or to be instituted and appeals thereon in respect of any matter touching, relating or concerning the presidential election held on June 12, 1993.
The Transition to Civil Rule Political Programme (Amendment November 3), Decree Number 32 of 1992 and the Presidential Election (Basic Constitutional and Transitional Provisions) Decree Number 13 of 1993 are hereby repealed. All acts or omission done or purported to have been done by any person, authority etc, under the above named decrees are hereby declared invalid.
The National Electoral Commission is hereby suspended. All acts or omissions done or purported to have been done by itself, its officers or agents under the repealed Decree number 13, 1993 are hereby nullified”.
The rest is history.
From 1993 till 1999, we did not have any election. Certainly no one can blame Professor Nwosu for this.
Now turning to the February election, money cannot be a problem to Professor Yakubu and his team. The INEC is to spend three hundred and fifty-five billion naira. The National Assembly had earlier approved three hundred and five billion naira but the electoral body has budgeted another N50 billion for its annual budget in 2023, an increment of N10 billion compared to 2022 budget which was N40 billion as approved by the National Assembly.
According to INEC, the N2.6 billion would be used for the provision for elections, referenda and recalls expenses such as: Operation dept cost covering, printing of ballot papers, result sheets, printing of forms and Envelopes, arterials and supplies, logistics expenses, honorarium for officials, supervision, RAC preparation, security /intervention support etc “Election ICT system support, printing of voters’ register for off season and bye elections, F$A Election fund management logistic.” According to INEC, in the 2023 Budget of the agency, N50 million will be spent to buy firefighting equipment, Motor Vehicles – N150 million, N250 million to repeat offices and residential building.
Professor Yakubu has got a date for the Presidential election. He has got the personnel to conduct the election. He has got the money too. What else?
When he was appointed the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission on October 20, 2015 by President Muhammadu Buhari GCFR, two questions came to my mind. Why has a woman not being appointed to the position of the Chairman of INEC and why has someone from the Southwest not been appointed to that position?
I never knew much about the man except that he was a lecturer, guerrilla warfare expert, and Professor of Political History and International Studies at the Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna. Prior to his appointment as Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Mahmood served as the executive secretary of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund, being appointed to office in 2007 by then-President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.
During his tenure as secretary, a National Book Development Fund was established, supporting 102 journals of professional associations. Professor Yakubu Mahmood also served as Assistant Secretary of Finance and Administration at the 2014 National Conference. I am told he is a team player.
The other question that have been troubling me since, is that as human, can Professor Yakubu’s partisanship decide the outcome of the election or rather does the INEC Chairman has the power to short change voters in spite of assurances, pronouncements and declarations? No one can answer that question except Professor Yakubu and his team and they can only answer the question by their actions. The question becomes relevant because the Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin (1879–1953) said “I consider it completely unimportant who in the party will vote, or how; but what is extraordinarily important is this—who will count the votes, and how”.
The Foundations of Leninism (1924) also added that, “The State is an instrument in the hands of the ruling class, used to break the resistance of the adversaries of that class”.
The INEC job over all these years had become too impossible. Through that job you can be a hero or a villain, you can be popular or esoteric. Professor Nwosu conducted a free and fair election; the events that followed were not of his making. He did a good job. Till today he has not been compensated with a National award. Same with Chief Esua.
The Milit ary took over on January 15, 1966 citing the irregularities of the 1964 and 1965 elections as an excuse. Chief Esua witnessed the civil war—a fallout of the military coup. He never witnessed democracy till he died in the ancient city of Calabar on December 3, 1973. He died in utter disappointment.
The killer job at INEC has all the elements of failures and successes, adoration and condemnation. I don’t know what will happen after the election. Life is necessarily ambiguous and just when we think we have a clue about what’s next, things shift again. The constant flux can be exhausting and exacerbating. Given how much we want to know and the extent to which we crave understanding, a rigged election will threaten the fragile stability we are experiencing in this artificial country. Professor Yakubu should know this. A rigged election may lead to imminent danger, for we are already sitting on a powder keg which may explode into violence and chaos.
*Teniola, a former director at the Presidency, wrote from Lagos