Attahiru Jega, former chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), says many fictitious names were on the register of the electoral body when he assumed office.
In an interview with Jamie Hitchen, a policy researcher at Africa Research Institute, a not-for-profit group that was founded in 2007, Jega spoke on the steps he took to sanitise the commission.
He said staff morale was so low and that politicians infiltrated INEC with their loyalists when he came on board.
The professor of political science also spoke on the two general elections (2011 and 2015) INEC conducted under him.
“When I was appointed to chair INEC in July 2010, I joined an organisation that was perceived to be fraudulent and corrupt,” he said.
“It was also inefficient in executing its mandate. At the same time I was entering a moving vehicle, with no time to reflect and reform effectively. An unorthodox methodology was needed. I was able to bring in a team of INEC outsiders, paid for by the United Nations Development Programme.
“These were people I could trust and who – independent of INEC’s bureaucracy – could help map a blueprint for institutional reform. For example, Professor Okechukuwu Ibeanu became my chief technical adviser, Professor M J Kuna my special assistant and Dr Magaji Mahmoud my chief of staff.8
“One of the first issues that had to be addressed was the register of voters. It lacked integrity. There was a lot of data missing for people who were registered and there was clear evidence of fictitious names. We had names of trees, of rivers, and international figures like Mike Tyson and Queen Elizabeth II!
“There was a debate between those who thought the register could be cleaned up and those who thought it should be jettisoned and replaced. Internal discussions with key personnel in the technical departments revealed the scale of the problem: a complete overhaul was needed, but the general election was scheduled for January 2011, just seven months away.
“To compile a new register of voters, INEC needed a constitutional amendment to shift the election date and significant resources to carry out a good, credible registration. Engagement with the government was very positive. The constitutional amendment was quickly secured and elections were pushed back to April 2011.”
He said the experiences of the Anambra election of 2013 and Osun, Ekiti in 2014, helped the commission to prepare well for the 2015 general election, which was a landmark, as an opposition party defeated an incumbent for the first time in the nation’s history.
He also commended former President Goodluck Jonathan whom he said meant well for “our democracy”.
Jega said Jonathan granted all the financial requests of INEC and did not try to personally interfere with the commission’s work.
“The administration of Goodluck Jonathan, president from 2010 to 2015, never gave any reason to suspect that there was a deliberate and wilful attempt to emasculate the funding of INEC” he said.
For this they should be applauded. No situation arose where we had to go cap-in-hand to the executive looking for funding and I must add that when supplementary funding was needed it was nearly always forthcoming.
“For most of the time during our tenure, President Jonathan tried not to personally interfere with the Commission’s work. Only in the run-up to the 2015 election did his government and ruling political party seek to interfere with the decision of INEC to use electronic card readers. We were able to remind them that they had supported the idea and funded it. Overall I think that President Jonathan meant well for democracy in our country, a view strengthened by the gracious way he conceded electoral defeat in 2015.”