Stuff INEC’s youngest boss has to tough out 2019

No big deal if Yakubu Mahmood fits in the mould of Attahiru Jega. How a wobbling democracy tags along with a 21-century election management remains the heart of the matter


IT took Nigeria’s democracy 15 years of sweat, tears, and blood to notch 4/16 in the rule of law, according to the UK-based Freedom House rating. And the NGO is kind enough to note the uptick in the freedom level inside the world’s most peopled black nation. Which in some ways confirms it’s no waltz tending a growing democracy. Some, however, think otherwise. And their take on the most important lever of freedom election can’t be more starry-eyed, and the manner they pitch into INEC no less unsparing.

The Nigerian Bar Association ‘sex-President Augustine Alegeh was the first to rip into Prof. Yakubu Mahmood recently. The lawyer believes, as elections go, the new chief pollster is hexed with near-hits. To make his point, Alegeh claimed Mahmood conducted 136 inconclusive elections in one year. That was some hard blind side. And about the same time, the Vanguard for Sustainable Democracy and Good Governance, in a wordy open letter entitled The Demon of Inconclusive Elections and Fate of Nigerians, took another dig at the commission. All for the same reason.“[And]if you believe that inconclusive elections is inevitable in Nigeria, please resign honourably in the interest of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” the group advised.

But, as it happened, these nay-sayers and many others are just shooting from the hip. Over the last one year, INEC has nailed 72 percent of the elections it has to conduct at first ballot and as reruns.

“The Commission has thus far concluded 139 elections (118 at first ballot and 21 after supplementary) out of a total of 163 scheduled elections and that 22 elections were suspended due to violence while 2 elections are sub-judice,” INEC’s Secretary Musa Adamu said in defence.

But having to stamp his foot and toot his own horn might look odd to Mahmood now. All his life, as a high performer, his work has always proven his worth. From his university days as a student through to his lecturing years at the Nigeria Defence Academy, and the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND) years as executive secretary, Mahmood has been carrying everything before him.

Granted he might just not be the only qualified candidate that suited Buhari’s book in 2015. But he was among the most qualified. Not just because he is a professor of history and international studies, with expertise in counter-terrorism and war. He’s got a lot more stuff that makes him such a brainy Gen Xer you can’t brush past. Mahmood bagged his PhD at 29, having left behind a B.Sc. record–first class in history, the University of Sokoto–which nobody has ever broken in the whole of the north. His learnedness got lots of recognition in Ivy League institutions abroad, too. His home state Bauchi first gave him scholarship to Oxford and Cambridge. He later won the over Overseas Research Student (ORS) Award by the London-based Committee of Vice-Chancellors of United Kingdom (UK) Universities three times. Plus he got the Commonwealth Scholarship the Association of Commonwealth Universities offers to study at Oxford.

As for experience, Mahmood is no greenhorn. Before he left academia, he was on the Obi Ezekwesili Education Transformation Team in former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration then. He was later appointed pioneer head of TETFUND in 2007 by the late President Umar Yar’ Adua. The records are there to see how far he took the interventionist agency.

Before the establishment of TETFUND, no Nigerian university ranked among the first 100 in Africa. And the excuses served up then were lack of resources to research, run-down facilities, and brain drain across Nigeria’s ivory towers, according to Oludare Ogunlana and Chima Amadi of the Global Alternative Agenda and Independent Service Delivery Monitoring Group.(The two bodies and other coalitions were up against the plan to fold up the fund in 2012) But by 2011, under Mahmood, a number of Nigerian varsities joined the league of the first 100.

So, definitely, all the head-banging on inconclusive elections wouldn’t be about the 54-year-old being a few bricks short of a load. Neither does it chip anything off his competence as INEC’s boss, the youngest shoulders to ever bear the burden of 70 million voters in Nigeria. He will get all those jabs if he falters as 2019 draws close–and much more if the system he works in becomes near perfect.

For now, it’s a rigged system–for the rich and the violent. An average Nigerian voter, a research document by the INEC says, is one-track mind; he violently rejects any result other than what’s on his mind. And after the rage, he flies to court. No fewer than 680 court cases sprang up after the 2015 polls. “It has no bearing on election credibility or the transparency with which it’s conducted,” said Prof Lai Olurode, INEC’s former national commissioner and editor of the document. “You can’t do elections without deployment of large number of security agencies to the field.”

Money also matters. And a mint of it, too. Every step of the way. “It is so costly to do elections in the country because every process has been monetised,” Olurode noted last year. The commission said Nigeria spent N122 billion on the 2011 election the world’s most expensive, by The Economist estimate. Over N114 billion was funnelled down into the 2015 poll. Even within the party, the tune is not different. On presidential candidates alone, the APC spent N332.503 million while the PDP blew N1.049 billion on ads in 2015. So if security and party democratisation are problems, they are sure none of INEC’s. They can’t be Mahmood’s either–even in 2019.

But that’s no excuse for him to flop in the coming elections. He dare not even whine as some think he’s trying to do now. His August declaration at the Punch Place–that no guarantee elections will be conclusive in 2019–was no sign of copping out. It was only logical for him to say that, considering how bald politicians can go to bend the rule, and where the Electoral Act stands. “There is no way the commission will declare any election conclusive where the threshold is not met,” he said on Aug 20. “We can only declare an election conclusive when we are satisfied with the law and electoral act because all elections are governed by the constitution.”

If it then gets to the point Nigerians prefer wrapping up elections at all costs to upholding the constitution, there is a way around it: compromise. “This is the challenge that we face,” he said. “But we must express it because we (INEC) will not compromise.” There goes another hard liner.

Could that be his tragic flaw? Maybe. Maybe not. But it’s his personal decision, cut and dry, “I have made a commitment to this country that the day I think I cannot perform this job in good conscience, I would leave.”
That sounds like a lovely way to want out–to many ramrod-straight public servants like Mahmood.