Jega, Edo Election and 2015 By Adagbo Onoja



The 2012 gubernatorial election in Edo State has come and gone but it is one election, I am sure, INEC Chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega, will be unable to forget too soon. This is for the simple reason that it was in this sensational election that his professorship was basically interrogated. His professorship has never been an issue before. For a man almost obsessed with teaching and research as the core of his academic calling, the road may be turning too rough indeed.

There is certainly something amiss when one leader strips another like that. Whenever it happens, it is no longer a case of two fighting but a social issue. Against the background of 2015, there is a basis to be afraid, given the diversity of interests involved in 2015 compared to the Edo election.

2015 is when Nigeria must re-invent leadership or perish in a very difficult world. Yet, Nigeria has proved to be that country where the objective (great human and natural endowment) and subjective (great and qualitative leadership) factors never balance. In the absence of that balance, do we honestly think anyone will come to INEC to perform magic? How does anyone moderate a competition which has no rules of engagement or when free and fair election is not part of the consciousness of the political elite?

There is an annoying aspect of this problematic. Whenever the question of Jega’s performance is posed, nobody says anything other than that they thought that Jega’s performance as ASUU leader had prepared him for INEC kind of situation based on principles. And I said, who taught the people to think like that? Which principles? In what way is INEC comparable to ASUU of those days which was a front organisation for a national democratic revolution? How could anyone begin to compare ASUU to INEC which is just a conventional bureaucracy?

It is similar to the issue about GEJ. All the biggies who provided an intimidating theological grounding for the Goodluck candidature in 2011 are today saying he is clueless, mediocre, incompetent or such other unprintable words. But is it GEJ who is clueless, mediocre and incompetent or the Nigerians who voted?

Although GEJ and Jega have different contexts in the sense that nobody talks about Jega being clueless, they speak to a basic issue about our collective unseriousness in handling the most serious survival issues. In the case of Jega, everyone wants him to conduct free and fair elections. But apart from the incongruence of the consciousness of the power elite and the agenda of free and fair elections, there is the more serious issue about the primacy given to free and fair election. Who told us that free and fair election is the most important thing in electoral democracy in a deeply divided and self-hating society like ours? Can’t a free and fair election produce fascists? Why is the concern in this country more about defining democracy in terms of one individual or the other but not about the political tendency of such individual?

Having been Jega’s student from the second to the fourth year of my Political Science degree programme at Bayero University, Kano, I could, just like many other classmates of mine, claim to know the INEC boss more than most Nigerians, including his views on some of the issues in debate in Nigerian politics as he articulated them in lectures. But even then, I would never discuss him as an individual but the social context of INEC, if we are talking about conducting free and fair elections. Why do we then shy away from discussing each and every one of our politicians in the context of social democracy or market fundamentalism or even monarchism?

It must be said though that there is no doubt that Professor Attahiru Jega will be a better Professor of Political Science after his current job.  I do not say this in agreement or disagreement with his attackers or defenders as the case may be. I say it in the sense that it would just be like assigning the university course, “Imperialism and Underdevelopment” to any former Nigerian Head of State. He will teach it better than any academics because that office is where everything worth knowing about the subject matter is located.

But there might be no cause for alarm given Jega’s own response to feared rough roads. Worried that comrades were overstretching their disinclination from taking government appointments or celebrating where they made difference, Jega’s generation of activists organised a cocktail party in his honour on January 26th, 2005 at Sheraton Hotel, Abuja when he became Vice-Chancellor of Bayero University, Kano. It was at this occasion that Media Trust publisher, Kabir Abdullahi Yusuf, propounded his theory of those who seek power never getting it and vice versa but that is a story for another day.

At the party, a major fear was that appointment as Vice-Chancellor in contemporary Nigeria was bound to test the inner most convictions of any comrade. Responding, Jega said his situation was akin to that of a student who when told by his Headmaster that he was in soup retorted with, “I will lick it”.

Tamuno: Oil, Niger Delta and Nigeria

It was to be no more than one of those reflective entrapments that makes the university still a more exciting and fulfilling community than most other places in Nigeria. But it was not where a journalist would expect a ‘dynamo’, newsroom lingo for a big story. I went there only because Dr Ledum Mittee, the mysterious survivor of the Ogoni 9 tragedy and an activist’s activist was to be the speaker at the Institute of African Studies’ Occasional Lecture on July 9th, 2012 aptly titled “Issues and Challenges of the Niger-Delta Amnesty Programme: An Insider Perspective”. Unfortunately, I went late, wasn’t hearing Mittee well for a long time and had missed a lot.  So, it was Emeritus Professor Tekena Tamuno that, therefore, stole my attention since I had no good idea of the kernel of Mittee’s thesis on the topic.

Professor Tamuno is an unqualified member of Nigeria’s community of ex-this and ex-that, stretching from former Director of the institute itself, then Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ibadan, first Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ilorin, foremost Historian of national security studies and more. But what makes him worth taking note of, in my own view, is his membership of the intellectual gang that successfully challenged and uprooted (?) Western imperialism in the study of African History. What makes him a great man is, therefore, being a defender of the dignity of the African. We are not in a society where greatness is measured in terms of such contributions but without people like him, we might actually be worse off than we are as Africans. So, when he spoke, I listened attentively, especially that, at over 80 years, he is still reading, writing and publishing.

In his intervention on the topic, he said, among other things, that without oil, nobody will be talking about Nigeria; that, without oil, we would have to fear for Nigeria because those who love Nigeria actually loves oil more. That Nigeria’s best peace making process since, in his view, previous ones have failed and the subsisting one, (amnesty) is about to fail, the only alternative is to leave the oil permanently in the ground and there would be peace. Doing so is what he said will kill massive corruption because once you have steady flow of oil money or abundant money carelessly kept, there will be one scam or another. Instead of oil, there should be return to what he called green governance: cocoa in the West, coal in the East, groundnut in the North, rubber in the Mid West.

For him, there is a disconnect in communication between the Niger Delta and the rest of Nigeria. While the rest of Nigeria is thinking and talking about revenue, the Niger Deltans are talking of 4 decades of pollution. While the rest of Nigeria is talking of democracy, the Niger Delta is ruled by force. And amnesty cannot, in his words, be used as a diplomatic lie for the rule of force.

It was an interesting intervention from the author of Oil Wars in the Niger Delta, 1849 – 2009. Certainly, many would not agree with him just as many others would say he has said it all. But as I listened to him, I felt a certain pain that he was defining resistance in Niger Delta in exclusion of the solidarity of the Nigerian people, re-enforcing the unfortunate impression that everyone else in Nigeria is unconcerned about the plight of Niger Deltans. This is totally false because the sense of horror and anger against the execution of Ken Saro Wiwa that I saw or observed in Kano in 1995 at BUK and in many quarters tells me that there is no disconnect between Nigerians and the people in the Niger Delta. It was genuine, it was noble and it was real. It was also a Nigerian sense of horror and anger.

I don’t know how the Emeritus Professor fell into that trap of reasoning. It is very true, as Tamuno said, that oil has replaced religion as the opium of the rest of Nigerians even as that leaves Niger Delta devastated environmentally but Niger Delta is a problem of the unintelligent state. An intelligent state would have captured the devastation on its developmental radar and developed a scientific rather than patrimonial response to it many years ago without waiting for creek guerillas to compel it to do so.

I think Ledum Mittee understood this very well when, in response to one of the questions from the floor, he said that the problem was from Abuja, another word for the Nigerian State. When the question about what Niger Delta leaders were doing was posed, that was also his answer: you might find out that the oil companies have their own traditional rulers and probably determine the people who win elections in Niger Delta.

To the extent that the Americans, EU, Russians, Chinese, Indians and Israelis will not allow any oil to lie redundant in the ground even if the Nigerian State accept Tamuno’s recipe, to that extent we must collectively work more on peace in the Niger Delta. Thank God, people like Mittee, Nimo Bassey and other ‘alternative politicians’ (i. e people who do not seek power or office for themselves) are there to lead this process. Professor Olawale Albert and his team at the University of Ibadan Peace and Conflict Studies establishment must, I am sure, be eager to provide the intellectual back up.

Onoja is a columnist with Abuja based Blueprint and is accessible via [email protected]

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