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Have university dons become rotten eggs to be dumped from Nigeria’s electoral process?



Have university dons become rotten eggs to be dumped from Nigeria’s electoral process?

The former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Attahiru Jega, recently took his colleagues, in the academia, to the cleaners when he confessed that university lecturers, especially those at Bayero University (BUK), Kano State, engaged themselves in some nasty and dirty activities targeted at undermining the electoral process in the last elections.

Jega shakes a wobbly electoral stool

This bombshell Prof. Jega unleashed shook the table ferociously and its effects are still reverberating within the polity. Thoroughly shaken is the academia, once revered and considered home of everything decent and nice. Jega’s reproach may have become a pill too bitter to swallow but it has provided a talking point for all lovers of democracy.

Prof Jega, who was once the Vice Chancellor of BUK, unleashed this bombshell at the elite members of the academia while speaking as the Chairman at the 15th annual conference of the Fulbright Alumni Association of Nigeria (FAAN), held at Dangote Business School, Bayero University, Kano State.

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According to him: “Look at what happened during the last elections, and the story of irregularities being spread even in the four walls of BUK. The politicians, through crooked means, got alliances with lecturers in the university to compromise the system and they perpetrated all sort of irregularities, which paved way for a faulty process for the continued entrenchment of bad people in governance.

“Maybe, I am preaching to the converted or I am talking nonsense but frankly speaking, I am beginning to think that we are not taking the obligations of scholarship and intellectual engagement with the seriousness it deserves. I think the major crisis in Nigeria’s democracy is that our electoral integrity has been under assault, compromised and undermined by those who have control over the process.”

For Prof. Jega, who managed two general elections in 2011 and 2015, to have opened up on this, it lays bare the corrupting and scandalously awful roles and engagements of our university dons in the conduct of elections in the country. There were several humiliating and disgraceful reports of university dons who soiled their hands in collaboration with politicians in the last elections which echoes the question: have university dons become rotten eggs to be dumped from Nigeria’s electoral process?

As electoral umpires, university dons have the onerous responsibility of ensuring that the electoral process is basically credible and bereft of any flaws. They are expected to be as painstaking as ever in executing this national task. This is because any leadership recruitment exercise that is flawed is bound to boomerang on the people. Producing bad leaders based on the ineptitude of the electoral umpire is most frustrating and a big minus to the society. Too appalling is the realization that some university dons have failed to grasp the import of this dignifying national task given to them, as many of them handle it in the most contemptible and demeaning manner.

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Imagine the utter shame when INEC, immediately after the last elections, apologized over the conduct of one Prof. Musa Izam, the Collation Officer, assigned to Bokkos Local Government Area of Plateau State. He was reported to have absconded from his duty post after he purportedly got drunk on Election Day.

This is a Professor who is assumed to be a role model to his hundreds of students. One could imagine the terrible punishment he can possibly give to his student for missing his exam on the embarrassing excuse of being drunk. Having a respected Professor as a Collation Officer who gets married to green bottles on Election Day can only give you a glimpse of the kind of mess Nigeria is entangled in for using high intelligentsia as electoral umpires. Those who argue that this is one reason we keep electing bad leaders, who keep getting us chained to poverty, infrastructural decay, insecurity and the like, may not be further from the truth.

This mess goes beyond getting drunk and absconding on Election Day. It rubs on the shocking inability of some of the Professors to read out the results of the election which they have personally put together. Many of the Professors in the last elections found it difficult to read out election results. Some of them were shaking while others turned to stammerers overnight, while reading out results. The transfixing case of Prof. John Etu Efeotor, the Vice Chancellor of the Federal University of Petroleum Resources, Warri, Delta State and Returning Officer for Rivers State, during the 2015 general elections, who was unable to read out results before him is yet to be forgotten. The Professor spent more time than necessary performing free drama on live television in the name of reading out results.

The Senator representing Kaduna Central, Shehu Sani, being personally concerned over the disappointing style and manner in which university dons handled the national task given them in the last elections, tweeted that the outcomes of the 2019 general elections were enough reasons why university lecturers should no longer agree to be election umpires in the country. How pathetic!

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Prof Jega did not mince words when he stated that university lecturers, especially those in BUK connived with politicians to undermine the electoral process. It is not news that the elections that held in Kano State had great traces of electoral rigging. The governorship election that saw the incumbent governor, Abdullahi Ganduje of the All Progressives Congress (APC), a governor once caught in a video collecting, happily, wraps of US Dollars – a corrupt act that has been gradually swept under the carpet – and Abba Yusuf of the Peoples Democratic Party (APC), was more of war sprinkled with a plethora of alleged electoral irregularities, shepherded by university Professors. The situation is such a sorry one that has a solution in rather far places. The in-thing is that these university dons are humans and their academic pedigree, notwithstanding, they can be lured into various acts of electoral corruption.

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A similar tale is that of Prof. Donatus Ohajianya, of the Federal University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO), who was the Returning Officer in the Imo North Senatorial District supplementary polls, and was reported to have breached the procedures for receiving and collating results – according to an administrative committee of inquiry set up by the INEC. The election was marred by monumental irregularities and violence and thus, was declared inconclusive and a rerun was held on March 9 in the district. From the report of the inquiry, it was revealed that Ohajianya and a Local Government Collation Officer, Steve Onyeagocha, intentionally ruined the collation process. This is a well-revered Professor who could not resist being seduced into engaging in electoral fraud. It is very likely that he could not stand rejecting the amount of money offered him to alter the electoral process.

Even more puzzling is the case of the outgoing governor of Imo State, Chief Rochas Okorocha of the APC, who contested for the senatorial seat of Imo West. The Returning Officer of his (Okorocha) senatorial district, Prof. Innocent Ibeawuchi, after declaring Okorocha winner of the election, came out to confess that he declared him winner under duress. Prof. Ibeawuchi has since maintained his stand and this prompted the INEC to withhold Okorocha’s Certificate of Return (CoR).

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The case of the Chairman of Capital Oil, Ifeanyi Ubah, who contested for Anambra South senatorial district under the Young Progressives Party (YPP) and his Returning Officer, Professor Meshach Umenweke of the Department of Public and Private Law, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Anambra State, is one that gifts many goose pimples on the kind of mess university lecturers have subjected our electoral process to.

Professor Umenweke declared Ubah the winner of the senatorial election and later came out to say that he only declared him (Ubah) winner because he does not want to lose his life. In a letter dated February 25, 2019, Prof. Umenweke said the election was inconclusive, citing skirmishes between the police and some thugs within the collation centre and claimed that the situation was volatile, intense, and charged and that the police did spray teargas to disperse the thugs and supporters.

The Prof. however, reversed himself in another letter addressed to the Anambra State Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) dated February 28, 2019 and copied to the Vice Chancellor of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, saying he did not declare Ubah winner under duress

According to him: “Notwithstanding the contents of my letter dated the 25th of February, 2019, I never at any point said that I announced the results of the Anambra South senatorial election under duress. No gun or knife was pointed at me at the material time of the election results announcement. The election tribunal remains the constitutionally recognized means for any aggrieved party.”

Meanwhile, Chris Ubah of the PDP, who was one of Ifeanyi Ubah’s challengers in the senatorial tussle, went to court to contest that Ifeanyi Ubah had forced the Returning Officer to declare him winner under duress. Delivering judgment on the matter, Justice I.B. Gafai stated that Prof. Umenweke has no case to answer and at best would serve as principal prosecution witness in the matter.

Many political watchers view the Ubah issue as one of double standards. How can a Professor be seen to speak from both sides of his mouth? His action has many shades. Could he have succumbed to pecuniary offers or threats in order for him to debunk what he reportedly said earlier?

Although, a Federal High Court sitting in Awka, Anambra State has already ordered the INEC to investigate Ubah and Umunweke over criminal allegations leveled against them, the sorry state in which the top guns from the academia have placed our electoral system remains a thing of grief. This is least expected of people who are presumed to be championers of a society where truth, equity and justice thrive.

Time to deal with the rotten eggs

It is not a bad idea to engage university lecturers as ad hoc staff of INEC during elections. It is a welcome strategy meant to make the electoral process better. However, since it appears that there are a number of rotten eggs at the zenith of the academic ladder, the leadership of INEC should start working assiduously on how to select the few uncompromising ones for the 2023 general elections.

Prof. Jega, being a former National Chairman of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), cannot just make such a revelation that will indict his colleagues if he has no concrete evidence to support his claims. The INEC Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu should sort out this urgently. The ball is sitting pretty in his court.

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