by Tolu Ogunlesi
Professor Attahiru Jega’s tenure as President of the Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities (ASUU) coincided with the military regime of Ibrahim Babangida, a period in which, according to one University professor quoted at the time, “practically all the factors that make a university autonomous have been interfered with by one decree or the other.”
It was left to the soft-spoken, unflappable Jega to stand up to Babangida’s ruinous vision for Nigeria’s Universities, a task he performed fearlessly – even though for much of the time he led ASUU, the organisation lay under a government proscription order.
Amid the turmoil, Jega managed to succeed in recording a significant achievement: the signing, in September 1992, of a landmark agreement with the Nigerian government that in theory guaranteed improved wages and working conditions for lecturers, and increased funding for Universities.
A professor of political science, Jega earned his Bachelor’s degree from Bayero University, Kano, and Masters and Doctorate degrees from Northwestern University, Evanston, in the United States, in 1981 and 1985 respectively.
He spent most of his academic career at Bayero, his alma mater, and was in 2005 appointed Vice Chancellor.
In 2007 he was appointed a member of a committee set up by President Umaru Yar’Adua to reform Nigeria’s electoral laws.
In June 2010 President Jonathan named him Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, to replace the discredited Maurice Iwu, who had presided over, in 2007, what many believed to be one of the least credible elections in Nigeria’s fitful political history.
Jega’s appointment was widely hailed; he was seen as the sort of credible and independent-minded person needed to restore public confidence in the electoral commission.
It’s been much easier said than done. Jega’s INEC, while enjoying greater public respect than Iwu’s did, has had its own share of fiasco. Poor preparations by INEC led to a one-week postponement of the 2011 general elections.
A similar fate befell the Anambra State governorship elections in November 2003. Subsequent elections – governorship contests in Ekiti and Osun – were better organised.
As his tenure comes to an end in June 2015, Jega’s legacy-defining effort will be Nigeria’s ongoing 2015 general elections, delayed at the last minute by six weeks, from February.
There have been problems, no doubt — shoddy logistics that caused voting to stretch into a second day in parts of the country, allegations and counter-allegations of rigging by the two main political parties, delays in the collation of results, and sporadic violence — but the widespread breakdown of law and order that many expected would accompany the most competitive presidential election in Nigeria’s history has yet failed to materialise.
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