Worried by the litany of corruption cases against Nigeria’s political elite, renowned Nigerian academic and former chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Muhammadu Jega, has called on relevant authorities to up the fight against corruption, just as he described the current crusade against the malaise as inept and ineffective.
According to him, “the so-called fight against corruption is really ineffective. Those who have stolen public funds and who are threatened by the EFCC for prosecution, once they move into the All Progressives Party (APC), then you don’t hear anything about their prosecution.
The only way to address these issues, in my view, is unless you have a revolutionary transformation of society and improve the context of governance within the framework in which our governance system is predicated. This can only happen if people get in and get competent, credible people in the process. The more you can have good, better people with integrity and competence in the process, the more you will minimise some of these challenges. You may not become socialist, but substantially, you may become reformist in the way and manner you may be able to address some of the fundamental needs and aspirations of the people.
“If you are pursuing a liberal democratic development trajectory, then obviously there won’t be any substitute to giving primacy to the rule of law and ensuring that institutions are strong, ensuring that there is good governance and transparency in the ways and manner by which people hold public positions. You will not eliminate corruption entirely but you can bring sanity into the governance process and ensure that people when they steal public resources are caught and penalised. But in our own context, the hegemonic control of the governance process is that the impunity is incredible. The only way to address that is to get people to recognise the need to improve the governance process even under the kind of context that we operate. We must strengthen the integrity of the electoral process. We must improve the legal framework of elections. We must mobilise people to know the value of elections and participate. Improve the recruitment process by political parties. Ensure that when people participate, the outcome of the elections may bring better people in the governance process that may be able to address some of these very negative tendencies that we see in the governance process.”
Professor Jega, who is a card-carrying member of the People’s Redemption Party (PRP), made this known while responding to questions as a guest during the Toyin Falola Interview Series. The series, which is hosted by Professor Toyin Falola, tackles issues that affect Africans by engaging key figures and experts in the realm of African affairs.
Continuing, Jega defended his reasons for joining partisan politics after serving as the chairman of Nigeria’s electoral commission. For him, “I have been privileged to have been very active in the academic staff union of universities from around 1985 after I returned from my postgraduate studies. I first became the vice president in 1986, and then became the president in 1988, a position I held until 1994, largely because the union was being proscribed and de-proscribed by the military regime. It was a fantastic learning experience for me. I related very closely with progressive-minded academics who recognised the need for investment, human capital development, and who became very concerned that the then military rulers were destroying Nigeria’s education, which is the essential foundation for growth of our country. It was a privilege to lead ASUU at such a time where we struggled to defend the Nigerian education.
“With regards to participation in government, I started becoming more actively involved in committees of either state or federal governments from 1999 after the transition to democracy. I never served in any capacity under military rule. I am a professor of political science; I know a little bit about democracy, theories, practices and governance generally. Opportunities arose in which I was invited. I must say that I never asked for or lobbied for any position that I have held. I saw them as opportunities to contribute to national development just as I contributed in the struggles of ASUU to defend education for national development. By the way, I was never on the board of the NUC, although currently I serve as a member of what is called a strategic advisory committee of the NUC.
“In all of these responsibilities, whether in ASUU or what you may call government positions, the only executive position in government that I held was the chairmanship of INEC. Most of them are board memberships which were part-time, and where I was only contributing ideas or helping to direct affairs for the reform of institutions. Many people perceive the kind of positions that one holds in government as co-optation. Some people would prefer that either as academics or progressive leftist revolutionaries that we should sit by the side and criticise rather than get involved because involvement may have the danger of being co-opted.
“As far as I am concerned, I hold certain principles very dear to my mind and in all the responsibilities that I have held, I have never compromised any of those principles. My focus is how to add to the needs and aspirations of the citizens of Nigerians for democratic development, building strong institutions, reducing the damage that selfishly motivated elite caused.
“Again, I have chosen to join a political party. I am a registered member of the People’s Redemption Party (PRP). That decision was born out of my experience in the election management in INEC; I am a political scientist. I have studied the evolution and development of politics in Nigeria, the role of political parties and how since 1999, although we say we are on a trajectory of liberal democratic government, we are actually in a situation in which our elite, more generally, and our politicians in particular, are running the country aground. I felt that we can’t all sit at the sidelines and watch what is going on and allow people to keep destroying our country. I think many of us by virtue of our training have a responsibility to keep hope alive about how this country can be better if it is better governed.”
The panel of interviewers led by Professor Falola included Professor Omotoye Olorode, Professor Jibrin Ibrahim, Bishop Hassan Kukah, Kadaria Ahmed, among others, sought Professor Jega’s opinions on the crisis in the North, politics and gender, as well as the 2023 general election.
In his response to mutual suspicion among the Nigerian citizenry, Jega told the audience that when citizens’ rights are protected, it would douse the current tension in the polity.
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