In the history of democratic Nigeria, at least from 1999 to date, no President can assail Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, when it comes to commitment to free, fair and credible elections.
This was demonstrated early in his administration when as acting President, Jonathan appointed Professor Attahiru Jega, a professor of Political Science and Vice Chancellor of Bayero University, Kano, as Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission.
Jonathan appointed Prof. Jega on June 8, 2010 to replace Prof. Maurice Iwu who was roundly condemned for the shoddy way he conducted the 2007 general election. The appointment drew commendation from various quarters as people saw it as evidence of Jonathan’s commitment to restore integrity in the nation’s electoral process.
After Jega’s appointment, Jonathan enhanced the electoral body’s capacity by providing necessary funding to enable the commission discharge its duties.
Aside this, Jonathan in line with his commitment to free, fair and credible election, against the usual practice by predecessors, gave the commission free hands to carry out its mandate. He refused to interfere in the INEC’s operations even when close allies pressured him to do so.
This was seen in the conduct of the various elections which held from 2010 till date. Whether it was in Anambra, Edo, Osun, Ondo and Ekiti states among others, where his party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), presented candidates for elections, Jonathan gave INEC free hands.
He ensured that all that the commission needed to deliver free, fair and credible election was provided. This, of course, included provision of adequate security for the elections. Jonathan also wasted no time to congratulate the winner of such elections while calling on the candidate of PDP to accept the defeat.
In Ondo State, for instances, where the PDP’s candidate in the October 2012 governorship election, Chief Olusola Oke, and the state chapter of the party refused initially to concede defeat to the winner, Olusegun Mimiko, Jonathan wasted no time to congratulate Mimiko.
Commenting on this, Olisa Metuh, national publicity secretary of the PDP, in a statement said: “Another lesson here for the nation, especially the opposition parties, is to draw from the commitment of our great party to the full entrenchment of the legacy of free, fair and credible polls.
“This is the manifestation of the unwavering devotion of President Goodluck Jonathan to the cause of democracy. He led the campaign of our party to Ondo State and promised free and fair election; free and fair election he has once more delivered,” Metuh added.
Jonathan also used every opportunity to reiterate his commitment to free, fair and credible elections in Nigeria. At one of such occasion while addressing the United Nations General Assembly in Washington, United States of America in September 2014, he reassured the international community Nigeria under his watch will hold credible elections in 2015.
He said: “On May 29, 1999, Nigeria ended military rule after the inauguration of a democratically elected president. Come February 2015, the country will conduct the fifth post-military-rule general election. As elected president by the people, we shall conduct elections based on global best practices to further strengthen our democratic institutions”.
Nothing further demonstrates Jonathan’s commitment to free, fair and credible elections in Nigeria as the way he resisted the calls for the removal of the INEC chairman in the run up to March 28, 2015 presidential and National Assembly.
Recall that even before the postponement of the poll from the initial February 14, 2015 date, several allies of Jonathan and groups had accused Jega of working in concert with the All Progressives Congress (APC) to short-change Jonathan and the PDP.
Some prominent personalities including former Anambra State governor, Chukwuemeka Ezeife, accused the INEC chairman of complicity to manipulate the result of the presidential poll in favour of APC and called for his removal.
Also, a group made up of prominent leaders in Southern Nigeria pointedly accused Jega of holding clandestine meeting with northern leaders as well as APC leaders in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and urged Jonathan to sack him. But true to his character, Jonathan stuck to his word; he refused to bow to the pressure. And Jega eventually conducted the election which Jonathan has now lost.
Jonathan’s commitment to free, fair and credible elections also played out on Saturday, March 28, 2015 when the Presidential election was held. At the polling unit in his village, Otuoke, where he was registered, the Smart card reader, could not read Jonathan’s finger print. Thrice, Jonathan presented himself for accreditation, but the card reader failed to read his finger. Yet he kept his cool; he never appeared ruffled. And in the end after being manually accredited, Jonathan voted.
This calmness, in the face of provocation, which certainly many in his shoes would not have tolerated, clearly shows a man who is will not allow his ambition becloud his vision and make him renege on his commitment for free, fair and credible election in Nigeria. If it were others, they would not only have lost their cool but set in machinery to scuttle the election.
These, among other countless actions, no doubt, mark Jonathan out from past Nigerian leaders who aside interfering in the electoral body’s work, used state apparatus to ensure victory for themselves and other candidates of their parties in elections.