Former chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Attahiru Jega, has revealed that many fictitious names were on the register of the electoral body when he assumed office in 2010.
In an interview with Jamie Hitchen, a policy researcher at Africa Research Institute, a not-for-profit group that was founded in 2007, Jega spoke on the steps he took to sanitise the commission.
He said staff morale was so low and that politicians infiltrated INEC with their loyalists when he came on board.
The professor of political science also spoke on the two general elections (2011 and 2015) INEC conducted under him.
When I was appointed to chair INEC in July 2010, I joined an organisation that was perceived to be fraudulent and corrupt,” he said.
“It was also inefficient in executing its mandate. At the same time I was entering a moving vehicle, with no time to reflect and reform effectively. An unorthodox methodology was needed. I was able to bring in a team of INEC outsiders, paid for by the United Nations Development Programme.
“These were people I could trust and who – independent of INEC’s bureaucracy – could help map a blueprint for institutional reform. For example, Professor Okechukuwu Ibeanu became my chief technical adviser, Professor M J Kuna my special assistant and Dr Magaji Mahmoud my chief of staff.
“One of the first issues that had to be addressed was the register of voters. It lacked integrity. There was a lot of data missing for people who were registered and there was clear evidence of fictitious names. We had names of trees, of rivers, and international figures like Mike Tyson and Queen Elizabeth II!
There was a debate between those who thought the register could be cleaned up and those who thought it should be jettisoned and replaced. Internal discussions with key personnel in the technical departments revealed the scale of the problem: a complete overhaul was needed, but the general election was scheduled for January 2011, just seven months away.
“To compile a new register of voters, INEC needed a constitutional amendment to shift the election date and significant resources to carry out a good, credible registration. Engagement with the government was very positive. The constitutional amendment was quickly secured and elections were pushed back to April 2011.”