Concerned about change and building a new crop of African leaders, the President of the Council of the Nigerian Stock Exchange, Mr. Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede and wife, Ofovwe, in 2012 set up Africa Initiative for Governance. Agha Ibiam who attended an event organised by the organisation at Oxford University, reports
The framers and founders of Africa Initiative for Governance (AIG), Mr. Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede and wife, Ofovwe, do not believe in building an empire for themselves without giving something back to the society that first gave them the opportunity to achieve success. Little wonder in 2012, whilst he was the Managing Director and CEO of Access Bank, he and the wife established the Africa Initiative for Governance.
That idea he said came through inspiration. In addition to that, he was provoked by how Singapore transformed its public sector and leaped from being a third-world to first-world country. “I was inspired by Lee Kuan Yew’s transformation of Singapore which was largely achieved by recruiting a critical mass of highly capable men and women into the public service who took responsibility for Singapore’s development from third-world to first-world,” Aig-Imoukhuede said.
Though he was ‘pregnant’ with that idea for years, he was confident that if he can establish a forum that will harness high calibre talents in Nigeria’s public sector as obtained in the private sector, definitely there will be a success story to tell, a belief he holds for several other African countries, including Ghana.
In actualising that dream of his, Aig-Imoukhuede established AIG, which has entered a five-year partnership with the Blavatnik School of Government (BSG), Oxford University, England. With that futuristic view, the idea Aig-Imoukhuede maintained is that such exposure will provide intensive post-graduate world-class training in governance and public policy for 25 students over the next five years. It is also designed to target graduates between ages 25 and 35, with or without public sector work experience.
“Starting in 2017, five scholarships will be awarded to candidates from Nigeria and Ghana. These are candidates who can demonstrate academic excellence, proven leadership and commitment to public service. Upon graduation, the scholars will be expected to return home and apply their learning experiences in the public sector,” Aig-Imoukhuede said.
One of the beneficiaries of the 2017 AIG scholarship currently at BSG is Adetotun Eyinade, a Masters degree student in Public Policy. Apart from the scholarship aspect of the programme, there is also the AIG fellowship that is also executed by AIG, but monitored by Blavatnik School of Government. The fellowship programme is perpetually ‘cocooned’ for a senior public service official either in Nigeria or Ghana. And this year’s first beneficiary of the visiting fellowship programme is the past immediate chairman of Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Attahiru Muhammadu Jega.
The choice of Jega according to the founders of the programme did not resonate from nowhere, instead it was a well thought out idea because of his past track records and having conducted free and fair elections as INEC chairman in 2015 which people had earlier envisaged would toe the line of his predecessors.
“It was Prof. Jega’s time at the helm of INEC that brought him into the public eye. He took charge of the commission at a time when election rigging and misconduct were common place, and within six years, he had transformed the inner workings of the organisation and restored public confidence in INEC.
“He earned a reputation for his drive and commitment to conducting free and fair elections and while this made him very popular amongst most Nigerians, it also earned him enemies amongst those who had been benefitting from the hitherto failed system,” Aig-Imoukhuede said.
Equally, Prof. Jega is one man in the country that has convinced Aig-Imoukhuede that peoples’ votes can always count after election, as he did not believe that Nigeria could conduct free and fair elections. To him, a line had been drawn on the sand that elections in Nigeria will always count.
“Indeed the Ghana and Gambia’s electoral successes were drawn from the Nigerian example which Jega spearheaded, we celebrate Professor Jega, who had made history in Nigeria by conducting a free and fair election in 2015 and who has made history in Africa and made me a believer in credible electoral processes in Nigeria,” Aig-Imoukhuede said.
The transparency and success of the 2015 general elections is not one aspect of achievement that won AIG’s heart to admire Jega to the extent of sending him to Oxford to widen his horizon on public sector leadership. Instead, someone in Jega’s calibre is needed to act as a resource fellow for developing transformational initiatives on public sector leadership and governance in the country.
As enunciated by the organisation, the AIG visiting fellowship is also widely open to candidates, both senior officials or practitioners working in or with government and must be resident in West Africa. Additionally, the fellow must have demonstrated an outstanding contribution to public policy which invariably has yielded meaningful impact on the public good and commitment to public service in their country, regional and globally.
The choice of Jega, a lecturer of political science as the first visiting fellow for 2016 to attend BSG was not disappointing in any way. He demonstrated his scholastic prowess while presenting his inaugural lecture last week at the BSG, Oxford University. He mounted the podium with great simplicity as such activity was not new to him and delivered a paper titled, ‘Electoral Integrity in Africa: Lessons from Nigeria’s 2011 and 2025 Election.’
But Aig-Imoukhuede quickly deduced that if the paper delivered by Jega is sieved, harnessed, and applied in the management of some government ministries and parastatals, it will be capable of solving so many socio-economic problems challenging the public sector and perhaps eject the country out of the woods.
Jega, who utilised every bit of the opportunity accorded him at the event, however noted that his six months stay as a fellow at the Blavatnik School of Government has been intellectually stimulating and excellent.
Presenting his paper, the professor at no time derailed or kept the guests at the ‘portable’ hall wondering as to what he was talking about. The school teacher, first set out an outline before dissecting the paper which comprised introduction, context, five key challenges and hurdles he went through before conducting the 2015 election and steps to addressing the challenges. Others are outstanding challenges, lessons and conclusion.
But speaking by-heart, he said that after the successful conduct of the 2015 general elections that saw the emergence of President Muhammadu Buhari, that INEC has set an unbeatable record that is being imbibed by other African countries in conducting elections, where incumbent presidents remain unelected.
He explained that after the 2007 general elections, many Nigerians had written off INEC as a cash and carry organisation that went to the highest bidder, while rigging of elections and snatching of ballot papers was so rife and engrained in the system. Some of the names found in voter register according to him were Mike Tyson, Queen Elizabeth and names of some certain trees. This was the utmost challenge Jega said he was interested to curb. Though he met some resistance, but the commission remained resilient.
“The beauty of free and fair election is enormous,” he said, but quoting the UN Global Commission on elections, democracy and security, he noted that elections can have either a positive or negative impact on democratisation, that whether the impact is positive is related to whether or not they are conducted with integrity.
Although democratisation has gained a foothold in Africa, and there is regular holding of elections in most countries, Jega pointed out that poorly conducted elections have imposed remarkable constraints on stability, regime legitimacy and good democratic governance.
In his view, increasing the scope of electoral integrity has become central to the concern for democratic consolidation in Africa, but due to the nature of its ethnic and religious diversity, Nigeria he said, has a highly polarised political environment, characterised by ethno-religious mobilisation and a history of poorly conducted elections, with associated violence.
Jega maintained that the 1999, 2003 and 2007 national elections were progressively worse and lacked integrity. Though some factors he insisted culminated to that. This he said are military rule, civil war, from oil boom to oil curse, ethno-religious and communal violent conflicts, restiveness and militancy in the Niger Delta, insurgency in the North-eastern part of the country, corruption and bad governance with acute poverty amidst plenty.
Jega, who said he was ‘dragged’ out from the Ivory Tower to conduct election as INEC chairman, had the initial fear of how to protect his integrity by conducting election devoid of electoral malpractices.
He said, “I took it for granted that the job was not going to be difficult when appointed in June 2010. Some of my friends tried to dissuade me from taking the job because they were concerned about protecting my integrity. But I told them that what is integrity if it cannot be tested.”
But setting the stage for discussion at BSG, Oxford University, was Prof. Paul Collier, Professor of Economics and Public Policy in the Blavatnik School of Government. Apparently just seeing Jega for the first time after the 2015 polls, used the opportunity to applaud him for the courage and the spirit he summoned to successfully conduct the 2015 general elections that was widely adjudged as free and fair.
Collier detailed that every successful country is built on domestic strength and the courage of the few. Reasoning further, he stated that “research has shown that one essential ingredient and struggle for credible election is courage which was highly demonstrated by Prof. Jega, as two countries in West Africa owe him a debt,” he said.
Not leaving his partners in progress unpatronised during the evening talk, Collier thanked the founders of the Africa Initiative for Governance for what he described as a marvellous partnership with Oxford University. He therefore commended Aig-Imoukhuede and wife for establishing good governance in Africa aimed at turning the public sector around.
However, Jega did not leave the commission without learning tangible lessons. He noted that he has equipped himself on how to plan strategically as well as specifically. This according to him implies strategic plan, election project plan (EPP), election management system (EMS) and elections operations support system (EOPS). More so, he has advanced his understanding in maintaining a rigorous monitoring and evaluation system and having stakeholder validation meetings.