Former National Chairman of Nigeria’s Independent Electoral Commission, (INEC) and Bayero University, Kano political scientist, Professor Attahiru Jega, is formally in partisan politics. What began like a joke yesterday morning has moved rapidly into an official proclamation enjoying the seal of the People’s Redemption Party, (PRP) which is the party he has been in the hub of its re-packaging.
It all began when Prof Jega responded to a question by a member of the Northwest Political Science Association of Nigeria Whatsapp platform by saying he had joined the PRP “as an ordinary member trying to contribute in any way possible to make it a credible alternative party for governance throughout the Nigerian federation”.
He added how the party is being reorganized and strengthened in terms of structures and ideological clarity to meet the challenges of the contemporary era, all his own words. The response also spoke of intensified efforts on membership recruitment to ensure effective national presence, stressing the primacy of people of integrity, patriotism and competence who might currently be sitting on the fence, particularly in the Ivory Towers to get on board “to galvanize this effort towards success”. “We must remove bandits and kleptocrats from the sphere of governance at federal and state levels to reposition Nigeria for desirable democratic development”, he stated in this initial Whatsapp message.
It is not clear if he intended the sharp response to go beyond the WhatsApp platform in question or not but, in a matter of hours, the message was everywhere. As more text messages circulated by readers inscribing and re-inscribing the text spread, the PRP added its own dimension by padding the original text with its own logo of the key, a visual metaphor representing the party as key to Nigeria transcending her arrested development. That was a categorical graphic that leaves no one in any doubt that Prof Jega has made his most political move in life.
As an intellectual of Political Science persuasion, an activist and a technocrat, he has always been in politics but never before in partisan politics. This is thus a completely new and most likely to be a qualitative phase.
Attahiru Jega, an American educated Professor of Political Science with multiple locations within and outside Nigeria joining a platform such as the PRP at a time of national distress must indicate to all reasonable people that a major, deliberate group political calculation must be in the making.
Should the push come to shove and a Jega were to bid for power, Nigeria would have got the calmest president in her history, should the presidency be the destination. The joke among his students used to be whether he ever cracks jokes or listen to music and which types. But it has since turned out that Jega crack jokes. And he is most likely to be a replica of the late Swedish political economist and his fellow researcher, Prof Bjorn Beckman. According to Mallam Kabiru Yusuf, the mastermind behind the Abuja based Media Trust who told the story, he was playing a number he thought Prof Beckman would ridicule as petit bourgeois proclivity but only for it to turn out that Beckman knew the song and could sing along.
Is it possible that a Jega outing could quickly acquire its own momentum in the context of the craving for re-inventing leadership in Nigeria? It would have to be worked for but a youth consensus for that direction is not only possible but likely. And a gender applause too, without forgetting a large portion of the academia, within and without.
For theorists, a Jega candidature will be a very interesting rupture of the one sided notion of populism as always right-wing. Prof Jega himself has contemplated this in the mid 1990s, endorsing populism but insisting we must watch out on tactics. His idea of removing “bandits and kleptocrats from the sphere of governance at federal and state levels to reposition Nigeria for desirable democratic development” suggests he is very conscious of what he said before and how not to fall into that trap. By ‘bandits’, Jega is not referring to the violent hordes savaging rural innocence but to ‘banditocracy’ as a variant of looting/corruption.
Leading the Academic Staff Union of Universities, (ASUU) against a determined military regime and courageously applying a technological fix to the crisis of free and fair election and what that opened up in Nigerian politics would count heavily in his favour. It is also easy to stretch the imagination to the first time a Professor of Political Science would be high up there in the Nigerian hierarchy of power. The only thing to worry about is if anything, local or global, should happen as for Jega’s party or presidential leadership to not achieve a leap for Nigeria under him, it will be seen as a proof of the impossibility of remaking Nigeria.
Whatever happens, a Jega in partisan politics is not going to mean anything less than a new era: a former critic turned a power holder, a former INEC Chairman becoming a candidate and a former academic who finds himself a huge field of play to practice what he has been telling his students!