By Terfa Tilley-Gyado:

Speculation reached fever pitch yesterday, after one of the front runners to replace Maurice Iwu, the Independent National Electoral Commission chairman, apparently dropped out of contention.

Ishola Williams, a retired major general and president of Transparency International Nigeria, yesterday down-played widespread reports linking him with the job.

Mr. Williams, on an online forum, Our Country Nigeria, said that he did not wish to be considered until certain conditions were in place that would allow the job to be done properly.

However, a presidency source with working knowledge of the names being considered said that Attahiru Jega, the Vice Chancellor of Bayero University, Kano, and former Academic Staff Union of Universities leader, might get the job. Other names being considered include Mr. Williams and another retired general and former military governor of Oyo State, Oladayo Popoola.

“Jega is the leading candidate, on the ground that he brings instant credibility to the process,” the source said. “He was also on the Uwais panel, so he can implement what his committee recommended.” The source, however, added that the Transparency International connection places Williams in good stead, as “it guarantees the participation of watchdog groups that lend credibility to the process, but insiders consider him a bit “unreasonable” and possibly “a loose cannon.”

Dora Akunyili, the former information and communications minister, whose name has become a staple of discussion as being in the running for the job, is seen to be promoting her own candidacy, which may work against her in getting the job. “She doesn’t have many influential friends on the inside,” the source said.

NEXT also gathered that the region of origin may play no role in the selection of the person that will lead INEC to conduct the next general elections, as electoral reform is seen as a key fulcrum of the acting president, Goodluck Jonathan’s government.

“Count me out”

“Please count me out,” Mr. Williams said. “I can only take such a job if certain conditions are met and Nigerians and political parties are ready for attitudinal change.” He further tried to separate the all-encompassing responsibilities of the national electoral commission, saying that state electoral bodies have a role to play.

“It is not the business of INEC to conduct state government and legislature elections, but the state electoral bodies,” he said.

He further criticised the unwieldy nature of the electoral commission in its current form, saying that it is unrealistic to expect it to function in a cohesive manner.

“If we want true federalism, our electoral and security systems must reflect this,” he said.

“We do not need the huge bureaucracy that the electoral reforms committee has proposed. Let one of the members of the reforms committee implement the recommendations.”

Jibrin Ibrahim, who has also been linked to the INEC job, yesterday dismissed the reports as speculation. The director of the Centre for Democracy and Development, who was also a member of the Uwais panel, added that people were just trying to join the dots.

“The first I heard of the reports was on an Internet website,” he said in a telephone interview. “I made some enquiries immediately after but it is unlikely that the news came from the presidency,” Mr. Ibrahim said.

Constitutional review

The power to appoint an INEC chairman is itself a major sticking point in the ongoing constitution review. Last week, the Senate rejected the recommendation that the National Judicial Council should have the powers to select a new INEC chairman.

The Senate Committee on Constitution Review, on Thursday last week, presented an updated constitution to the Senate, rejecting the appointment of an INEC chairman by the NJC.

The Senate report indicated, however, that INEC’s chairman and members of the board of the commission “shall not be members of any political party.”

The Senate resumes today with the third reading of the constitutional review.

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