I’ve been a widow for 15yrs but have never asked any man for help — Acting INEC chair Zakari

The exit of the immediate past chairman of the
Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC),
Prof. Attahiru Jega, no doubt created a big vacuum.
More than 11 aspirants are presently jostling to succeed
him. They include the Acting INEC Chairman, Mrs.
Amina Zakari who, in this interview with select
journalists, speaks about what she called unwarranted
mudslinging against her person. YUSUF ALLI,
Managing Editor, Northern Operation, was there.
WHAT are the things left undone by the former INEC
chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, which you have to
contend with now?
There is a lot that has been done in terms of processes
to conduct credible elections. The main issue now is to
make our staff and internal processes more efficient. It
has been a tough five years. When we came in five
years ago, it was like a new commission. We did a lot
of restructuring, re-organisation and strategic
planning. So many things were happeningCVR,
permanent voter cards, electionand the commission is
the only agency that can conduct governorship
elections and by-elections. So it wasn’t an easy five
years. But thank God, we were able to surpass the
expectations of Nigerians.
Within those processes, however, we discovered a lot
of human errors. Things that could be done easily were
made more difficult because of the understanding of
Nigerians, training of ad hoc staff and so many other
issues. So, the concentration now is to inculcate some
values. People need to understand that they have to
work on a daily basis. They have to utilise their
processes. In fact, we are working on a business
process review, and I am chairing the committee. We
have gone far in mapping out our business processes.
All we need now is to keep on sensitising the staff so
that we can have a changed management.
We have done all we needed to do in terms of
restructuring and re-organisation. But there is change
management and that is one of the handover notes.
The other handover issue is increased use of
technology in the electoral process. I believe the use of
technology increases transparency and efficiency of
any process and we also need to sensitize our staff on
the need to be ICT-efficient. This is the message I gave
them all.
In every election now, we must ensure that the staff is
adequately trained. We must provide capacity building.
We must go back and get those who are
technologically ready, because if God willing I am
allowed to continue, we are going to increase the use
of technology. Even in our day to day activities, we
realise we have a dearth of data management. After an
election, you don’t know who conducted the elections.
Who were the ad hoc officials? So that we can have a
data bank of who has done elections before, so we
could use them. With little training, you could re-use
them, but every time we want to have an election now,
we have to start all over again. So, if we have hands at
the lower level who are technology-savvy in the use of
computer, data management would not be an issue.
Will INEC continue to use card readers?
The card reader is here to stay. We are ensuring that
the storage facilities are being run. We are doing an
audit on our storage facilities and sometimes we get
calls from the field that everything is fine, because we
monitor to ensure that everything is fine. We’ll do an
inventory of all our card readers and ensure that what
we think we have in store is actually what we have in
store. I will also do an inventory of the internal
workings to see whether our SIM cards are still there or
they are missing. You know we have to continually do
the auditing. You can’t just leave it to chance until
maybe 2019 when you open and discover that all your
card readers are not functional.
Will they be useful in 2019?
Normally, the lifespan of the machine is five years, with
proper storage. So, when we audit the storage, we
would see if we need to rethink our storage strategy;
maybe we have to store them in a central place where
we can concentrate on providing a conducive
environment for their lifespan.
What value would you add to the electoral process if
you are confirmed as substantive chairman?
Like I said, I am a data and process person. The value
I would add is to begin our process early so we do not
get caught up in this ad hoc, fire brigade approach to
activities. I know what we went through all these five
years. We normally have to request for information. We
request for somebody to do his job. So, the direction
we have started giving the commission is that
everybody has to do his job as and when due.
You know we had a retreat in June when the former
chairman was leaving with the other commissioners.
We discussed with the electoral officers, the
administration officers, the RECs and we made
recommendations from the retreat. We have also
compiled our 2015 election report and we have
recommendations thereof.
We also have reports from observers and monitors. So,
we extracted all the recommendations and aligned
them with the departments that should work on them
as well as the RECs, and we gave it back to them. The
very first week I came, I gave it back to the
departments that these are the recommendations from
the retreat, and the promise was that every
recommendation would be looked into. You can’t just
throw them away because these are issues that our
staff brought up.
Why did you lobby to become the INEC chairman?
I did not lobby for it. I had packed all my things out of
INEC and wanted to take a leave for the remaining
three weeks. I felt that as the commission was being
depleted, I had a responsibility to sit out my three
weeks. Then I was called on my way home after the
chairman (Jega) had handed over to Ambassador Wali.
I told that the head of service was looking for me, and
I said what for? I just continued driving. I was almost
home when they said, ‘Come back, you have a letter to
be the acting chairman.’ I said, ‘but somebody was
appointed in the morning, take the letter to INEC.’ But
they said, ‘It is in your name. You have to come and
receive it. Just turn round.’
While I was still arguing, my driver decided to turn
round. I called the ambassador and told him, and he
said, ‘Go pick your letter.’ I called the former chairman
and he said, ‘Go pick the letter.’ I was confused and
worried because it is an enormous responsibility and I
wasn’t really expecting it. I picked the letter and came
back to the office the next day in a sober mood. I
know the only thing left to do is to consolidate on the
gains within this acting period; just maintain an
administrative structure, try to keep the commission
running administratively and then let’s see what
happens, since I know the problems of the commission
in terms of business processes. So, we are working on
communication. We are discussing with the directors,
giving them responsibilities and, hopefully, everything
should be fine.
That means you still had three weeks left before you
were appointed as the acting chairman.
Yes, I had three weeks left.
Do you believe you are up to the task of managing the
Having worked for five years in the commission, I have
a good knowledge of what goes in it. I had more
contact with the staff than the former chairman, and
there was so much responsibility entrusted to me. I
handled so many ad hoc assignments. I was in charge
of managing the youth corps affairs, and it was a 24-
hour duty on Election Day. Everyone would go home
after the election, but I would still be on the phone
trying to get them back to base. I managed the
business process. I managed political parties for four
years, and that was a continuous assignment.
Some of the committees had their job towards the
election, mine was a permanent assignment. I was
working like an everyday civil servant. When I was
moved out, I didn’t know there was life after political
parties. I had to manage their factionalisation. I had to
engage in dispute resolution. I became an emergency
lawyer. So, it was an eventful five years. And now, I
can look back and see where corrections and
improvements need to be made. I have been part of the
re-organisation. I had been in the security committee,
operation committee, so many committees. I have a
good knowledge of what goes on in INEC. I think in
any organisation, continuity is good.
Are you praying to be confirmed as substantive
God decides who becomes leader. If God decides that I
would be the one to continue, I will have to do my best.
Having being entrusted with so many responsibilities
by the former chairman, will it be correct to say that
Jega prepared you for this position?
I don’t think he deliberately prepared me. Maybe he
saw certain qualities in me that he was able to tap
into. Maybe that is why he gave me those
responsibilities. Possibly, it’s the jobs I did, the quality
of my presentations and assignments, that made him
pick me. You know as they say, the reward for hard
work is more work.
Is it true you have familial or marital relationship with
President Buhari?
I would say Gen. Buhari did not appoint me as a
commissioner; President Jonathan did. Before that,
Gen. Obasanjo appointed me as a special assistant
and I was posted to FCT where I was secretary for
health, agriculture and social development at the same
time. At the time President Jonathan came, he was
looking for people that had integrity. That was what I
was told, and I found myself in the commission and
did my best. For somebody to now say Gen. Buhari
knew me and gave me the job, obviously he knew I am
a hard worker and he is a principled person. I have
never known him for nepotism. He is a very principled
If there are familial ties, the principle would have
rubbed off on that family. I come from a very principled
family. My father survived two regimes that were jailing
and sacking people, and he survived both. And for
that, I don’t think I would do anything that would
jeopardise that principle. I can’t say the general is my
in-law. I am not married to his son and my daughter
is not married to him. That is what I understand about
being an in-law. But obviously, in life, you have
acquaintances, people you have known. But I think
people should not get distracted by this ‘family or no
family’. Am I competent? Can I deliver? Can I conduct
my affairs with integrity? The President’s message is
for people to be honest and to have integrity. This is a
statement he sent to me. ‘Don’t do anything against
your principle.’ Already, I have that principle and I will
maintain it.
Were you nominated by APC or any APC governor?
Because that is the speculation…
The President is a man of himself and people should
not think that people influence people of power. Even
when I was made a commissioner, was it somebody
from PDP that recommended me? I know people in
high places. I was acquainted with some of them. So,
having somebody recommend you, does it make your
job different from what you would do? I might as well
have been recommended by a PDP person or a Labour
Party person that is acquainted with the President. I
think the President had a job to do. He was confronted
with the information that this number of
commissioners has left and these are the ones
remaining, and he chose me.
So I don’t think it’s about recommendation. We should
think about the other administrative processes. I was
still a commissioner. I am qualified to do it. And like he
said, gender issues cropped up. He seems to be a
traditional person and the gender activists started
working on him. So, that might have informed the
choice of the only female among the six commissioners
Were you the most senior commissioner?
Yes, there were two of us. We were the two most senior
commissioners. And this is not the first time INEC has
had an acting commissioner. I understand Prof.
Maurice Iwu was a commissioner who became a
chairman. When we came, Soyebi was acting
commissioner and he handed over to Jega. And he
conducted elections. He had done all the
procurements. The commission was running before we
came. In fact, with Soyebi and Umeadi, the same
scenario happened. When Iwu left, he didn’t nominate
an acting chairman. Umeadi took over but the
Presidency appointed Soyebi as acting chairman.
Are you desperate for this position?
There is nothing called desperation. Or have I
portrayed that image?
Your adversaries believe that you want to get the job at
all cost…
No, no, no. I am not desperate and I don’t have to get
the job at all cost. I think even if I don’t get the job, I
have made history as the first acting female chairman
of INEC. Within this period, have I done anything
good? Have I done anything to improve the process?
Even if it is a two-day job, somebody has to do it and
I happen to be the one doing it. If somebody is asked
to come and take over, I will willingly hand over to that
person. I am not desperate.
I have been a widow in the last 15 years, no man or
anyone will say I have ever knocked on his door to
seek help to take care of my children. I was brought up
with decency and I have tried my best to preserve and
protect my integrity.
The PDP has been criticising your appointment. Do you
think this is justified?
In politics, everything is justified. I don’t have a quarrel
with them. I have worked very well with them being in
charge of political parties. And at that time, there was
no single complaint about me. Normally, you see
somebody’s name being mentioned in petitions, but in
all the four years, there was no time any political party
or faction mentioned me in person as doing something
to influence any of their activities. You would see tons
of complaints and petitions from political parties. They
would put our directors and everybody in the papers.
Did you ever see my name crop up? That was the most
sensitive and difficult assignment in INEC and I did it
for four years. So for PDP to be saying they don’t like
my appointment, that is politics.
How many PVCs have not been collected?
We have about 58million PVCs collected so far, which
is about 81 per cent of the 68 million produced. We
have about 10 million PVCs not collected. We still have
about 400,000 PVCs not produced. So, we are going
to resume the distribution of PVCs but we cannot just
bring out those PVCs and begin to distribute them until
we are sure they belong to living human beings.
We are planning our modalities for distribution.
But before that we are going out to the field to conduct
PVC audit in all the states. On Thursday, we had a
meeting with all our Resident Electoral Commissioners
(RECs) and the topic of discussion was resumption of
PVC distribution and Continuous Voters Registration
Like I told the RECs yesterday, the audit will start by
next week. But as for the PVC distribution, we have to
come up with a water-tight process so that the PVCs
will not get into wrong hands, especially as we are
having Kogi and Bayelsa elections. We have to
scientifically determine how we are going to do the
distribution so that we just don’t go out to the field
and it becomes a different story.
What is the budget for Kogi and Bayelsa elections?
For Kogi, am still expecting the budget, but we have
done the budget for CVR and PVC distribution. They
were approved when there were enough members of
the commission. For Kogi, we are coming up with the
budget. For Bayelsa, we have to go back to
government for the budget. Nonetheless, we have
started preparation. We had preliminary meeting with
the RECs last Wednesday to discuss modalities for the
CVR. We have a work plan for the CVR, so we want to
start early. Then we would have a work plan for the
elections. We should soon get approval for Kogi.
We would get a memo and budget for Kogi. But for
Bayelsa, we have to go back to government because
we had anticipated Bayelsa to be in next year’s
budget, but due to the timelines approved in the
constitution, it is better to prosecute the two elections
this year. Next year, we take Ondo and Edo, so that we
can have a paced process so we don’t get inundated
with too many elections like we did between 2011 and
2015, so we can tidy up and ensure seamless delivery
of credible elections to Nigerians.
The processes have started. We are comfortable. The
RECs are already doing what they need to do at the
lower level. I always told the staff there are soft issues
you can do without money. You can begin
preparations without money. While you are waiting for
the core issues, you can begin with soft preparations
and this is the example of what we are doing. In fact,
our timelines have not been derailed for any reason.
Is INEC broke?
INEC is not broke. The releases are becoming a bit
more difficult but INEC is not broke.
What is the amount to be spent on Kogi election?
Normally, for governorship election, it costs us between
N500 million and N600 million. This is all inclusive. It
includes payment of ad hoc staff and the bulk of our
cost is usually the payment of honorarium to ad hoc
staff. But we have some savings. We still have
leftovers, non-sensitive materials from the 2015
elections, and we are not going to procure a lot. We
will just concentrate on procuring the sensitive
When will voters in Kogi, Bayelsa and other states get
their PVRs?
I think Bayelsa and Kogi were among the first states
where most of the voters have collected their voter
cards. It is just a balance of the PVCs that are
remaining and we are not sure if the people that own
them are not dead. We are not sure if they are
students, especially in Ogun where we did a scientific
analysis and we have seen that they have so many
universities and the students left and were not
interested in coming back for the cards. That is why
we can’t throw back the cards in the fields because we
don’t want them to get into the wrong hands given
that our card readers do not read all the fingers all the
time. We have to be systematic about the distribution.
That is why we are doing continuous voters
registration for them. We are going to do pre-election
registration to mop up the few people that need to
register and for people to transfer their registration
from polling unit. From inter-state and intra-state, they
want to move to another local government. We are
going to avail them that opportunity and we are trying
to do it seamlessly on e-platform. We have started
testing an e-transfer platform that does not need you
to come back for capturing. We are working on that for
the two states.
When Jega came on board, he promised to prosecute
electoral offenders. How many have been prosecuted
so far?
In 2011, we prosecuted up to 200 persons. The police
have given us a report on that. For 2015, a lot more
are in police net. Investigations are going on. We
haven’t heard about the prosecution yet. In fact, some
of them are our ad hoc staff. So we wait for the report.
I know that the last Inspector-General of Police set up
a special prosecution team for the 2015 elections. So
we’ll await their report.
There is this insinuation that you have a health
challenge and that you had a heart surgery. Are you fit
for the job?
I don’t think the person saying that is a medical
doctor. I am a pharmacist. If I had heart surgery in
May, you would not see my face till the next six
months because I have to recuperate to ensure that my
heart is back to normal.
I travelled to Saudi Arabia in May. Everybody went for
thanksgiving after the general elections. I spent like 10
days, came back and went straight to Uyo for the
retreat. We finished on June 15, right after the election,
straight to London for an assignment, came back,
went to Ummrah and came back. If I had appendix
surgery, I will recuperate for two months. Heart surgery
is not easy.
You have seen me, I am fit. I have been veiling myself
as a good Muslim. I need to veil myself more as the
acting chairman. I am sure the person that made the
insinuation is not a medical doctor.


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