On September 30, 2015, Jonathan Fanton attended the Nigeria Higher Education Foundation (NHEF) Awards Gala, where he awarded the NHEF Integrity Award to Professor Attahiru Jega. Professor Jega is the former chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission of Nigeria. He received the NHEF Integrity Award for his role in preserving the integrity of Nigeria’s democratic process.
I am delighted to be here with you today as we celebrate the past and future accomplishments of NHEF and recognize its generous supporters who have contributed to the progress of Nigeria. It is indeed a special honor and pleasure this evening to present the NHEF Integrity Award to Professor Attahiru Jega, former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (INEC).
Fifteen years ago, as President of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, I chose Nigeria as the country to focus on as part of the Partnership for Higher Education in Africa. It was an initiative by the MacArthur Foundation in partnership with three other foundations—Ford, Rockefeller, and Carnegie—based on the fact that we all believed that education was critical for Africa’s renaissance.
Universities are the bellwether for democracy and development. Can we think of any vibrant democracy and developing economy that has not been nurtured by free and dynamic universities? The reverse is also true, as we know all too well. Authoritarian regimes and closed economies are by their nature insecure and dare not tolerate either intellectual liberty or academic independence.
Democracy is not an event, but a process that takes years, even decades. It requires patience, as progress is measured little by little, day by day. There are many building blocks, but none more central to the process of strengthening democracy than education. This seems to be undeniable. For individuals, education is the ladder of opportunity; for communities, it is the base of common values that holds diverse people together; for nations, it is the engine of economic growth; and for all who believe in freedom, education provides the moral foundation for democracy guided by respect for individual dignity and the rule of law.
MacArthur selected four Nigerian universities upon which to focus our work: Ibadan, Port Harcourt, Ahmadu Bello, and Bayero University. We stayed with these universities based on three qualities of their Vice-Chancellors: vison, leadership, and integrity. Our awardee tonight, Professor Attahiru Jega, was the Vice-Chancellor of Bayero University. I got to know him and work closely with him during his tenure. He demonstrated all three qualities then and, subsequently, in his role as the overseer of Nigeria’s freest and fairest elections.
Two years ago when NHEF was kind enough to honor me, I said in my acceptance speech:
Nigeria’s journey to democracy is being watched the world over. Because of its size, cultural complexity and economic prospects, this country is seen as a leader throughout Africa and as a key actor on the global stage. A Nigeria who fully meets its obligations to its own citizens can provide a beacon of hope to people everywhere.
Let me say here how proud I am of my friend, Vice Chancellor Jega of Bayero, who has taken on the challenge of leading the Independent National Election Commission. Next year’s elections are critical to Nigeria’s future: they must be—and be seen to be—fair and clean. Ordinary citizens will engage more vigorously in building their country if they have faith that the government is of, by, and for the people.
As all of you in the audience know, Nigeria went through a remarkable democratic transition earlier this year, with the election of President Buhari and the peaceful transition of power from President Jonathan. The underpinning of this transition was a robust and transparent electoral process, one that was widely accepted as open and fair.
The key architect of this electoral process is today’s awardee, Professor Attahiru Jega. In his role as Chairman of INEC, Professor Jega laid out the roadmap for the elections as early as 2010, put in place an enormous infrastructure of biometric and polling stations, and oversaw vote counting and tallying. Professor Jega showed outstanding integrity in the face of tremendous political pressure to make sure there was no interference in the process, and to ensure that votes were tallied correctly. Most importantly, his calm leadership under pressure when votes were being announced ensured peace and stability.
For these reasons and more, I am delighted to present the NHEF Integrity Award to a dear friend and a remarkable individual, Professor Attahiru Jega.