Amina Zakari: An amazon caught in political tempest

Zakari is one of the most experienced election managers in the Commission, having been part of the team that organised the 2011 and 2015 general elections.

“A quiet conscience makes one strong.” – Anne Frank

Onyedika Agbedo

Mrs Amina Bala Zakari is unarguably an Amazon by every criterion. As a National Electoral Commissioner (NEC) at the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), she plays a key role in driving INEC’s mission of “serving as an independent and effective election management body committed to the conduct of free, fair and credible elections for sustainable democracy in Nigeria.” The sensitive nature of that position demands that those who are appointed into it must be men and women of proven integrity with a track record of excellence and commitment to public good. So, Mrs Zakari did not find herself in the position by accident; she earned it through years of treading the path of credibility.

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Before her foray into public service, she had an excellent and fulfilling career in the private sector as a pharmacist. As a public servant, she is not resting on her laurels. She has served the country in different capacities under three presidents. She first served as Special Assistant to the President from 2004 to 2007 when she worked with the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) at various times as Secretary, Health and Human Services; Secretary, Social Development and Acting Secretary, Agriculture and Rural Development. In 2011, former President Goodluck Jonathan appointed her as a NEC, where at different times she supervised the political parties via the Political Parties Monitoring Committee and chaired both the Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC) and the INEC Planning, Monitoring and Strategy Committee. Then on July 30, 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari appointed her acting chairman of INEC following the expiration of the tenure of Prof Attahiru Jega, a position she held till October 21, 2015. Buhari also renewed her appointment as a NEC for another term of four years in 2015.

So, Mrs Zakari has had a flourishing public service career, especially at INEC. But her recent appointment by the Commission as Chairman, Presidential Election Collation Centre Committee has been causing ripples. The main opposition party in the country, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and some concerned stakeholders in the 2019 general election have alleged that she is a blood relative of Mr President, who is a candidate in the election. Some say she is Buhari’s niece while others say she’s his cousin. Her accusers strongly believe that her appointment is a grand plot by the ruling party in connivance with INEC to rig the polls in favour of Buhari. But she has denied having any blood relationship with the president, saying that she is neither Buhari’s niece nor cousin as imputed by the opposition. Even her family has issued a statement to that effect. This is just as the presidency has described the allegation as baseless. INEC too has reassured that the election would be free and fair, and that Zakari cannot influence the result.

But Zakari’s traducers would take none of that. From insisting that she must be relieved of the position, they are now demanding her outright resignation from the Commission. They don’t want to see even her shadows at the Commission if they must be convinced that the 2019 election would be credible. But Zakari has refused to give in to their clamour and antics. “I have done my work conscientiously over the years as a patriotic citizen of Nigeria. I don’t think I should be distracted now that elections are coming. I will continue doing my work. I will continue to serve my country to the best of my ability with the best of intentions,” she has stated.

But is she not right? Before the present fuss, the PDP had expressed displeasure over her position as the Head of Electoral Operations and Logistics. Two weeks later, she was redeployed to the Department of Health and Welfare. Now, they totally want her out of her job. So, it appears there is a calculated design to force her out of the Commission. But do they have any proven case of partiality against Zakari in the discharge of her duties? Are those calling for her resignation not the ones that brought her to public limelight and gave her the job in the first place? Was Zakari not there when her supposed ‘uncle’ contested the presidential election in 2011 against the PDP candidate and lost?

The fact remains that her new assignment is simply to head the committee on results collation centre for the presidential election, which has 11 other distinguished members. Going by the practice in 2015, the results would be turned in by the Returning Officers from the 36 states and the FCT in the full glare of world as the process would be televised live. Such results must have been certified by the party agents at the state levels. Moreover, all the parties that fielded candidates for the election will still have their agents present at the collation centre. So, how would Zakari rig for Buhari in such a rigorous setting, which the INEC Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, would certainly oversee? In that kind of arrangement, a party would only have problems if it abdicates on its roles at the ward, local government and state collation centres.

There is no doubt that Mrs Zakari is one of the most experienced election managers in the Commission presently, having been part of the team that organised the 2011 and 2015 general elections. Therefore, she is an asset to the Commission as of today. She should not be sacrificed on the altar of political chicanery as the country seeks to consolidate on her democracy with another successful general election. The bottom line, however, is that the country should begin to build strong institutions not strong individuals to avoid unnecessary controversies like this.

Born on June 23, 1960 to the late Emir of Kazaure, Hussaini Adamu, Mrs Zakari had her secondary education at Queens College, Lagos, and holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Pharmacy with Second Class Upper (Best Graduating Student) in 1980 from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. She holds other qualifications, including a Certificate in Business Management from Harvard Business School, Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States.

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Author: Tokunbo David