International Democracy Day: Meet chairmen of Nigerian electoral bodies since 1979

From 1979 till date, Nigeria has produced twelve chairpersons of  the national electoral bodies.

In celebration of the International Democracy Day on Tuesday September 15, The ICIR profiles heads of the various electoral  commissions since the start of the Second Republic.

The first was the Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO) formed by the military government led by General Olusegun Obasanjo (rtd).

FEDECO conducted the 1979 and 1983 elections.

1. Michael Ani

Born on November 30, 1917,  Ani was appointed by Obasanjo as chairman of FEDECO in 1976 to conduct elections leading to the Nigerian Second Republic, which was inaugurated on October 1, 1979.  Ani led a 24-man team which worked to conduct elections, delimit constituencies and carry out registration of political parties.

The election saw to the emergence of Shehu Shagari as Nigeria’s president. He held the office from 1976 to 1979.

Prior to being chairman of the electoral body, he was appointed commissioner by Johnson Aguyi-Ironsi,  Nigeria’s first military head of state. As commissioner, he worked in reviewing unification of the regional public services.

He died on December 18, 1985.

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2. Victor Ovie-Whisky

Born on April 23, 1923, Ovie-Whisky was appointed second chairman of FEDECO in 1980 by former President Shehu Shagari. At the time, he was Chief Judge of Bendel State, a position that defined him as an ‘upright’ individual. However, the general elections of 1983 which he conducted was characterised with irregularities and the electoral officials were accused of rigging the results in favor of National Party of Nigeria (NPN).

Ovie-Whisky, admitted that there might have been imperfections but submitted that he was satisfied with the results. He held office from 1980 to 1983.

In his early years, he attended King’s College Lagos, Yaba Higher College and University College, Ibadan (now University of Ibadan).

He started his career as a clerk, and worked briefly as a teacher before furthering his education. He was admitted to study law at the University of London and upon graduation got called to the bar in 1952.

He practiced as a lawyer until 1960 when he became a magistrate in Western Region. In 1963 he was appointed chief magistrate of the newly formed Mid-Western Region, renamed Bendel State in 1976.

Ovie-Whisky died in July 2012.

3. Eme Awa

Eme Awa was born on December 15, 1921 and grew up to be a lover of education. He attended Ohafia Central School between 1928 -1934. Hope Waddell Training Institute, Calabar between 1935 -1939, Lincoln University Pennsylvania, United States between 1949-1951, New York University between 1951 to 1955.

He was appointed chairman of the National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (NECON) by President Ibrahim Babangida and held the office from 1987 to 1989, when he resigned due to a disagreement with Babangida.

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Awa’s commission conducted the 1987 Local Government election, which were reported to have been marred with irregularities and said to poorly managed. One major reported issue was the prominence of overcrowded polling stations.

He died in March 2000, at the age of 79 in Holy Cross Hospital in the United States of America.

4. Humphrey Nwosu

Nwosu, born October 2, 1941 was chairman appointed chairman of the National Electoral Commission (NEC)President Ibrahim Babangida, holding office from 1989 to 1993.

Nwosu who served in the cabinet of Samson Omeruah, governor of the old Anambra State, conducted the June 12, 1993 elections in which Moshood Abiola, politician and aristocrat of the Egba clan, was said to have won. Till date the election is recognised as the freest and fairest election held in Nigeria.

As chairman of the electoral, Nwosu introduced the open ballot system, a voting method in which voters vote openly. Despite the perceived success of the elections, the intervention of the military regime changed the course of what many still consider a telling moment in the history of Nigeria.

Nwosu was summarily dismissed.

5. Okon Edet Uya

Following the dismissal of Nwosu, Uya was appointed as chairman of NECON by President Ibrahim Babangida after the presidential elections of 12 June 1993 had been annulled.

However, Uya couldn’t successfully conduct any election before he was booted out and General Sani Abacha assumed power.

Before his brief assumption to office, Uya worked as a professor of history at the University of Calabar. .He later became deputy Vice Chancellor and acting VC at the same University.

6. Sumner Karibi Dagogo-Jack

Dagogo-Jack was born in 1930 and was chairman of NECON by President Sani Abacha. He held the office from 1994 to 1998.

Before his appointment, Dagogo-Jack served as a member of the Humphrey Nwosu electoral commission. Although active, Dagogo’s tenure was said to have been largely controlled by Abacha.

Under Dagogo-Jack, NECON registered five political associations. These were United Nigeria Congress Party (UNCP), Congress for National Consensus (CNC), Democratic Party of Nigeria (DPN), National Centre Party of Nigeria (NCPN) and Grassroots Democratic Movement (GDM).

In 1998, following the sudden death of Abacha,  Abdulsalami Abubakar emerged as the president and initiated a fresh electoral process which led to the establishment of the Nigerian Fourth Republic in May 1999.

7. Ephraim  Akpata

In 1998, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was established and Akpata who had served as a Justice of the Supreme Court and retired in 1993 (at age 65) was appointed the first chairman of the new electoral body. He conducted the 1998/1999 elections that re-introduced democracy in May 1999.

Just as his position, Akpata quickly established himself as a new sheriff in town. He stipulated that only parties with large national support would be allowed to contest the elections. He also ruled that political parties must win local government electoral seats in at least ten states to qualify for the gubernatorial, state assembly, national assembly and presidential elections.

Out of 26 political associations, he only allowed nine to register, with only three parties finally qualifying to compete in the State and National elections. The election saw the emergence of Obasanjo as president.

Akpata died in January 200.

8. Abel Guobada

Guobada was born on June 28, 1932 and began his early years as a student at C.M.S. Primary Schools in Benin City. He then proceeded to bag a degree at the University of Ibadan.

In 1962, he won a scholarship for graduate studies in the United States of America and was awarded the Ph.D. in solid-state physics from the University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, US, in 1966.

He advanced his career as a lecturer before he worked at Nigeria’s National Universities Commission.

In January 1984, Guobadia was appointed Commissioner of Education for the now defunct Bendel State of Nigeria under the military administration of then Brigadier Jeremiah Useni. Later in 1986, the Colonel John Mark Inienger military administration appointed him the Bendel State Commissioner of Finance and Economic Planning

In 2000, he was appointed  as the Chairman of Nigeria’s INEC by Olusegun Obasanjo. He served until 2005 becoming the first to complete his tenure as chairman of the electoral body since Nigeria’s independence.

He died on February 4, 2011.

9. Maurice Iwu

Iwu was born on April 21, 1950 and first worked as a professor of pharmacognosy at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He was appointed Chairman INEC in June 2005, and was removed from office in April 2010.

He studied at the University of Bradford, England, gaining a Master’s degree in Pharmacy in 1976, and a Ph.D in 1978.

Iwu was appointed INEC commissioner for Imo State in August 2003, by President Olusegun Obasanjo. In June 2005, he succeeded Guobadia as chairman of national electoral body.

Iwu’s tenure was due to expire in June 2010. However, on April 28, 2010, Acting President Goodluck Jonathan, removed Iwu from office.

10. Attahiru  Jega

Born January 11, 1957, Jega was appointed as the chairman of INEC on June 8, 2010, by former President Goodluck Jonathan. He is the only INEC chairman to have overseen two Nigerian General Elections (2011 and 2015).

He retired on June 30, 2015.

11. Amina Zakari

Born on June 23, 1960, Zakari, a princess from Jigawa State was appointed Acting chairman of INEC on June 30, 2015 following the expiration of the tenure of Attahiru Jega. She is the first woman to be appointed in the position.

She was never confirmed as substantive chairman.

Until her appointment as Acting Chairman, Zakari was chairman of the INEC Planning Monitoring and Strategy Committee.

12. Mahmood Yakubu

Born in 1962, Yakubu was appointed as chairman of INEC by President Muhammadu Buhari on October 21, 2015, succeeding Amina Zakari, who served as acting chairman.

Yakubu is the current chairman of the Nigeria’s electoral body.



    Born in Bauchi State, he completed his basic and secondary school education at Kobi Primary School and proceeded to Government Teachers College, Toro. He went on to the University of Sokoto (now Usmanu Danfodiyo University), where he bagged a first-class degree in history.

    Prior to his appointment as chairman of the INEC, Mahmood served as the executive secretary of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund.

    Months leading to the 2019 general elections which he conducted, Mahmood released a new voting system for the elections. Despite heavy preparation, the elections which was scheduled for February 16, got postponed by a week just few hours before polling stations were to resume. The commission cited logistical challenges in getting electoral materials to polling stations.

    Reports reveal that the controversial elections were the most expensive ever held in Nigeria, costing N69 billion.

    Seun Durojaiye is a journalist with International Center for Investigative Reporting (ICIR).

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