Over the years, one of the terms which has been used to describe exceptional public servants in Africa is “Game Changer”. These are men and women who rise above the difficulties and constraints associated with fragile institutions, economic challenges and social disorder, delivering outstanding results in the discharge of their public responsibilities.

Excellence is not a word that is typically associated with the Nigerian public sector. Corruption, mismanagement and nepotism within the sector make it difficult for public servants to perform effectively. To describe a public servant as a Game Changer, therefore, is to acknowledge the almost insurmountable obstacles that the individual must have overcome in order to produce excellence.

Professor Attahiru Jega is unquestionably a Game Changer. A renowned scholar of political science, he has been extolled for his contributions to the educational and electoral and sectors. Very few would dispute the fact that in the execution of his duties as Chairman of Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), he exhibited qualities of excellence that earned him universal recognition and plaudits.

Professor Attahiru Jega earned his undergraduate degree from Bayero University, Kano and a PhD in Political Science from Northwestern University in the USA. In 1984, he returned to Bayero University and commenced his academic career as a lecturer.

Professor Jega rose to the position of the Vice Chancellor of Bayero University, Kano, in 2005, a position he held until his appointment as the Chairman of Nigeria’s electoral commission in 2010. Professor Jega has also served on various government panels and boards and has been a Visiting Research Fellow, both locally and internationally. He is currently serving as the inaugural Africa Initiative for Governance (AIG) Fellow at the Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford.

It was Professor Attahiru Jega’s time at the helm of INEC that brought him into the public eye. He took charge of the Electoral Commission at a time when election-rigging and misconduct were common place, and within six years, he had transformed the inner workings of the organisation and restored public confidence in INEC. He earned a reputation for his drive and commitment to conducting free and fair elections and while this made him very popular amongst the majority of Nigerians, it earned him enemies amongst those who had been benefitting from the hitherto failed system.

Professor Attahiru Jega’s calm and dignified demeanour in the face of severe criticism and personal attacks during the conduct of the 2015 General Election endeared him to the general public and sealed his reputation as a public servant of excellence. In one instance, which occurred during the collation of the 2015 presidential election result and was captured in the live media coverage of the electoral process. Professor Jega was verbally attacked and accused of impartiality by a high government functionary and ruling party member in an attempt to disrupt the announcement of the election results. Professor Jega remained unruffled, refusing to allow the drama to affect the collation of the election results or to distract INEC officials from carrying out their functions. His sagacity in averting a near crises earned him plaudits from local and international stakeholders. Indeed Nigerian youth added a new noun to the urban Nigerian lexicon; “Jega”, meaning “a calm or humble person”.

US President Barack Obama recognised Jega’s key role in the success of the election in his post-election appraisal: “Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and its Chairman, Attahiru Jega, deserve special recognition for what independent international observers have deemed a largely peaceful and orderly vote. I commend INEC for its extensive efforts to increase the credibility and transparency of the electoral process.”

Professor Attahiru Jega is inscribed in Nigeria’s history books as the first and only INEC Chairman to successfully oversee two presidential elections. Since the 2015 elections, Professor Jega has received several national and international honours, including “Leadership Person of the Year 2015” award by The Leadership Newspaper group and ‘The 2015 Charles T. Manatt Democracy Award’ by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) in Washington.

Professor Jega’s chairmanship of INEC has transformed the organisation from a moribund institution to one with an undeniably positive reputation. His actions during his tenure reinstated public confidence in the commission and in the electoral process in Nigeria. Professor Attahiru Jega’s time at INEC illustrates the transformative impact that good leadership can have on a hitherto failing institution. His story also illustrates how the actions of one man, determined to do the right thing in the face of great obstacles, can inspire a generation. This is the type of leader that is desperately needed to drive development across Africa.