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Uneasy verdict for Maurice Iwu

By Hugo Odiogor

Analysis of the electoral process under the guidance of Professor Iwu.
In a land where ignorance is blissful, it is foolish to be wise.  This is the way to sum up the fate of Professor Maurice Iwu, the man whose job as the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, is coming to an end. The search for angels in an environment ridden with evil doers is bound to be a heady assignment for an umpire in the first place but it requires integrity and courage to come clean and with raised shoulders.

For Iwu, the decision of Acting President Goodluck Jonathan to remove him has destroyed every effort he may have put in place to lobby his way back.

There is no doubt that Iwu has the sympathy and support of a good number of politicians who benefited from his abracadabra in 2007 and would want to reward him with a second term in office. That would have been unprecedented in the nation’s electoral history for a former chairman of the national electoral body to get reappointed. From Chief J. Esua to Ambassador Abel Guobadia, the controversies surrounding each election result have always forced them to leave office but Professor Iwu was determined to stay on.

It is a known fact that in the last five years that Professor Iwu presided over INEC, his name has become synonymous with controversy. That pressure even came from abroad for Nigeria to dump Prof. Iwu to pave the way for confidence and credibility in the electoral body came as an elixir for critics and dispassionate observers of the activities of the electoral body under the leadership of Iwu who was appointed as the chairman of INEC in 2005 by the Obasanjo administration.

On assumption of office, his immediate assignment was to conduct the general elections in 2007. But the INEC chairman became enmeshed in endless controversies, from the time he mooted the idea of introducing the electronic voting system and the electronic voter’s card. After heated debate and tension on the idea of electronic voting machines, Iwu backed down but went ahead with the laminated voter’s card.

Some politicians especially from the north opposed the idea on the grounds that it offended their culture and religion, but the INEC boss was able to sway them when he told them if they had no objection having photographs on their international passports, then there was no cogent reason to oppose such procedure in the new voter’s card.

Iwu further raised the stake when he boasted that he was going to organise “the most credible election in the history of Nigeria”. Nigerians watched to see the magic wand at his disposal.

The build up to the 2007 elections was characterized by political vendetta between the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and its perceived enemies and INEC became a willing tool to persecute opponents of the ruling party. The series of litigations and counter litigations that followed INEC’s disqualification of candidates and the refusal of the electoral body to obey court orders became so glaring that no rational mind would reckon with INEC to be fair to all the political parties.

To compound his woes, Iwu remained boastful and incorrigible. As a public officer, he had no regards for court decisions and went to the point of telling Nigerians that he organized the most credible election in the country, yet no election in Nigeria has been so discredited as the 2007 general elections conducted by Iwu given the number of judicial decisions that upturned over 40% of the governorship election results The election results in Adamawa,  Bayelsa, Cross River, Rivers, Edo, Kogi, Ekiti, Ondo and Kebbi states, were nullified by the Appeal Court. The litigations in Osun, Sokoto, Ekiti and Imo states are still in progress one year to the end of their initial tenure.  Notwithstanding, Iwu insists he organised the most credible election in Nigeria and even went ahead to recommend the Nigerian model to the ruling party in America. Beyond the arrogance and professional failings of Iwu, there are germane issues that must be addressed even beyond the passage of the electoral reforms bill and change of personnel at INEC leadership.

They include delay in release of funds for election, under funding of the electoral process, brazen corruption at every level of preparation for election, administrative incompetence and logistic problems of accessing difficult terrains like the creeks, where politicians go to inflate election figures.

Others are the removal of  incompetent electoral commissioners, reorienting the populace on the evil of election rigging and other forms of electoral fraud, strengthening the institutions that organise elections, the judiciary, and the media through the passage of the freedom of information bill to enthrone transparency and accountability, disqualification of candidates that engage or promote election violence or crime.

The fact that Nigeria’s political system is bereft of any ideological underpinnings and principles has created a situation where the political culture is to pursue selfish, individual political interest at the expense of collective, common or group interest.

According to Professor Lai Olurode of University of Lagos, “Nigerian politicians are not prepared to submit themselves to public auditing. They are ready to go to any length to cheat in elections believing in the philosophy of the winner takes it all.

This has led to the arming of youths with dangerous weapons to intimidate and kill political opponents.” In Nigeria, elections are primarily rigged with the active connivance of security agencies, the falsification of election results, stuffing of ballot boxes while under aged voters cast their votes under the watch of security officials.

During a disputed governorship election in Ondo State, a sitting deputy governor then was caught by television camera leading a team of thugs to snatch ballot boxes.. The only time a Nigerian politician was brought to trial on account of politically motivated killing was in Osun State, where acquittal was obtained after intense media drama.

Under the prevailing legal framework, the resident electoral commissioner at the state level and the national electoral commissioners are the only officials that can legally announce election results and once they do it, it takes only the law court to undo what ever error they may have committed and this takes a long process while the culprits stay back to enjoy the benefits of his crime. Even when the court declares the action illegal there is no punishment meted out to the culprit of an electoral offence. The duties of the security agencies should be restricted to maintenance of law and order at election centers.  The determination of Jonathan to ensure that votes are counted immediately at the polling stations and results declared and displayed at the voting centres is a trend introduced by Iwu but was not followed through.

In spite of his failings it must be noted that the INEC boss introduced the idea of enlisting members of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) into the electoral process. According to him, “the idea became imperative when it was discovered that politicians compromised the ad hoc personnel employed by INEC to manage elections. These ad hoc personnel were therefore, used by the politicians to rig elections”.

Kogi State was the place where NYSC personnel were used for the re-run of the governorship election in 2009. This was followed by Adamawa and Ekiti states where similar exercises took place. The full impact of this innovation was in Anambra State which remains the least controversial election conducted by INEC under the leadership of Iwu.

To check cases of ballot snatching, INEC introduced the concept of customized ballot papers. This was to render the stealing of ballot papers useless, as such ballot papers in areas outside their original designation would be rendered void and invalid.

Nigeria is a vast country with poor infrastructure. The logistic challenges created by this situation compelled the Iwu-led INEC to create six zonal stores to handle the delivery of election materials on election day..

But in spite of the decentralization of operational points, the issue of late arrival of election materials persists. Often times, INEC had floated the idea of using helicopters to drop materials in far fling areas but it has failed to accomplish the task.

According to Chief Jimi Agbaje, a notable politician in Lagos State, the first point of rigging election in Nigeria is through voters’ registration. The falsification of voters’ registration, registration of under-aged voters, and other forms of fraud that are injected into the electoral process begins during the process of registration. The leadership of INEC was unable to tackle this effectively.

As the chairman of INEC, Iwu embarked on capacity building and development of the personnel in the commission to deal with election management and administration. This was the philosophy behind the establishment of the Electoral Institute of Nigeria. It was a product of collaboration between the Ahmadu Bello University, University of Nigeria and University of Ibadan. The institute was set up in 2007 and is reputed to be the first of its kind in Africa. The goal is to train people and increase the capacity to organise elections. The school awards graduate diploma and degree on election matters. According to Iwu, the idea is that, over time, the whole duty of election administration, research documentation and management will be handled by the institute.

Having highlighted the areas of accomplishment of the INEC under Iwu, it is important to state that the problems of organizing a credible election in Nigeria is beyond replacing the personnel at INEC or sacking of Iwu to please members of the civil society, labour and the international community. According to Prof. Pat Utomi, there are structural and systemic challenges that Nigeria must confront in order to redeem its image in the comity of nations. The issue of elite corruption, the over monetization of the primitive political behaviour and unbridled corruption are well entrenched in the national ethos. Iwu may just be a part of the problem with Nigeria.

PAST INEC CHAIRMEN
Chief J. Esua
Chief Michael Ani
Justice Ovie Whiskey
Professor Eme Awa
Professor Humphrey Nwosu
Professor Okon Uya,
Justice Sumna Dagogo Jack
Justice Ephraim Akpata
Justice Abel Guobadia


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