AT a time it was not expected, the Acting President Dr, Goodluck Jonathan peremptorilyÂ punctuated Prof. Maurice Iwuâ€™s tenure as Chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
With persistent clamours for his removal, many had thought Iwu would be shown the way out of INEC in June when his five- year tenure would have expired. By asking him to proceed on pre-disengagement leave, the Acting President has demonstrated an altruistic sensibility to a popular yearning.
Those who had been calling for Iwuâ€™s sack had every justification to do so. As INEC Chairman, he has gone down in history as an umpire to have conducted the most controversial elections in the country. So contentions was the outcome of the 2007 poll that some petitions are still pending before the tribunals three years after and a year to another round of elections
Perhaps, pertinent question to ask is : What legacy did Iwu live in INEC? The answer, undoubtedly, liesÂ in the type of elections that the 2007 poll can best be described. That the electionsÂ were badly flawed was probably an understatement.
While the international observers ratedÂ the elections low, local monitors and other stakeholders simply wrote the entire exercise off. For the first time, eight governorship electionsÂ were voided by the Court of Appeal across the country.
The affected states were Sokoto, Adamawa, Kogi, Ekiti, Ondo, Edo, Cross-River and Bayelsa. In six out of the eight States, the governors won the re-run pollÂ in predictable controversial circumstances similar to the first exercise.
In Ondo and Edo, the Appeal Court sacked Dr. Olusegun Agagu and Prof Osarheme Osunbor and ordered their opponents Dr. Olusegun Mimiko and Comrade AdamsÂ Oshiomhole to be sworn-in as governors. Judgement is pending in Osun and Ekiti governorship election petitions. Some senators, House of Representatives members and state House of Assembly members have lost their seats at various tribunals.
All these bear eloquent testimonies to Iwuâ€™s legacy at INEC. But the Professor of Microbiology had often risen in self defence at every given opportunity. Rather than INEC, he heaped the blame on the political parties which he said lacked internal democracy.
President Umoru Musa Yarâ€™ Adua whose election was also not devoid of controversy once admitted that the 2007 general elections were imperfect. The ground-swell of petitions that followed polls results were indicative of the imperfections.
At the Supreme Court, that President Yarâ€™ Adua won by whiskers in a split decisionÂ of 5-4 also confirmedÂ the depth of flaws that characterised the election. Regrettably, Justice Muhammed Uwais electoral reform panelÂ which the administration set up to chart a new path for the nationâ€™s electoral systemÂ made far-reaching recommendationsÂ but government white paper on it was disappointing.
Indeed, one of the ways to guarantee free and fair poll in future elections is thatÂ INEC chairman be appointed by an independent body other than the president. But the administration jettisoned this vital recommendation of the Uwais panel report.
Back to Iwu, his exit from INEC could not have come at a more auspicious time. No doubt, the aggregate of national political temperaments is against Iwu continuing in office. Most of those who are well disposed to his tenure extension were those who profited from the perfidy that was the 2007 elections.
Beyond Iwuâ€™s sack, the need for credible elections where peopleâ€™s vote must count is a challenge confronting the nation. This was one of the kernel of discussion between Acting President Goodluck Jonathan and US president, Barack Obama when the former visited U.S recently.
In INECÂ Iwu is now history, but he is not the only problem. As the Acting President told his American interlocutor, the total overhaul of the commission is imperative. Come 2011 elections, Nigeria must get it right. Hence, Iwuâ€™s successorÂ must be a man of towering integrity whose presence inÂ the commission can restore collective national confidence in INEC.
He must be a man whoseÂ conscience will be guided by national interest and one who must be bold enough to take a walk if he is not given free hand. With such a personality in place, surely, peopleâ€™s votes will count in 2011.