By Ochereome Nnanna
NOBODY can sack me,â€ he boasted, when aboutÂ a year ago, when pressure mounted on the National Assembly and the Presidency to remove Professor Maurice Iwu as the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission.
But of course, Iwu was sack-able. All it needed was for two-thirds of members of both chambers of the National Assembly to vote for his removal, and the President would put it to effect.
So, why did Iwu make such a cocky declaration?
Many observers noted that it was because the Professor of Pharmacy knew the irregular circumstances under which most of the members of the Assembly and the President emerged.
He had them by the balls, and in his hands he held the unholy power to return them to another term if they got their party tickets. And if he so desired, he could stop them from returning irrespective of their popular appeal. The highest they could do is to go to the tribunals, and it is obvious that legislators who regain their mandates through the tribunals will only enjoy a small fraction of their four-year tenure.
The legislators knew that Iwu had the singleness of mind, the political interest and the lack of scruples to betray his hallowed position as an electoral umpire and interfere directly in particular elections to ensure the success or failure of candidates.
At a media chat with senior editors and columnists, a former boss of the nationâ€™s apex financial institution lamented how a candidate he was supporting for the House Representatives in Anambra State (a Peoples Democratic Party, PDP candidate) was made to lose an election to a candidate whom Chief Andy Uba sent to the Labour Party when he could not win the PDP primaries.
Iwuâ€™s anger (apart from the fact that the LP candidate was sponsored by Uba, who single-handedly brought Iwu to the INEC Chair) was that he berated Iwu over his alleged managerial incompetence which led to the bungling of the 2007 general elections.
Aware of Iwuâ€™s capacities to do and undo, the legislators started filing behind him, defending him and generally giving the impression that they would give him a second term. Iwu was coasting to a second term in office until President Yarâ€™ Adua went into his current medical incapacitation.
He was already looking beyond the issue of whether he would get a second term by publishing the time-table for the 2011 general elections. However, the game suddenly changed. When Acting President Goodluck Jonathan assumed that position and it became clear to him that the Yarâ€™ Adua political structure, if kept intact, would not allow him to be a man, he systematically dismantled it.
Iwu was a key factor in a Yarâ€™ Adua second term. If the President suddenly came back to power and Prince Vincent Ogbulafor and gang gave him a second term ticket irrespective of his health status, Iwu was waiting to return him to power, even if Yarâ€™ Adua was in a wheelchair, ambulance or incubator. While others humbly packed their bags and went home, Iwu decided to fight as dirty as possible.
Perhaps, for the first time in the history of Nigeria â€™s public service, a political appointee resorted to hiring professional protesters to counter civil society groups which organised rallies to press for him not to get a second term. For Iwu to storm Aso Villa last week Thursday to protest Jonathanâ€™s order on him to proceed on terminal leave, not minding the caricature that the media and paparazzi were going to make of such a foolish effort, smacks of Iwuâ€™s total disregard for decency and personal dignity.
Iwu did not want to go, but, sorry, he has gone. We pray that the next person to come to that important seat should be less the thug. We should look for people who have a sense of self-worth, personal dignity, respect for that office, and the competence to do the work.
However, let us be warned that Iwuâ€™s ouster is just one of the so many things remaining to be done to clean up the electoral system. We still have 36 Resident Electoral Officers, the real election riggers and enemies of our democracy.
These chaps know that whoever they announce as winner will be sworn-in, while the others can go to the tribunal and try their luck and spend their money.
We still have the politicians, who hire thugs and gunmen on election day because it is a do-or-die battle for the public treasury. We still have the security agencies, which are retained to provide official cover for the nefarious acts of politicians during elections.
Getting Iwu out is the first step towards our electoral reform. If the rest of the reform package is not ready for deployment in 2011, we are still on square one.