By Ben AGANDE, Abuja
After months of high level politicking, lobbying and speculation, the national chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Professor Maurice Mmaduakolam Iwu was sent on what was termed â€˜disengagement leaveâ€™, from which he is not expected to return to the commission where he had fought tooth and nail to remain as its controversial chairman.
For many observers of the Nigerian electoraal system, the exit of Professor Maurice Iwu from INEC represents the defining moments that they had been waiting for with bated breath, especially as the country moves towards another general elections next year.
Iwuâ€™s tenure as chairman ofÂ INEC was as controversial as it was tempestuous. Apart from conducting some of the worst elections this country ever produced, Professor Iwuâ€™s acerbic and sometimes uncouth responses to criticisms kept him on the debit side of the scale when his performance at the electoral body is being assessed.
After the conduct of the 2007 general elections, the abysmal performance of the electoral body sort of galvanized all those opposed to the continued leadership of Professor Iwu to form a strong alliance to press for his removal.
Rather than admit the shortcomings inherent in the polls, Professor Iwu contrary to the grains of public opinion and even the admission by President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua that the elections were deeply flawed, insisted that the elections were free and fair and in a rather absurd manner, called on the Americans to learn from Nigeria on how to conduct a free and fair election. It is this blatant assault on the intelligence of the Nigerian people that finally did Professor Maurice Iwu in.
But as the tenure of the INEC chairman drew nearer to an end, a plethora of events began to unfold. While a coalition of civil society groups were intensifying their mobilization of Nigerians to demonstrate forÂ the removal of Professor Iwu from office, Iwu and those who benefitted from his perfidious stay in INEC began a counter mobilization of largely jobless youths to demonstrate in support of his continued stay.
To underscore the tactlessness of the mastermind of these demonstrations, the walls of INEC headquarters, which for most times, remained off limits for any kind of demonstration, were taken over by the Iwu-Must-Stay posters.
The incapacitation of President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua as a result of ill health however deflated the confidence of Professor in his reappointment and exposed his desperation at getting re-appointment. According to informed sources, Professor Iwu made several unsuccessful attempts at seeing Dr Goodluck Jonathan as soon as the national assembly empowered Dr Jonathan as the Acting President.
When the Acting President announced in far away United States of America that Iwu and many of the top officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission would not be re-appointed, the reality finally dawned on the professor of Pharmacognosy that contrary to his given name, Mmaduakolam which literarily means â€˜You will not lack companyâ€™, he was all alone in his quest to remain as chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission.
According to Saturday Vanguard sources, before the removal of Professor Maurice Iwu was made public,Â the Acting president Goodluck Jonathan did notÂ inform him that he would proceed on compulsory leave as required by extant public service rules in order to prepare ground for the appointment of another head of the electoral body.
One source told Saturday Vanguard that â€œthe Acting president did not informÂ Professor Iwu that there is need to bring in a new person into the office since it is obvious that many Nigerians believe, rightly or wrongly, that Iwu is the problem of the electoral body in the country. He did not try to go the extra mile to assure the erstwhile INEC boss that his services were appreciated by the government. In fact, Professor Iwu was said to have been taken aback by the sudden announcement of his removal.â€
According to one source, as soon as it became known that he had been removed, Iwu allegedly called some of his close aides and informed them of the development and told them to tidy up their handover notes.
The source said, â€œThey, of course knew that the chairman would not be reappointed and he had told all of them to prepare their handover notes. As soon as he was informed, all his aides left their offices. It appeared that the sack of their principal affected them more than it affected the man himself.â€
As soon as the announcement was made that Iwu was to proceed on leave, he was said to have hurriedly left the office while a few of the staff of the commission who were still in office at the time of the announcement burst into celebration that the Iwu era had come to an end.
It was at the point after the announcement that he went to the presidential villa where he met with some senior aides of the Acting president behind close doors. In an interview with one of the staff of the commissioner who was overly elated at the removal of Iwu, Saturday Vanguard was told that Iwuâ€™s tenure was one of the low moments for staff of the commission.
The staff who does not want his name in print because he is a civil servant told Saturday Vanguard that Iwuâ€™s tenure was the worst since he joined the commission at the time of Professor Humphrey Nwosu.
â€œFor the first time since I joined this commission, it is only during Iwuâ€™s tenure that the payment of our salary would spill over to the next month. It is only during Iwuâ€™s tenure that staff on official assignment outside the headquarters are not paid but are expected to perform wonders. We have become the most vilified public servants in the country now because of the activities of one man.
His removal is a welcome relief to most of us because the Billions of Naira that we hear being allocated to the commission ends up with the top shot and they expect us the foot soldiers to put our life on the line. We hope that the next person would learn from his mistakes and do betterâ€,Â he said.
When Saturday Vanguard visited the headquarters of the commission on Thursday evening, the former chairman had met with management staff of the commission as well as the three commissioners. But contrary to the presidential directive that he should hand over to the most senior Commissioner, Professor Iwu allegedly failed to carry out this presidential directive as he claimed that the hand over note was not ready.
He allegedly told the most senior commissioner, Philip Umeadi that the hand over note would be prepared and ready for him in the days ahead.
For Professor Maurice Iwu and the Nigerian electoral system, this is the end of an era that for most Nigerians it should have been. For years to come, the performance of Professor Maurice Iwu as the chairman of the Independent national Electoral Commission would be the reference point on how bad the conduct of elections in the country can be.
Indeed, the real change in the electoral body is not so much in the removal of the Iwu led commission but how well his successor would work to inspire the confidence of not only Nigerians but Nigeriaâ€™s friend in the international in the electoral system.
The 2011 election would be the litmus test for who would succeed Professor Maurice Mmaduakolam Iwu to prove that the problem was with the leadership of the electoral body or the countryâ€™s electoral system.