THE nation waits to see who President Goodluck Jonathan will nominate as the new Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
It is just two weeks to the formal expiry of the tenure of its former Chairman, Professor Maurice Iwu, who was sent on compulsory terminal leave on Thursday, April 29, 2010. It is therefore a moment of great expectations because the move the President makes in this direction will define his presidency irrespective of how long it lasts.
Yes indeed, it will. On the two occasions when he moved up the ladder, from Vice-President to Acting President and later President, Dr. Jonathan went out of his way to emphasise that his administration would ensure that the general election of 2011 will be free and fair, with every vote accounted for.
The importance of staging a free, fair and acceptable election at this juncture of our history as we stand on the threshold of our 50th independence anniversary cannot be toyed with.
This is because only two factors have accounted for the permanent crises and instability in the Nigerian political system, which have made it impossible for the country to translate from a mere geographical expression to an integrated nation. Number one is the geopolitical imbalance engineered by the British colonialists, which created ethnic tensions within the former Regions and among the major ethnic groups which have been locked in supremacy contests to the detriment of national cohesion.
The second, which is an offshoot of the first, is the inability of Nigeria to stage free, fair and acceptable elections. This inability to conduct, and sometimes unwillingness to accept, the results of fairly passable elections is responsible for the many crises we have seen in this country, including those that led to the intervention of the military, the Nigerian civil war and the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential elections.
Bearing this in mind, the President should make amends for the delayed completion of the electoral reforms by a patriotism-motivated appointment of the next INEC Chair, as well as other measures that will be needed for the impending general elections. Irrespective of whether President Goodluck Jonathan runs in the 2011 polls or not, the persons who will man the election must be people of known track records of competence, character and expressed hunger for the greatness of the nation.
The suggestion by the Presidential Advisory Committee (PAC) that the new INEC Chairperson should emerge after detailed consultations with the political parties that produced the incumbent state governors in the past elections should not be taken lightly.
This elderly and wise advice should be implemented. All these political parties are stakeholders in the elections and a consensus appointment from among them will blunt the edge of partiality that a unilateral appointment by the President might bring about.
The President must, in particular, ensure that the next INEC Chairman must not be a card-carrying member of any political party, or an old hand in the discredited INEC from the days of Dr. Abel Guobadia to the final days of Professor Maurice Iwu. We must do away with the tradition of putting a partisan umpire in that position. We are worried by some of the names making the rounds as being among those under consideration.
Anybody who has been a member of a political party or who has played partisan roles in the past must not be appointed the Chairman of the INEC.
We appeal to the President to remain above politics in approaching this appointment. He must have his eyes on the greatest good of Nigeria. He should shun the entreaties of some former leaders who are goading him to appoint some individuals who will not serve the interests of the nation but those of some individuals and vested political interests.
The President must bear in mind that who he appoints and how he makes this appointment will define his perception in the polity and the world at large. Any wrong move and everything else he does from now on will be questioned and doubted.
There is still time to avoid costly mistakes.