April 29, 2010

Iwu: End of controversial tenure

* Prof Maurice Iwu, ex INEC Chair

By Dayo Benson, Political Editor
Yesterday evening, Prof Maurice Iwu tenure as chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC came to a predictable end going by unrelenting calls for his removal. Professor Iwu, according to  statement from the presidency was to proceed on pre-disengagement leave.

With the avalanche of public outcries that greeted the 2007, general elections it was perhaps one of the most controversial elections ever conducted in the country. Never in the history of the country had results of elections been so contentious. It was also the first time that some governorship elections were nullified by elections petition tribunals. Surprisingly, some disputes arising from the elections are still in courts, barely a year to another general elections. One of the major complaints that characterised the 2007 elections was the substantial non-complaince with the provisions of the Electoral Act of 2006.

Critics of INEC under Iwu have variously accused the commission of the worst election in the history of the country.     But Iwu  had also defended INEC against some of the allegations.

Perhaps, one of the major problems is the instruments setting up INEC which vests power to appoint its chairman in the president. It was this that probably made the commission to do the bidding of the authority that appointed its chairman. Many political observers believed that some of the electoral violations that took place in 2007 was because INEC had the backing of the presidency.

For example, there were cases of ballot stuffing , violence and outright falsification of results. There were also instances of results where elections never took place.

In some of his defence Iwu said the offences were never committed by INEC staff but rather by some of the adhoc hands hired by the commission. It was against the backdrop of what was generally perceived as INEC ‘s  sins that forced  President Umaru Ya’Adua to announce electoral reforms as one of the seven- point agenda of his administration.

He matched his words with action when he set the Justice Mohammudu Uwais Committee. At the end of the day the Uwais panel made far reaching recommendations that would improved the nation’s electoral system but the government white paper on the report fell short of general expectations. The most vexatious  is the retention of power of the president to appoint INEC chairman which is a major recommendation in the Uwais report.  The panel had recommended that the power to appoint INEC chairman be vested in the National Judicial Commission.

Despite the government’s rejection of crucial recommendations of Uwais report, civil society groups and other stakeholders have kept on the calls for the wholesale adoption of Uwais report. One of such groups is the Coalition of Democrats for Electoral Reforms CODER, convened by former Lagos State governor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu

CODER sets out to mobilise Nigerians and genuine democrats in general to demand for sustainable electoral reforms capable of making the peoples‘ vote count and build citizens‘ interest in elections just as the 2011 elections draw near.

At its launch on 28  July  2009, the former governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, did not mince words when he said that, ”Nigeria has now entered a stage where we must either stand up to save our democracy through electoral reforms or lose our federal ventures.”

Specifically, CODER‘s position paper spells out the mode of appointment of INEC chairman and commissioners, the constitution of the board of INEC, mode of voting, registration of voters, determination of electoral disputes, conduct of future elections, custody of election materials, funding of INEC and political parties, establishment of electoral offence commission, role of security agencies, election results, State Independent Electoral Commissions and the constitution of the board of SIEC.

A common refrain among stakeholders and civil society groups is the removal of Iwu.

For them, his continued chairmanship of the commission cannot gurantee free and fair election in 2011. In fact, they did not just stop at  recommending Prof. Iwu’s sack, they have gone ahead alongside opposition parties to mount tremendous pressure on the Federal Government to do so right from the early days of the Yar’Adua’s  administration.

Penultimate week members of  several leading labour unions and civil society groups including  the Nigeria Labour congress ( NLC),  the Trade Union Congress ( TUC) and Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities ( ASUU) marched to the headquarters of the INEC demanding that Prof. Iwu’s tenure should not be extended when it expires in June.

The labour and civil society groups were apparently responding to a pro-Iwu rally which was held in front of the National Assembly a few days earlier.

However, the pronouncement made by Acting President Dr. Goodluck Jonathan indicating that the present leadership of INEC is likely to be swept away soon as part of measures to overhaul the electoral body and prepare it for next year’s general elections seems to have sealed the fate of Prof. Iwu

Now that Iwu has gone what next for the commission?