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That Iwu campaign

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By Rotimi Fasan

NIGERIA is a land of the unimaginable and this is once more manifesting in the utterly reckless campaign by Maurice Iwu, the unlovable chair of our so-called Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), and supporters bent on keeping him in office after years of organising what many see as some of the worst heist of the will of the Nigerian people via elections that had been designed to fail right from the moment of conception.

The latest of such campaigns by faceless organisations that should not be dignified by acknowledgment of whatever fake names they’ve chosen to call themselves happened about a fortnight ago.

To say that the campaigners actually took the unprecedented step of carrying placards to go plead their case at the National Assembly says a lot about the Nigerian capacity to accommodate not just the ridiculous but also the blatantly corrupt.

So after the shenanigans, claims and counterclaims of politicians who would go to any length, including serial murders and bloodcurdling oath sessions, to gain office and remain in it for whatever time it pleases them, Nigerians now face the strange demand of a supposedly impartial umpire to remain in office, in an appointive position that is now made to look like a politician’s slot.

Iwu, a former university teacher, first came into office as an INEC commissioner in August 2003. By August 2005 he had been appointed substantive chair of the electoral body for a five-year tenure. By June this year his tenure is expected to lapse and in the sit-tight fashion of African leaders, the ‘longer throat’ in him would not be satisfied, and so he demands a second term.

Given the fact that he first became a member of the INEC family in August 2003, the likes of Femi Falana, the activist lawyer, believes that Iwu ought to have left office since August last year. But the INEC chairman and his supporters think otherwise.

With members of the ruling party and other beneficiaries of Iwu’s flawed elections engaged in name-calling with opponents over the propriety or otherwise of keeping Iwu in office, his case might look like a contest between two groups with divergent perceptions of a man’s handling of a national assignment. Yet the matter is not as simple as that.

True it is that many, if not most, of those bent on seeing the back of Iwu are members of the opposition, it’s also not to be disputed that those demanding a second term for him are winners of the flawed elections handled by INEC under him.

And even if we have to discount evidence of gross electoral malpractices of Iwu’s INEC, the fact that he has become a polarising figure and his position become an issue of partisan debate involving him, his supporters and their opponents, is enough to disqualify him and make his being chair of INEC untenable.

There cannot be any justification in a referee, no matter how popular, hugging the limelight and becoming a player in a game he is supposed to officiate in the manner Iwu has transformed into a politician in a contest involving politicians.

His impartiality is under question and there is no reason to trust him. If for no other reason but this- even if Nigerians were to feign ignorance of the years of ill-usage they had been subjected to by Iwu and his cohorts, his having to campaign to remain in office to conduct elections that would involve those with power to grant his prayers to remain in office is, I insist, sufficient reason for his dismissal.

His strong-arm tactics to the matter, even corralling his subordinates into the campaign as has been reported in the media, again shows Iwu up for the bully he is. He shouldn’t imagine that his organising one or two elections won by members of opposition parties is enough to make Nigerians change their view of him as a partisan of the PDP and other ruling parties across the country. Had we still such strong-willed species like Obasanjo, people who see elections as do-or-die affairs, there is no doubt where Iwu’s support would go.

Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan might not be well-positioned enough to want to employ state power for partisan interest in the style of Obasanjo and co, thus explaining why PDP lost to opponents in certain cases.

But whatever the case is, the greatest beneficiaries of Iwu’s fraudulent elections have been members of the PDP, many of who have been quick to respond to his appeals to remain in office in the fashion of people who know where their bread was and would yet be buttered.

For this class of politicians and Iwu, this is payback time. For as long as Nigerians, tax payers and putative owners of the mandates held by our politicians, are the ultimate paymasters in this game of power and vested interests, rewarding Iwu with another term is a bill they shouldn’t pick.

Since our legislators wouldn’t support reforms prescribed by the Mohammed Uwais’ report; since they’d rather have a president who could choose to remain in office for God-knows-how-long by conferring on him powers to appoint or fire chairperson of the body that would conduct the election that would keep him in office; since they’d rather leave room for one another to cross from parties on whose platforms they were elected into office into others they might want to join for selfish reasons, there can be no way they’d see anything wrong with, to say nothing of condemning, the Iwu-must-stay campaign.

This is precisely where Nigerians must raise their voice to drown out the noises being made by the Iwu campaigners. Being chairman of INEC is neither an elective much less a career position.

There is no reason why anyone should begin to see their appointment into such office as opportunities to perpetuate themselves in office. As it is, the electoral system in Nigeria is fraught with all sorts of pitfalls that have continued to challenge the capacity of Nigerians to manage basic electoral matters. They do not, in the light of this, need the distractions of a sit-tight chair of INEC. Iwu should simply go in June!

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