By Bisi Lawrence
God  rest late President Umar Musa Yar’Adua. He was a good man, a nice man – a man of peace and laudable aspirations.

The turbulence of the Nigerian political environment did not appear to have been his scene, with its inherent insincerity, intrigues, manipulations, dishonest practices and all that must have made an honest man wince for almost every second he spent in the midst of it.

These aspects of jungle politics were there from his inauguration and accompanied him to the end.

But he rose above them. He systematically broke the umbilical cord of a garish “godfatherism” that would have sought to guide him amiss; he willingly declared his personal assets, as he should, against the prevailing practice; he openly admitted the shortcomings of the processes by which he came into office and instituted efforts to correct them; he silently bore the excruciating ravages of ill-health in a position which demanded physical strength and mental vigour. At the end, he won through, leaving behind a record about which no mean thing could be said.

There may not be much to elegise him about either. Time intervened. He pronounced a “Seven-point Agenda” covering various areas, but which was very slow in taking off the ground, wherever it did. But he showed, in some remarkable instances, that he could also apply dramatic, and drastic measures, when occasions demanded swift action. The eagerness with which the populace expected his programmes far outstripped the rate at which they were generally introduced.

But he scored a major mark of success in his handling of the Niger Delta crisis. This nation should never forget that.
The salient points of the “Ägenda” await timely implementation. Time remains a key factor in every move towards any suitable and acceptable development in future. President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan has little of it to complete the term of this administration, and he must therefore hit the ground running, as he has very well advised his cabinet.

His personal ambition may not augur well for peace and would disrupt the course of progress, if it is not pursued with discretion and a fair judgment of the political terrain. In this regard, President Jonathan must allow his good sense to allow preferences that are aligned to patriotism to surmount narrow interests.

This page wishes him what he has already as his name, and God’s blessings.

These are stirring times indeed. The enforced departure of  Maurice Iwu from the Electoral Commission seems to pose a challenge as to the appointment of a successor, just as it needlessly always happens in such circumstances. For how long will Phillip Umeadi hold the baby? And for how long will journalists pound their beats and laptops or desktops, and remain otherwise inactive while they are being picked like bluebottles off a wall? These are questions that beg for answers from the developments that crowd around us, day by day.

Now that Maurice Iwu is no longer the Chairman of  the INEC, we may hope that we shall see several happy changes. First among the welcome modifications I personally look forward to is the regard that we owe to the first letter, “I”, which represents INDEPENDENT in the designation of the electoral organisation. One actually felt more comfortable when the Commission was not crowned with any fake diadem, and was just the National Electoral Commission – NEC, stark and simple, And honest.

Independent? That was never so, and we knew it. Look through the gallery of  those who have been at the helm of the organisation’s affairs and you will hardly find one who left the position with his reputation unsoiled. It was as though they were purposely appointed with the knowledge that they would be facing fierce winds of controversy, and were elevated enough, or  would  be hardy enough, to ride the storm.

All the same, none has been called to face the humiliation of the total rejection suffered by Maurice Iwu. And it seems to me that his entire predicament might have hung on no other string than the delicate one of “independence.” It is apparent that between the mandate of  his being fair to the electorate, and the overshadowing interest of the incumbent President of the nation as a constant pressure, most human beings would falter.

This is because he is the President’s appointee, as we still have it in our law today. It requires more than ordinary human boldness to oppose the man who put you there, and kept you there, should an occasion demand decisions that may not be in his interest. It is difficult, but not impossible. And so, we are now in search of the man, or woman, hardy – or foolhardy – enough, to make it possible.

It would appear, though, that Iwu would not go quietly. He seems determined to create some ripples that will be as effective, in the end, as those of a drowning man. And no less as pathetic. Every reasonable man with an iota of discretion knows that when you’ve got to go, you’ve go to go. And no one deserves to do so more, and without any undue tantrums, than the former INEC boss. He ought to have made a short statement about being grateful for the honour and privilege given him to serve, and “faded to black.”

When this gentleman – you may call him whatever you wish – kept up a bold front during the lengthy period of loud and public protests against his stay in office, one felt he was acting to cover up his inevitable disengagement from service with a noisy exit followed by a sensible silence and withdrawal from the scene. But with the part of an openly aggrieved man, he overplays his role and fails to show a suitable sense of shame.

However, this relates again to our habit, or is it system, of allowing an unjustifiable interval between the firing of an official and the hiring of his successor. It allows for unwarranted theatricals, which the sacked party somehow, sometimes, believes that people expect him to display. In the case of  Ministers, it invites a revolting period of lobbying that cheapens the appointment to such high positions.

Since it was obvious that Iwu was going to be separated from his duties anyway, why is it going to take forever to appoint someone else in his place?

It cannot be that we are seriously looking for a truly independent aspirant, because that may be a long, long search. But, at least, we cannot look very far for a credible candidate, and you perhaps have one or two in mind already.

And, please, do not mention Professor Wole Soyinka, a man in his seventies who, thank goodness, has arrived here through long years of confrontation, detention, hair-raising escapades, and is still even in the forefront of the struggle for directing the country along the way of probity.

He is still “contributing his quota” – if you’ll pardon the hackneyed phrase. Could he be the (I)-NEC chairman for instance, and still be able to comment on the shame of  the Haliburton scandal? And, as he seems to have rightly sensed himself, there are quite a number of  people in this country who would fitfully  work  for  the  failure  of  any elections he conducted, just for the satisfaction of seeing him fail.

That is the way we are – with our PHD (pull-him-down) mindset.

On the other hand, it is clear that the appointment of Iwu’s successor  would  require that the net be cast a bit wider than within the commission. The directive that he should hand over to the most senior officer after him gave the palm to Mr. Phillip Umeadi, a circumstance  that is almost laughable in its inaptness.

Why, Umeadi was the man’s right hand, always there to defend him, to explain his position and even commend him before the rest of the world. He left no one in doubt that he was hand-in-glove with his erstwhile boss, and generally presented a picture of  two minds in one body. Of  what was Iwu guilty that Umeadi was blameless? Of  what was Maurice culpable that Phillip was clean?

The issue of the appointment of the Electoral Commission’s Chairman is very much at the heart of the electoral reforms for which there has been a loud demand all over the nation for the past two years.

It can therefore be expected that the UWAIS REPORT would  make  sweeping recommendations, as indeed it did, about this position. Whoever is appointed  the  Chairman of NEC occupies a position from which he can rubbish the most carefully devised reforms, if he is a corrupt individual.

But that is not what one finds disquieting at the moment. What aggravates one’s mind right now is that such a momentous document could be kept under wraps for so long within a nation whose people speak so glibly about something called “democracy”.

And what are we doing about it apart from whining all year long? Nothing. But what can we do about it? Nothing? We present ourselves as a helpless – people who must continue to grin or groan and bear it, in almost all aspects of a cheerless existence deprived of every sense of security and justice.

In a “democratic” setting where we used to boast of a “vibrant” press, we watch and wail while our pressmen are cut down brutally, regularly. Even they – or should I say we – seem incapable of  helping ourselves. We are good at writing editorials decrying our fate and whining, “Enough is enough,” but who is listening?

And when did scattered and sporadic leading articles, no matter how powerfully crafted, ever lift a stone? What have verbal protestations done for the good of the Freedom  of  Information  Bill? Were they also enough to move Iwu an inch?

They have to be supported by action – timely action, relentless action. So should, for instance, the desire for the passing of  the FOI; so must be the cessation  of the danger increasingly posed to the lives of journalists all over the land.

The issue of saving the men and women of the press from the vicious hands of  murderers is not too light to be pursued behind upraised banners and placards in public processions and rallies at this time. The power that moved Iwu, can move mountains. It can also stop assassins in their tracks.

The Nigerian Union of  Journalists must release its members from the apron-strings of laptops and desktops to line up the streets of  this nation in protest action. The police are our friends, but have proved unwilling – though definitely not unable – to protect our lives. If we do not make them act, who else will? And if we ask the people, they will march with us. Not once or twice, but as a ceaseless campaign.

To arms, colleagues of the press! It is time to activate our police, our parliamentarians and ourselves. It is time to time to take our place in this nation as truly “The Fourth Estate of the Realm.”
Time out.

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