By Owei Lakemfa
MY phones kept ringing and text messages made urgent arrivals last Wednesday when news of Professor Maurice Iwuâ€™s welcome sack as Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) filtered through.
It was like the nation erupted in one great celebration. But I could not really share in the joy and enthusiasm. Despite my years of publicly condemning Iwuâ€™s flagrant rape of the electoral process, I knew he was not the primary problem with our electoral system.
I agree the Professor was a disaster and a major problem, but I did not want our case to be like a man fleeing from a snake only to confront a lion. I did not want a repeat of our national tragedy when we chased away General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida and his regime that periodically shed blood under different guises like executing alleged coup plotters, only to end up with a much more vicious General Sani Abacha who elevated murder to state policy.
There is no attempt here to make an argument for Iwu whose INEC was so fraudulent that it declared gubernatorial elections in a state like Cross Rivers State where the courts found that no elections took place.
Nobody can forget Iwu who turned a supposedly neutral electoral body into a court, finding opponents of his pay master guilty of perceived charges and disqualifying themÂ as he did in Kogi and Adamawa states in 2007. It is to the eternal shame of Iwu that 10 of the 36 state gubernatorial elections were for various reasons upturned.
Apart from these, Iwu is the vicious public officer who stopped civil groups critical of his shameful handling of the elections, from monitoring the Anambra gubernatorial contest. He is the reckless official whose men employed radio jingles to insult groups opposed to his reappointment. Not a few hungry Nigerians would have financially benefitted from the phoney ‘Iwu-Must-Stay’ campaign business enterprise.
The Professor would have salvaged some image and credibility if in the face of a determined public opposition, he had opted to go rather than be forced out. He was a man who went to dance in the village square; long after the music had stopped and the square had emptied, he continuedÂ Â gyrating oblivious of his environment. He could not discern that he had been used; that his pay masters had gotten sick of their sycophant; that the senators who periodically expressed confidence in him were already shopping for his replacement.
Iwu had become deafened by the noise of the hungry ‘Iwu-Must-Stay’ hired crowd and mistaken this for public acceptance. The old boy obviously had no good advice, he did not know when to quit; all the signs were there, but like the fly that went to merry at a wake keep and greedily stayed with the corpse until after interment, he stayed until he was politically buried. This tells so much of his self-advertised intelligence.
Iwu with all his professorial garb and â€˜experienceâ€™ is almost weightless on the scale of integrity and competence, but this is no reason for the overbearingÂ attitude of the foreign democracy guardians in Washington who wanted him out at all costs.
We wish Iwu well in his futureÂ professorial somersaults, and since he is unlikely to be probed or brought to book for his tenure in INEC, it would be logicalÂ to expect him in future strutting theÂ political stage like Professor Chukwuma Soludo.
Come to think of it, if Iwu has done so much; imposing or manufacturing winners, making unelected or unelectable people senators and governors, he might just be eligible for some compensation into elected office.
Doubtlessly, the removal of Iwu has brought high hopes that the votes might count, but this move in itself is no guarantee; this is becauseÂ even if angels are brought to run a highly compromised INEC, the results may not be godly.
So Iwuâ€™s removal should be part of a package of electoral reforms. I agree that the body language of the President might give security and electoral agents the green light to intervene in elections or be neutral. It is clear that the overbearing attitude of former President Olusegun Obasanjo mainly accounted for some of Iwuâ€™s electoral sins against Nigerians, especially when the then Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces declared elections as a do-or-die affair.
On the other hand, a Goodluck Jonathan presidency which appears interested in a fair electoral contest might have mellowed the Iwu gang in the conduct of the Edo Assembly by- elections and the Anambra State gubernatorial contest. However, the needed electoral reform would not let the outcome of elections be dependent on who the occupant of Aso Rock is.
If the votes must count then thoseÂ who subvert the process, no matter how highly placed must be punished. This would be in contrast to the current system in which electoral criminals walk around as free men or even benefit from their crimes.
For instance, there is no reason why a governor found by the courts to have rigged elections should be allowed to participate in the rerun. In fact, such crooksÂ and the political parties they represent should be disqualified from such rerun.
The composition of INEC, the criteria used in appointing its chairman and members, who they represent and the method of their appointment are fundamental in ensuring the neutrality of such a body. That electoral appeals should be exhausted before winners are sworn into office is necessary for democracy to take root on our soil.
A situation where aÂ man who lost an election might be in power for two or more years before the real winner is sworn in, constitutes a danger to democracy. The situation is so messy today that the result of the April, 2007 gubernatorial election in Osun State is still in the courts one year before new elections are due.
Most importantly, our political system must guarantee the sovereignty of the people, their right to the basic needs of life, the enthronement of true federalism and social justice. Only then can we meaningfully talk about the dividends of democracy.