By Jide Ajani  & Hugo Odiogor

If there were doubts before, Maurice Iwu, knew his days as Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, were numbered the day after he announced the provisional time-table for next year’s general elections in Abuja.

After the two time-tables announced by the INEC chairman, Sunday Vanguard learnt that Iwu got feelers that he ought to have consulted with Acting President Goodluck Jonathan before making the announcement.  And whereas Jonathan was not known to have communicated his feelings to Iwu personally, Sunday Vanguard was informed by a source in Aso Rock Presidential Villa that the announcement of the time-tables “may have been targeted at Acting President Jonathan because the time-table as was made public did not leave so much room for the Acting President”.

* Maurice Iwu

Therefore, when penultimate week, Jonathan went on Cable News Network, CNN, in an interview with Christian Amanpour, and in the process seen as protecting Iwu, many wondered whether there had been a shift in paradigm.  But there was no definite shift.

Even the US State Department was no longer sure whether Jonathan was merely speaking for the cameras or whether he was playing politics. So, when last Wednesday, April 28, an attempt at an interview was made by Sunday Vanguard and Iwu politely turned it down, it became obvious that something was in the air. It was gathered that Iwu had been aware of his sack earlier that Wednesday but as almost all government activities go, it may not happen until it has happened.

It was, therefore, no surprise when a terse statement from the Office of the Acting President signed by Ima Niboro, announced that Iwu had been sent on disengagement leave. Iwu, is said to be keeping mum about his sack.

However, sources close to him said his visit to Aso Rock Villa last Thursday was to clarify the import of the statement from Jonathan’s office. Indeed, it was at the Villa that Iwu reportedly got the letter sending him on terminal leave.  He got the letter from the Principal Secretary to the Acting President, Chief Mike Oghiadome.  Sunday Vanguard was told that whereas Iwu did not have audience with Jonathan, the fact of the announcement effectively meant that the die was cast. But all may not be well yet at the Zambezi Street INEC headquarters.

Following on the heels of Iwu’s removal, the next federal electoral commissioner in line, Mr. Victor Chukwuani, has been informed that he, too, should proceed on leave. The next in line, who is the only surviving commissioner, is Phillip Umeadi Jnr, a lawyer, has taken over pending the appointment of a substantive head. At last Thursday’s meeting with management staff, Iwu thanked all for their support.

Meanwhile, Umeadi has already started recalling suspended staff of the commission. Sources close to the ousted INEC chairman informed Sunday Vanguard that “the chairman is just watching developments but there are concerns on his mind. “First is the fact that this is the first time that the national chairman of INEC, contrary to the provisions of the 1999Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria would be removed before his tenure albeit, unconstitutionally. “Added to this is the fact that the procedure for his removal, which must have the involvement of the senate, has not been so followed.

“Also”, the source added, “the man does not seem to be fazed by what has happened but has simply decided to just look and watch.  What he is saying is that is Nigeria really ready for constitutional democracy or the same whimsical approach to doing things.  “If you look at the provisions of the constitution”, the source maintained, “only the senate through a vote can cause the chairman of INEC to be removed. “With what has happened now, shall we then say that when it suite what we want, we talk about democracy, constitutionality and due process but when it does not suite us, we do what we want?”

Then there was the agitation by the opposition elements in Nigeria.

The psyche of the populace had become so primed that any election won by the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, was seen as rigged.  In instances where the opposition had won obviously flawed elections, such were seen as free and fair.  But Iwu had incurred the wrath of the opposition when, during the heady days of the 2007 elections, his interpretation of the constitutional provisions which dealt with disqualification was seen by many as being deployed by INEC to disqualify many politicians.

What many forgot, however, was that the Court of Appeal had upheld the rights of INEC to disqualify candidates on certain grounds.  It was not until Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate of the Action Congress, AC, went to the Supreme Court to challenge his disqualification, that the right of INEC to disqualify was quashed. So, for Jonathan, if only to satisfy the opposition that he means well, he needed to pander and remove Iwu.

Iwu’s Tenure- For Iwu, the decision of Acting President Goodluck Jonathan to remove him has destroyed every effort he may have put in place to right perceived wrongs of the past. There is no doubt that Iwu has the sympathy and support of a good number of politicians who benefited from his abracadabra in 2007 and would want to reward him with a second term in office.

That would have been unprecedented in the nation’s electoral history for a chairman of the national electoral body to get reappointed. From Chief J. Esua to Ambassador Abel Guobadia, the controversies surrounding each election result have always forced them to leave office but Professor Iwu was determined to stay on.

On assumption of office, his immediate assignment was to conduct the general elections in 2007. But the INEC chairman became enmeshed in endless controversies, from the time he mooted the idea of introducing the electronic voting system and the electronic voter’s card. After heated debate and tension on the idea of electronic voting machines, Iwu backed down but went ahead with the laminated voter’s card.

Some politicians especially from the north opposed the idea on the grounds that it offended their culture and religion, but the INEC boss was able to sway them when he told them if they had no objection having photographs on their international passports, then there was no cogent reason to oppose such procedure in the new voter’s card.

The build up to the 2007 elections was characterized by political vendetta between the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and its perceived enemies and INEC became a willing tool to persecute opponents of the ruling party. The series of litigations and counter litigations that followed INEC’s disqualification of candidates and the refusal of the electoral body to obey court orders became so glaring that no rational mind would reckon with INEC to be fair to all the political parties. To compound his woes, Iwu remained boastful and incorrigible. The election results in Adamawa,  Bayelsa, Cross River, Rivers, Edo, Kogi, Ekiti, Ondo and Kebbi states, were nullified by the Appeal Court.

The litigations in Osun, Sokoto, Ekiti and Imo states are still in progress one year to the end of their initial tenure.  Notwithstanding, Iwu insists he organised the most credible election in Nigeria and even went ahead to recommend the Nigerian model to the ruling party in America. Beyond the arrogance and professional failings of Iwu, there are germane issues that must be addressed even beyond the passage of the electoral reforms bill and change of personnel at INEC leadership.

They include delay in release of funds for election, under funding of the electoral process, brazen corruption at every level of preparation for election, administrative incompetence and logistic problems of accessing difficult terrains like the creeks, where politicians go to inflate election figures. Others are the removal of  incompetent electoral commissioners, reorienting the populace on the evil of election rigging and other forms of electoral fraud, strengthening the institutions that organise elections, the judiciary, and the media through the passage of the freedom of information bill to enthrone transparency and accountability, disqualification of candidates that engage or promote election violence or crime.

The fact that Nigeria’s political system is bereft of any ideological underpinnings and principles has created a situation where the political culture is to pursue selfish, individual political interest at the expense of collective, common or group interest. According to Professor Lai Olurode of University of Lagos, “Nigerian politicians are not prepared to submit themselves to public auditing. They are ready to go to any length to cheat in elections believing in the philosophy of the winner takes it all. This has led to the arming of youths with dangerous weapons to intimidate and kill political opponents.”

Under the prevailing legal framework, the resident electoral commissioner at the state level and the national electoral commissioners are the only officials that can legally announce election results and once they do it, it takes only the law court to undo what ever error they may have committed and this takes a long process while the culprits stay back to enjoy the benefits of his crime. Even when the court declares the action illegal there is no punishment meted out to the culprit of an electoral offence. The duties of the security agencies should be restricted to maintenance of law and order at election centers.

In spite of his failings it must be noted that the INEC boss introduced the idea of enlisting members of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) into the electoral process. According to him, “the idea became imperative when it was discovered that politicians compromised the ad hoc personnel employed by INEC to manage elections. These ad hoc personnel were therefore, used by the politicians to rig elections”.

Kogi State was the place where NYSC personnel were used for the re-run of the governorship election in 2009. This was followed by Adamawa and Ekiti states where similar exercises took place. The full impact of this innovation was in Anambra State which remains the least controversial election conducted by INEC under the leadership of Iwu.

To check cases of ballot snatching, INEC introduced the concept of customized ballot papers. This was to render the stealing of ballot papers useless, as such ballot papers in areas outside their original designation would be rendered void and invalid.

Nigeria is a vast country with poor infrastructure. The logistic challenges created by this situation compelled the Iwu-led INEC to create six zonal stores to handle the delivery of election materials on election day..

But in spite of the decentralization of operational points, the issue of late arrival of election materials persists. Often times, INEC had floated the idea of using helicopters to drop materials in far fling areas but it has failed to accomplish the task.

Sack Of  INEC  Chairman :  What The Constitution Says

154. (1) Except in the case of ex officio members or where other provisions are made in this Constitution, the Chairman and members of any of the bodies so established shall, subject to the provisions of this Constitution, be appointed by the President and the appointment shall be subject to confirmation by the Senate.

(2) In exercising his powers to appoint a person as Chairman or member of the Council of State or the National Defence Council or the National Security Council, the President shall not be required to obtain the confirmation of the Senate.

(3) In exercising his powers to appoint a person as Chairman or member of the Independent National Electoral Commission, National Judicial Council, the Federal Judicial Service Commission or the National Population Commission, the President shall consult the Council of State.

155. (1) A person who is a member of any of the bodies established as aforesaid shall, subject to the provisions of this Part, remain a member thereof –
(a) in the case of an ex officio member, whilst he holds the office by virtue of which he is a member of the body;
(b) in the case of a person who is a member by virtue of his having previously held an office, for the duration of his life; and
(c) in the case of a person who is a member otherwise than as ex officio member or otherwise than by virtue of his having previously held an office, for a period of five years from the date of his appointment.
(2) A member of any of the bodies shall cease to be member if any circumstances arise that, if he were not a member of the body, would cause him to be disqualified for appointment as such a member.

156. (1) No person shall be qualified for appointment as a member of any of the bodies aforesaid if –
(a) he is not qualified or if he is disqualified for election as a member of the House of Representatives;
(b) within the preceding ten years, he has been removed as a member of any of the bodies or as the holder of any other office on the ground of misconduct.

(2) any person employed in the public service of the Federation shall not be disqualified for appointment as Chairman or member of any of such bodies:

Provided that where such person has been duly appointed he shall, on his appointment, be deemed to have resign his former office as from the date of the appointment.

(3) No person shall be qualified for appointment to any of the bodies aforesaid if, having previously been appointed as a member otherwise than as an ex officio member of that body, he has been re-appointed for a further term as a member of the same body.

157. (1) Subject to the provisions of subsection (3) of this section, a person holding any of the offices to which this section applies may only be removed from that office by the President acting on an address supported by two-thirds majority of the Senate praying that he be so removed for inability to discharge the functions of the office (whether arising from infirmity of mind or body or any other cause) or for misconduct.

(2) This section applies to the offices of the Chairman and members of the Code of Conduct Bureau, the Federal Civil Service Commission, the Independent National Electoral Commission, the National Judicial Council, the Federal Judicial Service Commission, the Federal Character Commission, the Nigeria Police Council, the National Population Commission, the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission and the Police Service Commission.

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