SINCE Professor Maurice Iwu was ordered by president Goodluck Jonathan to take a walk, the national debate and speculation about who may replace the highly controversial electoral umpire has quickly gathered the force of a whirlwind. A number of names of Nigerians adjudged by various analysts, groups and interests as being qualified to fill Prof. Iwuâ€™s shoes have featured in the public media.
Among the personalities initially bandied about are General Ishola Williams a highly reputable retired army officer, ex-EFCC boss, Nuhu Ribadu, Mr. Olisa Agbakoba (SAN) and Prof. Dora Akunyili, serving Federal Minister of Information and Communications. Lately, however, the prospect appeared to have been whittled down to Agbakoba and Akunyili, two hard core professionals and national icons.
Although Olisa Agbakoba (a scion of the distinguished Agbakoba family of Onitsha, Anambra State) is a specialist in maritime law, it is in the public domain of human rights activism and social advocacy that he has garnered both national and international recognition.
As founding chieftain of the Civil Liberties Organisation and Chief Executive Officer of Human Rights Law Service, Olisa Agbakoba has become a veteran of pro-democracy and human rights campaigns and pitched battles pre-dating the Babangida era.
His publications on good governance, legislative agenda, electoral reform and human rights are legion. It is also whispered that donor agencies usually que up at Agbakobaâ€™s chambers begging to donate funds. This legal icon and former NBA president is therefore considered to be very qualified to be the INEC Chairman.
Now Olisa Agbakoba has been self-employed for as long as anybody can remember. Prof Dora Nkem Akunyili is another kettle of fish altogether. A professor of pharmacy and pharmacology, this amazon has been in the public service for most of her working life.
And, seemingly by divine design, her service sectors have always been those with direct impact on the welfare of the society. These included university classrooms, the Petroleum Trust Fund, and then the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) before being drafted as the chief image maker and spokesperson of the Nigerian government.
In all her duty posts along her public service route, Prof.Â Akunyili has never been found wanting. Instead she has garnered a reputation for the highest level of personal integrity, sense of social responsibility and a patriotic fervour that makes Nigeria worth more than a second look. Although Prof. Akunyili has discharged her duties and responsibilities in her current portfolio quite creditably, her golden era remains her NAFDAC years. This point is crucial and relevant to the subject of the INEC chairman candidacy.
This is because it was in NAFDAC that Prof. Akunyili showcased the best of herself and the best of Nigeria. In a work environment where the word â€œtemptationâ€ was a gross understatement, Dora Akunyili held her head and resolutely refused to be corrupted or compromised. Lesser mortals could have emerged from the NAFDAC job blooming billionaires or creamy corpses, but Dora remained contented and alive. Not even the near miss of an assassinâ€™s bullet could intimidate this amazon who is believed to have missed being a Catholic nun.
In the national or presidential search for an incorruptible Nigerian to chair the new INEC and reinvent the electoral process in Nigeria, I will throw my lot with Prof. Akunyili any day. The fact that she is a woman should even give her a strategic advantage. All the electoral umpires we have had so far were men, and look where they landed us. With Akunyili on the INEC chair, electoral criminals can start looking for other jobs, or better still relocate!
It has become clear that whenever Akunyili is about to be put in her kind of job post, some group rear their ugly heads and start all kinds of campaign against her. I have watched this happen when she was to be announced the Health Minister. My prayer is that President Goodluck Jonathan will take a stand this time and do the right thing.
Mr. Okonkwo, a political analyst,writes from Abuja.
P.S. This article was writtenbefore the appointment of Mr Bukhari Bello as INEC chairman.