By Eric Teniola
This piece continues from last week the statement by Chief Allison Akene Ayida on how Chief Michael Ani was appointed and reappointed as chairman of Nigeria’s electoral body
IF the experiment succeeded, it was due partly to Chief Ani’s fatherly guidance and support. It is not generally known that Chief Ani retired prematurely from the Federal Civil Service in 1965 to accept the challenge of the late Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, for him to be appointed the Chairman of the Federal Electoral Commission. I was one of the people he consulted and I advised against the move.
“But Chief Ani decided to accept the appointment for two reasons: First, as a good civil servant he felt obliged to respect the Prime Minister’s wishes and, second, he was anxious to demonstrate that Nigeria’s election could be conducted fairly and justly without fear or favour.
Before he could demonstrate this, the military seized power on January 15, 1966 and Chief Ani suddenly became an unemployed pensioner at the tender age of 49 years, judging by the standards of those days!
But by an act of providence, when the Obasanjo administration was, in 1976, conducting the search for a suitable person to head the Federal Electoral Commission to supervise the elections for the return to civil rule in 1979, I was the Secretary to the Federal Military Government and Head of Service.
When consulted, I advised that the man the late Prime Minister appointed in December 1965, never functioned and was untainted. But I told General Obasanjo that the late Chief, as a good civil servant, might not be sufficiently independent of the government to be seen to conduct the elections fairly and that the FMG might be seen to have a preference for one of the presidential candidates. The General, to my surprise, replied: ‘that is the man we want’.
“When Chief Ani was approached, he came to my house to seek my opinion once again as a trused friend. I told him candidly what transpired between General Obasanjo and me; and once again, I advised him against accepting the reappointment as Chairman of FEDECO but he still saw it as a challenge and an opportunity to establish that Nigerians could conduct an impartial and fair democratic election.
The rest of the story is better left to the verdict of history; but I believe the Chief did his best in the difficult circumstances of the countervailing powers and conflicting instructions on the 1979 elections”.
Chief Ani was not the first chairman of the electoral body and neither was he the first indigenous to hold the post. The first chairman of the electoral body, then known as the Electoral Commission of Nigeria, was Mr. Ronald Edward Wraith who conducted the 1958 and 1959 general elections. He was born in 1908. He was a British scholar on public and colonial administration.
Wraith was born in Derbyshire; his father worked for the Midland Railway. He studied economics at the University of Birmingham. He spent two years in Australia and New Zealand before becoming the warden at a Tyneside community center managed by the Tyneside Council of Social Services when the worst of the Great Depression was over.
In 1938, he joined the Education Department of the Borough of Southampton as the Secretary of Youth Services and served in the position through World War II. In 1945, he was the head of the London School of Economics’s department involved in colonial studies, also known as the Colonial Social Science Certificate Course that was previously headed by Audrey Richards.
In 1946, he visited Africa and worked with the Housing and Social Services Department of Gold Coast. In 1947, he was placed in charge of another course, the Post-War Devonshire Courses for Colonial and West African Administrators. Wraith later published a book on local government, comparing the West African and the English local government systems and expressing doubt about the transferability of the English model to West Africa.
He was a researcher with the University of Ibadan before his appointment as the only expatriate chairman in the Nigerian electoral commission. Mr Wraith went on to write several books on corruption, local government and public administration in developing countries. One of the books is titled, Corruption In Developing Countries, which he published in 1963. The book has 211 pages.
In 1964, the then Prime Minister, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, appointed Chief Eyo Ita Esua (14 January 1901-1973), as the chairman of the Federal Electoral Commission. Esua was a schoolmaster and a founder member of the Nigerian Union of Teachers. He was the first full-time general secretary of the union from 1943 until his retirement in 1964.
The Esua-led commission organised the December 1964 election, which was mired in controversy. Two members of the commission notably, Sir Kofoworola Adekunle Abayomi(1896-1979) disagreed with the chairman and resigned from the commission.