Special Report

May 20, 2022

[Vanguard Awards] Humphrey Nwosu: Unsung hero, difficult to ignore

Humphrey Nwosu: Unsung hero, difficult to ignore


By Charles Kumolu, Deputy Sunday Editor

HUMPHREY Nwosu, a professor of Political Science, is certainly a permanent fixture in the history of Nigeria’s democratic evolution.

Ignoring his name in the nation’s narrative is as good as omitting French Theologian, John Calvin, from conversations around modern democracy.

At any point, whether in this generation or next, he would rank among those who defined 20th century Nigeria.

At the University of Nigeria, UNN, Nsukka, where he had contemporaries like Prof. Eme Awa, Dr. Ray Ofoegbu, Dr Cletus Emezi, and others, his seminal works were of note.

This may have accounted for a career progression that saw him becoming a full professor at 38. At the time, then Military President, Gen. Ibrahim Babaginda (retd), appointed him as Chairman of the defunct National Electoral Commission, NEC, in 1989, Nwosu, who graduated with First Class in Political Science in 1966, was the Head of Department of Political Science at UNN. He was in that position for six years.

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His appointment to such a sensitive position was without consultation by the military government. “There was no consultation whatsoever with me before the appointment was announced through the media.

I had no opportunity to consider whether to accept or reject the offer,” he recalled in his book: Laying the Foundation for Nigeria’s Democracy: My Account of June 12 Presidential Election and its Annulment. Conversely, this is in sharp contrast with today’s practices where lobbying and clannish permutations precede political appointments. What that meant was that his intellect and experiences in academia grabbed the attention of military authorities.

However, that wasn’t Nwosu’s first political appointment as he had served in the 21-man Dasuki Committee on Local Government in 1984. In February 1986, the late Military Administrator of old Anambra State, Air Commodore Emeka Omerua (retd), appointed him as the Commissioner for Local Government, Rural Development and Chieftaincy Matters as well as Commissioner for Agriculture.

Notwithstanding, becoming Nigeria’s electoral umpire in a government that paraded fellow intellectuals like Prof. Julius Oyevbaire, Dr. Chu Okongwu, Prof. Omo Omoruyi, Prof. Jerry Gana, and Prof. Ibrahim Gambari among others, was more or less a high point in the life of the Ajali-born scholar.

The political context of that period made him not only a fitting choice but also a competent replacement for Prof. Awa, the erudite scholar he succeeded.

Humphrey Nwosu emerged on the scene when the Babangida transition programme, a product of the recommendations of the Political Bureau (a body established by Babangida to chart out a new political model) was evolving and seeking innovations. Thankfully, his intellect served as a catalyst to push forth the modified electoral process and environment the Babangida administration sought.

Humphrey Nwosu had taken over a commission that was still being nurtured by Awa at a time Nigerians were hopeful of a conclusive transition to civil rule. In 1987, his predecessor had assumed the leadership of an electoral body without any database and professional personnel on electoral issues.

He was removed barely two years after, leaving his successor with the task of further setting up a commission with the proper organisational framework. This task was emphasised during Humphrey Nwosu’s inauguration by then Vice President, the late Admiral Augustus Aikhomu (retd), while stating reasons for reconstituting NEC.

He said the reconstitution was based on the urgent need for better organisational structure, firm grip of responsibility and sensitivity to the essence and objectives of the transition programme.

Did Nwosu deliver on these? In the four years he spent at NEC, the 80-year-old was reputed to have transformed it into a more functional body with basic infrastructure, logistics and a permanent organisational framework for the conduct of elections. To this credit, permanency was secured for NEC staff as the organisation went beyond just being an ad-hoc body to a formidable national institution. (Before him, previous commissions were either dissolved or sacked).

Besides, he was noted to have introduced far-reaching electoral reforms that are still celebrated to date. They include the Open Ballot System, Modified Open Ballot System and Option A4 among others. These innovations ensured the seamless conduct of elections in that era starting from the local government poll of December 1990 to the June 12 Presidential Election of 1993.

These were to the acknowledgement of many Nigerians. But for the annulment of the June 12 poll adjudged as the most credible in the nation’s history, Nwosu could have broken the jinx surrounding his seat. At the time, no one had left the office without being somewhat smeared by the myth around the office. Name them: Esau, Chief Michael Ani, Justice Ovie Whiskey and Prof. Eme Awa.

Irrespective of the annulment of the exercise by the military, his management of that election circle remains a watershed. That the event itself has been immortalised with the presumed winner, Chief MKO Abiola, bagging Nigeria’s highest national honour, GCFR, speaks to Nwosu’s immense contributions to the nation.

After his sojourn at NEC, Nwosu returned to his first love, lecturing, at the Department of Political Science, UNN. In 1999, he formally retired from public service and subsequently devoted the next six years to community service.

The Anambra State-born statesman has published several articles in international journals. He is the author of several books including Political Authority and Nigerian Civil Service, Problems of Nigerian Administration: A Book of Reading; Introduction to Politics; Moral Education in Nigeria; How to Conduct Free and Fair Election; and the latest, Laying the Foundation for Nigeria’s Democracy: My Account of June 12, 1993 Presidential Election and its Annulment.

The recent book is a compelling insider account of the annulment of what is widely regarded as Nigeria’s most credible election.

Humphrey Nwosu particularly documented the centrifugal and centripetal forces that shaped the exercise.

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