Acting President Goodluck Jonathan, last Wednesday, bowed to pressure both locally and internationally as he directed Maurice Iwu, chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to proceed on a pre-disengagement leave
Jonathanâ€™s directive was given in a terse statement signed by Ima Niboro, his senior special assistant on media and communication. He directed Iwu to â€œhand over to the most senior national commissioner, who shall oversee the activities of the commission pending the appointment of a substantive chairman.â€
The removal of Iwu as INEC chairman did not come to many Nigerians as a surprise. This is because in the past few months, there has been persistent campaign against his reappointment for second term. Some civil society groups, including the Save Nigeria Group, had also organised rallies to press for his removal .They blamed him for the flawed 2007 general elections which produced the incumbent administration.
The United States government had also advised the acting president to sack Iwu as a recipe for free and fair elections in 2011. Johnnie Carson, US assistant secretary of state for Africa, had categorically called on the acting president to sack the Imo State-born electoral umpire. During his recent visit to the US, Jonathan indicated that Iwuâ€™s removal was imminent when he promised that major changes would be implemented in the management of the electoral body. Many Nigerians have applauded his removal. Balarabe Musa, former governor of Kaduna State, described Iwuâ€™s sack as good riddance to bad rubbish. â€œThose who demonstrated recently that Iwu should be re-appointed for a second term are those who benefited from his rubbish. It is certainly a positive development. It means that despite the unfavourable condition the acting president is facing, he would try to make the 2011 general elections at least tolerable,â€ Musa said.
Bamidele Aturu, Lagos-based lawyer, said the acting presidentâ€™s decision to send Iwu on pre-disengagement leave,was an unnecessary euphemism for a long overdue sack. he said. Aturu asked the acting president to go further and disband INEC and appoint Nigerians with impeccable record of integrity to make the commission truly an independent umpire.
Lai Mohammed, national publicity secretary of Action Congress, AC, said the removal of Iwu was in line with the opinion of democrats. He, however, explained that the total disengagement of Iwu would only serve its purpose if someone of integrity replaces him.
Iwu was an INEC commissioner until 2005 when he was appointed the chairman of the commission by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, after the expiration of the tenure of Abel Guobadia, his predecessor.
Although he has been directed to proceed on pre-disengagement leave, his five-year tenure expires on June 13, this year.