Last week, precisely on Wednesday, April 28, the wind of change blowing across the nation continued with the sudden removal of the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof Maurice Iwu. For the former university lecturer, it was the end of an era strewn with thorns and thistles. The development shows that in the life of a man, there is always a point of exit.
|Nigeria Acting president Goodluck Jonathan|
But for the country, the end of Iwuâ€™s tenure marked a new dawn either for good or bad. What is remarkable though is that the Professor of Phamacognosy arguably dominated public discourse more than any of his predecessors since June 13, 2005 when he was appointed to superintend over the electoral body. The storm swept off not only Iwu but also the INEC Commissioner in charge of legal services, Victor Chukwuani, who until the new changes, was the next ranking officer.
As expected, some heaved a sigh of relief while, for others, the reverse was the case. Of course, in this clime, there are usually winners and losers in such situations. For instance, for former governor of Ogun State, Olusegun Osoba, the INEC chairmanâ€™s ouster was a welcome development. He had said, â€œPraise God that finally He has removed one of the major obstacles to a genuine, transparent, free and fair election. Iwu deliberately refused to operate the electoral law. Iwu is evil. I have not seen an electoral umpire that is as combative as Iwuâ€.
But the former publicity secretary of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) and a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), chief Ebenezer Babatope has a different view. His position is that the INEC chairman should have been allowed to learn on the job.
His words,â€œWe have a culture that we need to correct in this country. That is the culture of not allowing people to grow on their job. I am appealing to all those who are crying for Iwuâ€™s removal to soft-pedal. If you remove Iwu today and you bring in the person you call Mr Clean, he will have the same problem Iwu had as long as politicians remain what they are. They are unpredictable, lack principles and go in search of power in a ruthless and stupid manner.
Iwuâ€™s sack came as a shock to us but now that he has been removed, we want Jonathan to replace him with someone of integrity who will move the country forward and also steer the ship of the electoral commission in the right direction. Personally, I would have wanted Iwu to remain as the INEC chairman but when the Acting President has made a decision, who am I to say no?
So, opinions are divided on the propriety of the terminal leave which Iwu has been asked to embark upon.
The trend of the reaction showed that while majority of members of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) were in support of Iwuâ€™s re-appointment for a second term, the civil society, Labour and the opposition parties wanted the Imo State born electoral umpire to leave the stage. But in all of this, the opinions largely depended on which side of the divide one belonged even as there were issues that eventually led to the removal of the INEC chairman.
Jonathans search for legitimacy
Not a few argue that the Acting President, Goodluck Jonathan sacrificed Iwu as part of his effort to secure confidence of Nigerians and legitimacy for his government. One of the odds which worked against Iwu was the mood of the nation. For sometime, especially after the 2007 general election, there had been a mood of change among the people with many, especially civil society groups consistently calling on the federal government to demonstrate commitment to cleansing the electoral Augean Stable by asking the man who supervised the elections and bye-elections since then to quit the stage for a fresh hand.
Many believe that even though the former Bayelsa State governor was hesitant to relieve Iwu of his seat, he had no choice but to sacrifice him to further worm his way into the hearts of many Nigerians. For people in this school of thought, the Acting President knows that having a credible election remains at the heart of most Nigerians and the calculation was that the removal of Iwu would be the first step toward achieving that feat.
Maintaining status quo
It is on record that in the history of Nigeria, none of Iwuâ€™s predecessors had ever been re-appointed and the Acting President did not have enough justification to change the status quo. However, there were feelers that some members of Goodluck Jonathanâ€™s kitchen cabinet were not enthusiastic over his removal because they were hoping that it would be easier for the former Bayelsa governor to pursue his 2011 presidential ambition under Iwu as still head of INEC.
But sources revealed that long before his removal, there was an informal understanding between the former INEC boss and the Acting President that he (Iwu) would not be re-appointed.
In interviews he had granted the media of late, he had given the indication that he was on his way out and those close to him knew that he was psychologically prepared for the exit door.
But it was gathered that though sure that he would not be re-appointed, he did not expect that his removal would be so sudden.
In-fighting in INEC
Critical observers believe that for some time now, the electoral body has been embroiled in in-fighting among its key officers. It was gathered that Iwu had a running battle with some of his subordinates before his removal. One of the obvious signs of the power tussle in the commission was a recent advertorial in some national dailies by one of them insinuating that aides of the former INEC boss were sponsoring stories against him.
Followers of events argue that at a point, some INEC staff were working at cross purposes with Iwu and the development affected the effectiveness of the commission. There are those who argue that even though Iwu wanted to redeem his image in some elections recently held in the past, he could not achieve much as some of his subordinates compromised the process. People who share this view argue that Iwu could not do much as he did not have any control over the 12 national commissioners who are directly appointed by the President. According to the INEC structure, each of the national commissioners is in charge of three states.
So, the veiled crisis between Iwu and some of his commissioners was a major issue which Jonathan also worked with based on security report.
The role of International community
No country is an island unto itself and the present administration is not unaware of the image of Nigeria outside her shores. Since 1999 when democracy was re-introduced in Nigeria, the nation has witnessed a turbulent political process occasioned by flawed elections and there is no gainsaying that the 2007 election which Iwu supervised was the high point of the decay. The exercise which was condemned by the international community was trailed by a deluge of controversy and petitions leading to the cancellation of some elections.
Political observers argue that the Acting President was constrained to remove Iwu to pander to the wishes of not only the people but the international community.
Recently, when he visited the United States to attend the Energy summit, he was unequivocal that a holistic electoral reform remained a priority to his administration. In an audience with CNN, he had promised to overhaul the staff of INEC even though he was not categorical that its former chairman would be removed.
Staff recruitment in INEC
According to sources, part of the reasons why Iwuâ€™s exit was brought forward was because of the nationwide recruitment exercise he initiated even when it was obvious that his time was up. There are those who insist that his sudden removal was to ensure that he did not complete the recruitment exercise considering that he would not be there when the next election would be conducted.
At a closed door meeting Iwu held with top staff of the commission on Thursday, April 29 as part of his handover procedure, the fate of the recruitment exercise in INEC was discussed. Though it was not clear what would be the fate of those whose applications are currently being processed, it was gathered that both Iwu and those he was leaving behind agreed that there was need to hasten the recruitment process ahead of next yearâ€™s polls.
How Iwu fought to save job
The ambition of Iwu to have his appointment extended for another five years, hit the rocks when Acting President Goodluck Jonathan asked him to proceed on terminal leave. Other National Commissioners are said to be on the firing line. The misconduct of INEC under Iwu was given official confirmation when President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua while taking oath of office admitted that the election that brought him into office was less than transparent and he promised to reform the electoral process.
This is an indictment on the commission and this laid the foundation for the calls for the overhaul of the commission and its managers. Interestingly, while complaints and condemnation were greeting the conduct of INEC elections, the results of which became subject of litigations at election petition tribunals, Iwu rather than being sober was busy boasting and defending the Commission.
The Acting Presidentâ€™s decision put paid to several attempts by the INEC boss to wriggle himself out of the spate of criticism that has trailed his conduct before, during and after elections all of which are perceived to have culminated in discredited elections across the country. Elections were cancelled in at least six states of the federation after 2007 elections.
The public reactions trailing the decision indicated that the people could no longer trust the INEC boss with any election again. In fact, the opinion of vast majority of people is that other INEC National Commissioners that served with Iwu should also go with him because, stakeholders believe, they also have been contaminated with flawed election virus.
Realizing that the public perception was against his continued stay in office and the alarming rate at which the fight against him was growing, Iwu began to deploy various strategies to get the Presidential nod for re-appointment. The matter became worse for him with the United States involvement in the Iwu-Must-Go-campaign. Findings have shown that If not for the international community connection, he probably would have been retained.
The first move by Iwu to sway the presidency into accepting him for another term in office was in employing the goodwill of the National Assembly. Iwu visited the Senate and was received by the distinguished senators including the Senate President, David Mark as well as other principal officers.
The visit coming at a time the heat was on the INEC Chairman over his handling of electoral matters in the country, it was gathered that Iwu had come to plead for the understanding of the senators and the need to save him from the impending hammer.
After a closed door meeting which was described as fruitful, the way and manner the senators were falling head over heels to take photograph with Iwu spoke volume of how successful the meeting was. The lawmakers, it was learnt had assured him of their support and Iwu left the National Assembly beaming with smiles.
A day later, he released a timetable for the 2011 elections. Shortly afterward, Iwu began to beg the issue, he began to exonerate himself and the INEC from the inability to organize free and fair elections. According to him, his organization was working within the space provided by the electoral law. Iwu was quoted to have said that his INEC had tried a lot for the kind of elections it had come out with boasting that with the system on ground, even an angel would not be able to conduct credible elections in Nigeria.
As parts of his strategy, he convened a stakeholdersâ€™ conference in Abuja where stakeholders diagnosed past elections and offered suggestions on how elections could be improved upon. It was at this stage that the United States of America joined the fray demanding that the INEC helmsman must be excused if Nigeria is to have a genuine electoral reform that can guarantee credible elections where votes will count. Not done yet, the Professor also allegedly employed the services of professional protesters to demonstrate on his behalf.
The sponsored group staged a counter protest to the National Assembly after that of Labourâ€™s â€œIwu must goâ€ mass rally. Prof. Iwuâ€™s protesters with various placards condemned those asking for his removal. They urged the Acting President to discountenance Labour and other anti-Iwu groups. Blame the System, Not Iwu was their slogan, obviously a carryover from the stakeholdersâ€™ conference.
The Chairman, Senate Committee on INEC, Isiaka Adeleke assured the protesters that the Senate will do the needful and ensure the electoral process is not derailed and that the reform will be directed to the critical areas of the electoral process. In all of this, Prof. Iwu carried on as if all is well. He told whoever cares to listen that INEC should not be blamed for the lapses in the elections but the system, he was quick to point to the feat achieved in Anambra governorship election, where Governor Peter Obi was returned against bookmakers permutation.
He also praised the dexterity of his commission for the peaceful conduct of Area Councils in Abuja. While he was basking in the euphoria of these successes, the hammer fell on him. The visit of the Acting President to the USA became the deciding factor for his sack. Dr. Jonathan had reportedly assured Barak Obama that his administration would work towards credible elections in Nigeria and one of the steps to ensure this is to do away with the INEC boss who has been described as the main clog in the wheel of credible election in Nigeria.
This much, Dr. Jonthan also conveyed to Nigerians in USA. Therefore to give vent to this international commitment, Iwu had to go. Unknown to many, as Prof. Iwu was fighting external battle to retain his seat so also he was contending with some forces within the INEC especially from among the National Commissioners.
Sources revealed how dirty Iwu and one other commissioners have been fighting themselves over deals in some elections. They even accused themselves of releasing vital information indicting one another. However, the exit of Iwu, observers say may have eased the tension generated by the feuding commissioners as none of them is sure of his fate too.
After Iwu, the next question is who succeeds him? Many have argued that the Justice Muhammed Uwais Electoral Reform Panelâ€™s recommendation should be adopted in this.