There is no indication Maurice Iwu, former chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), will read this piece. He says that having learnt from former President Olusegun Obasanjo the resentful and vexatious habit of not reading Nigerian newspapers, he feels disinclined to read what people have said and still say about his management of the 2007 general elections. Given the way he vigorously put it, even if we could find someone to read this piece and freely redact its highlights for his spurned consideration, he would still be unresponsive to a habit that has stood many enlightened people well since newspapers became a staple of modern civilisation. “This is my first public function since I left office as INEC chairman,” he began with a disagreeable hint of self-importance. “I learned one thing from my former boss Olusegun Obasanjo never to read newspapers or watch news…That is the only way to focus on what I am supposed to do.”
For a professor who is presumably an expert on something, and whose life and works are supposed to be devoted to blowing up the delusions of the ignorant majority, it is curious what lessons, and what examples, his bizarre tastes are inexorably drawn to. To him, newspapers represent a distraction rather than a resource tool. By his admission, since he needs to focus on his tasks, which he paints grandiosely in the nothingness of imprecision, it is strange that as a former public official he does not recognise that one of those tasks is to respond to public assessment of his stewardship. But if he says he loathes reading newspapers, we must allow him the liberty of stewing in the juice of his own ignorance. This, however, will not deter us from judging his time in office or commenting on his remarks whenever he indulges in sophism, as he did last week.
Indeed, he made a few tendentious remarks last Tuesday in Abuja during the public presentation of Amanze Obi’s book, Delicate Distress. For a professor who wishes to be left alone to focus on his job, it is surprising that he was unable to interpret properly what his main task was in 2007 when he umpired the general elections of that year. Said he: “In 2007, Nigeria didn’t want elections. It wasn’t about giving Nigeria an election. It wasn’t about who won or how ballot boxes were snatched. The challenge I had was to ensure that Nigeria remained one indivisible country. We did that and many people thought it was easy.” I will return to his dubious conclusion that Nigerians didn’t want elections in 2007, a claim he offered absolutely no proof to substantiate. For now, let us instead consider his interpretation of his brief in 2007. There is nothing in the provisions of the electoral act relating to his office or his responsibilities that grants him the exalted task of safeguarding the unity of the country. Instead, he was simply expected to deliver a free and fair poll. It is apparent that that singular misinterpretation of his assignment was at the bottom of the multiple malfeasances associated with his regulation and moderation of the general elections of that year. The challenge of sustaining Nigerian unity, as he inelegantly and conceitedly put it, was one he assigned himself. No one, not the constitution, not his paymaster, nor yet the electoral act gave him the job he so gratuitously defined for himself.
Professor Iwu specialises in pharmacognosy, a branch of science that has nothing to do with politics, except of course metaphorically. It is a rather direct science and a branch of pharmacology dealing with the study of natural drugs or active substances found in plants. If he needs to apply logic in his speciality, it is certainly not the kind of intricate logic familiar to social scientists who deal with subjective and often imprecise human behaviour. On the contrary, plants offer very precise and clearly distinguishable morphologies, irrespective of whether we are dealing with its anatomy or its external nature. It is, therefore, not surprising that Professor Iwu has had to rephrase his assignment in terms familiar to his expertise, and in ways that suited and excused his abject surrender to the whims of his employers.
Dissatisfied with not letting bad enough alone – and he would have done well to emulate his other illustrious predecessor, Humphrey Nwosu, who waited for about 15 years to make peace with his equally troubled conscience – Professor Iwu wondered why instead of criticising his performance Nigerians did not celebrate his ‘achievement’ of keeping Nigeria one. How grossly mistaken can one be! Not only did his criminal miscarriage of the 2007 polls gravely threaten the unity and stability of the country, it set the country back by many decades and still continues to dog its march to democratic nirvana. If Nigeria remained one after the 2007 electoral debacle, it was not because Professor Iwu advanced the cause of unity, or even knew how to, but because Nigerians were themselves either determined to stay together notwithstanding the multiple provocations from the Iwus and Nwosus of this world, or had surrendered to the insuperable and paralysing resignation Britain’s manipulations had brought upon them since independence.
It is truly numbing how Professor Iwu excused his failings. He said the 2007 polls were not about who won or lost, or about how ballot boxes were snatched. If he had not recast his assignment in terms of the unexampled arrogance he was accustomed to throughout his five-year tenure, all the while pretending there was a nexus between his office and Nigerian unity irrespective of his failings, he would have understood perfectly that his job was to ensure Nigeria held a free and fair election; and that unity, often a by-product of a fair election, was not his to procure or guarantee. In his Abuja remarks, Professor Iwu reminded his audience it was not easy transiting from one elected government to another. He should be reminded that that transition took place without the help of his puny talents, twisted logic, and the recklessly flawed election he superintended.
The most shocking remark he made last Tuesday was that in 2007, Nigeria didn’t want an election. We may never know why the professor told this awkward lie to himself. Would Nigerians have furiously fought and defeated Chief Obasanjo’s third term agenda if they didn’t want an election? Would they have turned out in their millions if they hated the ballot box as the professor suggested? If they didn’t want an election that year, but wanted Chief Obasanjo out of office, what replacement did they have in mind given the constitutional provision of term limit? It took 15 years after the June 12, 1993 presidential election for Professor Nwosu to summon the courage to admit the truth of the election he supervised. Perhaps eight years is still too early for Professor Iwu to admit the truth of the election he bungled, and his conscience not seared enough to push him into reconciling with the oath he took and into making peace with the country he betrayed.
It speaks volumes, however, that last Tuesday the professor spoke fondly of Chief Obasanjo as the mentor from whom he learnt the execrable habit of living in denial and deprecating media accounts of contemporary events. Indeed, we hope that sometime in our lifetime, Professor Iwu will be prodded into remorse by the shrill wailing of the agitated scruples left in him, as Professor Nwosu was unable to stay silent in the face of the loud protestations of his conscience.