TheNews Cover Story: Maurice Iwu, The Biased Umpire

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THE NEWS COVER STORY

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Cover Story : The Biased Umpire

 

admin on 2007/3/21 10:46:38 (1869 reads)

Professor Maurice Iwu’s bias threatens to mar the April 2007 polls

By Ademola Adegbamigbe/Desmond UtomwenAs the April polls inch closer, there is apprehension in the land. Given the way Professor Maurice Iwu, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) chairman behaves as a less than objective umpire, history may be repeating itself in Nigeria. In other words, political analysts entertain fears that what happened in the 1964 general elections may be replicated. That year, the then electoral commission, headed by Chief Eyo Esua, in concert with the dominant Nigerian National Alliance (the Northern People’s Congress, NPC, and others) engaged in massive disqualification, intimidation, probe and imprisonment of political opponents. All these precipitated the crises that brought in the military in 1966.

Political pundits, therefore, subject Nigeria to the Greek myth of Sisyphus, the king of Corinth who the gods punished to roll a boulder up a hill. As soon as he almost accomplished that, the stone would slip and bounce back for Sisyphus to repeat the process. In the same vein, analysts argue that after the First Republic was destroyed by a faulty electoral process, the hope of survival of the Second Republic was dashed by another wonky electoral system.

In 2007, there is a feeling of deja vu; that what happened in the past could take place again. This is going by the eventual disqualification of Vice President Atiku Abubakar and other political opponents of the Olusegun Obasanjo government after series of probes.

Odia Ofeimun, a former president, Association of Nigeria Authors (ANA), put this in historical perspective:

“The attempt to smash opposition has become an in-built tradition in our political system. That opposition, therefore, needs to be smarter than they have always been. If you are prepared to stand up to people in power, you must know that they are going to use every means, delicious and crooked, to get at you. They used it in the past and they will use it again,” he predicted.

The Atiku matter seems a vindication of this assertion.

The ambition of Vice President Abubakar to succeed his boss as president from 29 May suffered two major setbacks last week. First, Atiku, on Sunday, March 1, sustained a knee injury while exercising at a gymnasium in his official residence. He was consequently flown to Bridge Hospital in London where he underwent a 90-minute surgery. Though the surgery was described as successful, it however confined the VP to crutches. This apart, the injury also had a negative impact on Atiku’s presidential campaign across the country, as most of the rallies he was billed to attend were either cancelled or rescheduled.

To overcome the setback, the VP, this magazine learnt, had insisted on a quick return to the country to continue with his vigorous campaign. On 15 March the VP returned to Abuja limping on crutches. But while his supporters were giving him a rousing welcome at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja, at about 4.p.m., his presidential ambition was also being confined to the crutches by the Chairman of INEC, Maurice Iwu. The commission disqualified Atiku from contesting the April presidential polls.

A list released by INEC shows that out the 27 candidates fielded by the various parties, only 24 were cleared. Those cleared included: Professor Patrick Utomi of ADC; Sir Lawrence Famakinde Adedoyin of APS; Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (retd) of ANPP, and Chief Emmanuel Osita Okereke of ALP. Also cleared were Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu of APGA; Chief Adebayo Adefarati of AD; Dr. Iheanyinchukwu Godswill Nnaji of BNPP; Maxi Okwu of CPP; Attahiru Dalhatu Bafarawa of DPP, and Rev. Chris Okotie of FRESH Democratic Party. The list further revealed that Chief Ambrose Owuru of HDP, Maj. Mojisola A. Adekunle-Obasanjo (retd), Dr. Oladapo Agoro of NAC, Dr. Osagie O. Obayuwana of NCP, Alhaji Aliyu Habu Fari of NDP, Dr. Akpone Solomon, NMDP; Mal. Aminu Garbarti Abubakar, NUP; Prof. Isa Odidi, ND; Galtima Baboyi Liman of NNPP, Dr. Brimmy A. Olaghere of NPC, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua of PDP, Arthur Nwankwo of PMP, Orji Uzor Kalu of PPA and Chief Sunny Joseph Okogwu of RPN were also cleared to run.

Checks by this magazine, however, revealed that PRP had before the publication withdrawn its candidate to support Buhari, while the ACPN shunned the verification exercise in January. This showed that only Atiku was disqualified.

The list sparked instant reactions across the country, with many crying foul. To the Atiku camp, the action of the commission was in brazen defiance of subsisting court orders which had declared Atiku eligible to contest the election. It hinged its position on two major court injunctions and another ongoing suit in the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja .

It held that while the rulings of Justices Inumidun Akande of Lagos High Court and Babs Kuewumi of a High Court sitting in Abuja clearly removed all legal obstacles in the VP’s way, an ongoing suit instituted against his purported indictment in a High Court presided over by Justice Abimbola Ogie was enough reason for the commission to restore his right to contest.

On 9 March, a Federal High Court presided over by Justice Kuewumi had ruled that INEC has no power to disqualify any validly sponsored candidate. Specifically, the court ruled that “the power to disqualify any candidate sponsored by any political party, including the 1st Plaintiff (Action Congress) from contesting an election is vested in the Courts as provided for in Section 32(5) of the Electoral Act 2006 and in any other legislation that is validly enacted in that behalf.”

Before the judgment of Justice Kuewumi penultimate week, a Lagos High Court had quashed the charges against Atiku. On 28 November last year, the quest of the Vice President to contest the April presidential election had received a boost when a Lagos High Court declared the EFCC report on the probe of the management of the PTDF finances null and void. The court, presided over by Justice Inumidun Akande, also set aside the report of the Bayo Ojo Administrative Panel which acted on the EFCC report and described the Federal Government Gazette on the PTDF probe as having no legal foundation.

In addition to nullifying the EFCC and Administrative Panel reports, the ruling also vacated the purported indictment of Otunba Oyewole Fasawe and others listed in the Federal Government Gazette on the PTDF, which included the Vice President. With the ruling, Atiku had thought he was free of any legal encumbrance in his quest to contest the election.

In the judgment that took her 114 minutes to deliver, Justice Akande ordered the EFCC to pay N5million damages to Fasawe, who had challenged his indictment by the Bayo Ojo Panel.

The ruling followed the complaint of Otunba Fasawe before the court about the abridgment of his fundamental rights by the EFCC which detained him between 29 September and 20 December 2005. He also complained that the Bayo Ojo Administrative Panel abridged his fundamental rights by indicting him without giving him fair hearing. The court granted his requests on both complaints.

Specifically, the court, while setting aside the indictment of Fasawe by the Federal Government based on the report of the Administrative Panel, ruled that the Federal Government appropriated the functions of the Judiciary with the Bayo Ojo Panel. It also ruled that the EFCC report on which the Federal Government based its decision to indict Fasawe is null and void.

Justice Akande held that there is nothing in the Act setting up the EFCC that grants it the power to submit its report to the President. The EFCC, the court said, is empowered by its Act only to prosecute a case in court with its finding. By submitting the report to the President, the court said, the EFCC contravened the law setting it up. It was on that account that it set aside both the EFCC and the administrative panel reports. It then ruled that the President lacked the power to exercise judicial authority, which was what was done with the EFCC report.

Yet, the ruling was the second of such court judgments that established inequities in the handling of the PTDF probe by the Federal Government. In a ruling that was earlier delivered on 20 October 2006 in a case filed by Mr. Umar Pariya, Personal Assistant to the Vice President, who was indicted by the Bayo Ojo Panel, Justice Goodluck of an Abuja High Court had ruled that the Bayo Ojo Panel was not an Administrative Panel as conceived by the 1999 Constitution. The judge ruled that it was only an “investigative panel” which lacked the power to “abridge” the right of the applicant, Umar Pariya. “The point being made here is that the Administrative report is advisory or recommendatory. It envisages that further steps will be taken by another body other than itself,” the court declared.

With these two rulings in their favour, the Atiku camp had hoped the plot by the Presidency to stop the VP from contesting the 2007 presidential election would come to nought. In their reasoning, the implication of the ruling was that the purported indictment of the VP never existed, therefore the provision of Section 137 (1i) of the 1999 Constitution would not be applied as a constitutional ground for the disqualification or preclusion of Atiku from the contest. This much was explained by Niyi Akintola (SAN), a member of Abubakar’s legal team challenging the indictment. According to Akintola, “What it means in law is that the gazette never existed and the Vice President was never indicted. It means the whole exercise of indictment is a nullity. The Vice President is free and by law, has always been free to contest the 2007 presidential elections.”

Interestingly, the commission, in disqualifying the Vice President maintained that the decision of the commission was predicated on the section of the ruling which states that “sections 137 and 182 of the 1999 Constitution also contain provisions that ab-initio disqualify an intending candidate aspiring to the office of the president and governor respectively. However, none of these provisions in my view empower the defendant (INEC) to issue an order disqualifying a candidate. However, the defendant under its power to organise, undertake and supervise all elections as provided under section 15 (a) of the 3rd Schedule is not expected to close its eyes to the violation of the constitution and/or the Electoral Act 2006. It has a duty to ensure that all conditions precedent and requirement stipulated by the constitution and Electoral Act 2006 are met by candidates intending to participate in such elections.”

Iwu, quoting copiously from Section 137 (1) of the Constitution which outlines the conditions of disqualification for the office of the president, added that a person shall ab initio not be qualified for election to the office of the president if he has been indicted for embezzlement or fraud by a Judicial Commission of Inquiry or an Administrative Panel of Inquiry, or a Tribunal set up under the Tribunal of Inquiry Act, a Tribunal of Inquiry Law or any other law by the Federal or State Government which indictment has been accepted by the Federal or State Government respectively.” He therefore maintained that with the indictment charges standing against the VP, the commission couldn’t have closed its eyes as the umpire charged with the responsibility of organising the entire election.

Iwu further explained that while the constitution in section 137(2) provides that action may not be taken until any appeal against the decision of possible disqualification in respect of persons adjudged to be lunatic, declared to be of unsound mind, sentenced to death or imprisonment, or adjudged or declared bankrupt is decided, “it clearly did not include the section dealing with the indictment of candidates.” Atiku, however, insists that with the earlier quashing of the reports, there was absolutely no indictment charges against him.

Before the release of the cleared names Thursday last week, the new INEC National Commissioner in charge of Information, Barrister Philip Umeadi, had set the tone for what was to be expected. Umeadi told journalists categorically that the name of the Vice President would not be part of the names to be released. According to Umeadi, “It is the decision of the commission that nobody who has been indicted by the administrative panel of inquiry will make the INEC list. That is the decision of the commission.”

He stated that though the Vice President produced the judgment of the High Court in Lagos against his indictment, the commission could not successfully relate the ruling with the indictment. He said since the suit was filed by one of the indicted persons in the report in seeking an enforcement of his fundamental human rights in a Lagos High Court, the commission was of the view that the ruling only applied to the plaintiff and not other people. “The issue is that the fundamental right action is action impersona, hence that applied to the person and not an action that applies in rea, as we say in law. It is an action that applies to the person that sought for it. I cannot, for instance, go to court to seek for the enforcement of your fundamental human right.

“You are the only person that will tell the court the extent your right has been infringed. It is only limited to you. No one else can do it for you. Whatever benefits you derive from the enforcement of your fundamental human rights will (apply) to you and not to the public. If you view the judgment within the concept of law, then you will see that it will not avail the Vice President,” Umeadi said, adding that should the electoral body get a contrary order, it would abide by it.

Critics of the commission, however, believe that the position of INEC on the indictment of the Vice President smacks of double standard.

For example, they accuse the commission of letting the presidential candidate of the Progressive Peoples Alliance, Orji Uzor Kalu off the hook when in fact he was also indicted by a similar panel report. Kalu, one of the indicted candidates on the EFCC list of corrupt politicians forwarded to the INEC as part of the criteria for screening of the candidates, was cleared by INEC to contest the election. Similarly, the names of the Governor of Kano State, Ibrahim Shekarau, his Borno State counterpart, Ali Modu Sherrif and the former governor of Kogi State, Abubakar Audu, who were also indicted, were on the list published by the commission.

Umeadi said that they had obtained court orders that exonerated them and restrained the commission from “precluding them from the contest.” The VP’s camp however argued that if a court injunction was what was required to clear their candidate, the rulings handed down by Justices Kuewumi and Akande were enough reason for INEC to allow the VP to run.

The National Chairman of the AC, Adebisi Akande, in a statement said that by excluding Atiku’s name from the list of presidential candidates, INEC “has finally executed its conspiracy with President Olusegun Obasanjo and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to stop our candidate from contesting the April Presidential Elections. This agenda has been long in coming and no Nigerian is surprised.” He, however, said the setback is “only a temporary distraction as the candidate has no legal impediment and will definitely contest the April Presidential election.” The AC boss expressed regret that INEC “which is supposed to be an unbiased umpire in the conduct of the election has acted rather irresponsibly and recklessly by purporting to disqualify the VP.”

On the indictment of Atiku by an administrative panel, Akande said two courts of competent jurisdiction, having found that Obasanjo was the investigator, the accuser, the persecutor and the judge, quashed the purported indictment and pronounced it null and void.

The AC Chairman also countered the argument of INEC that since Atiku was not a party to the case, he could not benefit therefrom. Akande stated: “This is totally absurd and unreasonable. This is because the clear fact is that the Bayo Ojo Administrative Panel was nullified in its entirety, therefore anything based on it must collapse.” He added: “From all indications, INEC by its actions and utterances is in chains and clearly acting a script written by the Presidency and the PDP and this explains why they continue to interpret the court orders the way their masters want. We maintain that the courts and the courts alone can interpret the constitution or any piece of legislation and that INEC is usurping the powers of the courts.”

Akande reminded Prof. Iwu that “the history of this country’s attempts at democracy has always been marred by the misdeeds of our electoral commissions.” According to the AC boss, “in the current circumstance, we are bold enough to state that there has never been an electoral commission so openly and overtly partisan, biased and vindictively selective in its application of the Electoral laws as the present one.”

This attitude made The Punch to lament in its 15 March editorial: “The insistence of the commission to play the role solely reserved for the courts by law may well be a vindication of the fear of the citizenry that INEC and its leadership might be part of a cabal working hard to foist an electoral statement on the nation in order to pave way for a shift in the handover date.”

But the Vice President is not taking things low. In a suit filed on his behalf and the AC, a team of five Senior Advocates, including Prof. Ben Nwabueze, Alhaji Abdullahi Ibrahim, Rickey Tarfa, Chief Adeniyi Akintola and Chief Emeka Ngige, at the Federal High Court in Abuja are applying for the determination of whether INEC has the constitutional right without recourse to a court of law to exclude Atiku.

As the controversy over the disqualification of Atiku rages, analysts are of the view that it may well be one of the suspected plots by the federal government to ensure that the transition fails. A situation they say could give the President the much desired tenure elongation through the back door. Those who share this notion cite the provisions of sections 145(1d) and 27 of the Electoral Act. While Section 145 provides that election may be questioned if a validly nominated candidate is unlawfully disqualified and excluded from the election by the commission, thereby setting the grounds for the nullification of the entire election, Section 27 provides for a possible postponement in the election date. The section reads: “Where the date has been appointed for the holding of an election, and there is reason to believe that a serious breach of the peace is likely to occur if the election is proceeded with on that date, or it is impossible to conduct the elections as a result of natural disasters or other emergencies, the commission (INEC) may postpone the election and shall in respect of the area, or areas concerned, appoint another date for holding of the postponed election.”

Perhaps. At a public function last Thursday, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Mohammad Sa’ad Abubakar III, addressing Northern traditional rulers at the Arewa House, Kaduna on “2007 Election and Role of Traditional Rulers,” a summit incidentally organised by INEC for royal fathers from the region, charged INEC to abide by all court rulings regarding the April elections in order to avoid confusion. He further warned the commission against allowing itself to be used as a launch-pad for any forms of violence.

The Sultan viewed the activities and preparations of the INEC as “manifest unseriousness” and said: “We cannot sit down, fold our arms and say everything is okay. Our people talk to us out of frustration on how ready is INEC to conduct the elections because people are not seeing activities to convince them that election is holding on April 14, this year. We only see billboards and posters on the streets and towns but what is INEC doing?”

In the same vein, the Secretary-General of the Arewa Consultative Forum, Col. Hamid Ali (retd.), said: “All the political crises, including the indictment of candidates of some political parties for corruption by the Federal Government is a ploy to stir up misunderstanding in order to postpone the general elections.

“Since the third term agenda of the current administration was aborted, the government has been coming out with some unpopular policies which apparently are intended to stir up confusion in order to prolong the stay of Obasanjo in power. We have studied the trend of events and concluded that Obasanjo does not want to leave office unless he is forced to do so,” Ali said.

The fear is further heightened by a recent observation by the Attorney-General of the Federation, Bayo Ojo. The minister, speaking with reporters in Aso Rock soon after a Council of State meeting, said the time frame for the election was too short and the logistics problems on ground could make the election a mirage. “INEC said it would come up with the list on the 12th of March. And between the 12th of March and 1st of April, 100million ballot papers would be printed. That time frame is a bit short. The logistics of doing that and distributing to different parts of the country under tight security gives room for concern,” he said, adding that “inflammatory statements by some politicians were capable of making free and fair elections a mirage.”

Also expressing concern at the current situation, Professor Wole Soyinka maintained that the feud between Obasanjo and Atiku had gone beyond corruption, probity or integrity but that of a desperate individual hell bent on imposing his will on the rest of society.

“Those whose conduct imposes a choice on the nation between a defence of the rule of law on the one hand, and even the most laudable and patriotic acts on the other, must understand that they bear the ultimate responsibility for the damage done to our quest for moral solidarity. Both are not incompatible with each other. Indeed, the latter is strengthened and made durable only by proceedings that respect the authority of the former. To reverse that relationship is to enthrone fascism in place of lawful governance. The nation protects itself by rising in the defence of the rule of law.”

Jimmy Agbaje, Lagos State governorship candidate of Democratic People’s Alliance (DPA), expressed the hope that history would not repeat itself. Otherwise, as he told TheNEWS, “we would be back to the dark ages of that era.” He put the responsibility of amends on the courts. “It is a nascent democracy and every agency is trying to give itself powers that it does not have. The INEC is not excluded in this matter and the court has forced INEC to withdraw some of its statements and positions. For me, I believe that the final hope lies with the judiciary to call INEC or any errant agency to order.”

That Iwu acts as an interested party is particularly at play in Anambra State. To many observers of the electoral process in Nigeria, Iwu is acting Obasanjo’s script which is to ensure that Andy Uba, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governorship candidate of Anambra State wins the state easily.

Iwu has disqualified those capable of putting a wedge in Andy Uba’s desire to become the next governor of Anambra State. These are Dr. Chris Ngige of the Action Congress (AG), Governor Peter Obi of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) and Chief Nicholas Ukachukwu of the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP).

Despite Ngige’s claim that he duly filed his nomination documents, INEC says he did not. Whereas Iwu claims that a court case filed by the Chekwas Okorie faction of APGA against the recognition of candidates of the mainstream Umeh faction was responsible for its disqualification of Peter Obi as the party’s governorship candidate, he has not disqualified Dame Virgy Etiaba, who belongs to the same Umeh faction, from the race. And though Etiaba wrote INEC that she was ready to cede her nomination to Peter Obi, INEC disregarded her request.

Political analysts read INEC’s subterfuge clearly. As Ochereome Nnanna, a political columnist, put it, “Even if Etiaba contests the poll and wins, INEC could always deny her the electoral certificate, citing her resignation.”

Worse still, Iwu brazenly disregarded the court’s ruling that Ukachukwu’s name be put on the ballot.

Aides of Andy Uba, however insist that their principal had no hand in the disqualification of candidates in Anambra State. They affirm that Andy does not need Iwu’s support to win the election resoundingly.

Abubakar Audu’s case is another proof of Iwu’s double standard. Audu, who is in contetion for the Kogi State governorship on the platform of the ANPP, is currently being tried for corruption, though his case has not been decided. “Is this not a case of bias? Atiku has not been convicted of corruption by any court of law, yet INEC which cleared Audu dropped Atiku,” an AC top notcher told TheNEWS in Lokoja.

Among governors accused by the EFCC of massive corruption, Alhaji Ali Modu Sheriff, governor of Borno State, stands tall. Sheriff is accused of abuse of office and money laundering. Prompted by his alleged misdeeds, Sheriff’s opponents and other observers fired a deluge of petitions, whose weight and seriousness could not be ignored by the country’s economic crimes watchdog. In one of the petitions sent to the EFCC late last year, Concerned Elders of Borno State begged President Obasanjo to compel the EFCC to look into the level of the governor’s robbery of the state treasury. According to the elders, the governor was consistently involved in contract inflation, dubious budgetary provisions, economic sabotage, fraudulent diversion of public funds, retrospective approval of expenditure, acts of executive recklessness. Sheriff was also charged by the elders of desecrating the naira by throwing same at crowds each time he cruises past them.

Particularly, the governor’s traducers accused him of misappropriating about N152 billion joint allocation to the state and local governments since 2003.

Investigation conducted by the EFCC revealed that the allegations were not frivolous. In the course of inquiry, the economic crimes watchdog discovered that in 2006, Sheriff purchased 10,000 units of motorcycles from China at the cost of $9.8 million, the naira equivalent of N1.42 billion. A breakdown revealed that for each unit, the state coughed out N120,000 against N60,000 which the same motorcycles cost in Maiduguri, the state capital. In one quick move, under the guise of poverty alleviation, Sheriff allegedly fleeced the state of a princely N820 million. Not done, the governor allegedly converted the motorcycles, bought with the state’s funds, to personal use, inscribing on them “SAS”, an acronym representing Senator Ali-Modu Sheriff.

In another instance, Sheriff reportedly bought two rigs for the state Ministry of Agriculture from one Eauxwell Nigeria Limited. The items were purchased at the cost of N127.8 and N117.2 respectively, totalling N244 million. But the governor, according to EFCC reports, later collected N300 million for the same contract, pocketing over N50 million. However, in spite of the heist, the supplier is yet to collect a balance of N7 million, three years after the contract was executed and money collected by the governor.

Around September 2005, Sheriff also committed the state to the rehabilitation of the tarmac at the Maiduguri International Airport at the cost of N29.2 million. Less than a year later, the governor reportedly ordered the payment of N298.6 million for the same job, even though only a patch of the tarmac was patched. The whereabouts of the difference remains a subject only the governor himself can explain.

Besides these cases which the EFCC claimed it had tightly packaged and was ready to prosecute, Sheriff is still being investigated for bigger cases involving misappropriation of local government funds lodged in a joint account with the state.

Other alleged corrupt governors whose names appeared in the indicted politicians list scaled the EFCC hurdle, butressing the propensity of Iwu to look the other way when it suits his fancy.

In Enugu State for instance, the Code of Conduct Bureau and EFCC indicted some government officials for self-enrichment, with Governor Chimaroke Nnamani at the apex with over N4 billion reported to have been traced to his bank accounts by EFCC. The Bureau also took the governor to court for false assets declaration and owning an undeclared 172 houses in Enugu.

Again, the Speaker of Enugu State House of Assembly, Chief Abel Chukwu, and some other leaders of the House were recently arrested at the assembly complex by EFCC operatives in connection with alleged large scale looting of public funds in the last eight years.

These efforts by the commission received commendations from well meaning people of the state. But they were taken aback when the governor was not disqualified from the Enugu East senatorial race by PDP and INEC.

In spite of Iwu’s insistence on sticking to the rules, the INEC boss, observers maintain, is playing the ostrich while a sitting federal permanent secretary is the PDP governorship candidate in Niger State. Yet, whoever wants to contest must resign his appointment three months before election.

How did Iwu get himself into such a deeply compromised state?

Some political observers said when the INEC boss decided to experiment with the Direct Data Capture machine, some PDP top notchers asked him how this would help the party to retain power. Ready to flaunt his idealism, Iwu skittered to Aso Rock and complained to Mr. President that certain individuals were trying to put pressure on him.

Although President Obasanjo expressed anger at what his party men did, this magazine gathered that he kept his real intention close to his chest. To cut Iwu to size, a N20billion cheque which was for necessary INEC logistics did not materialise, thereby disorganising the commission’s plans.

Consequently, there were calls on Obasanjo to wield his corporate axe against the INEC boss. But Obasanjo did not sack him.

As Paul Odili, a political analyst put it, “The President saved the day by not sacking him, but keeping him on as INEC chairman chalked up Iwu’s IOU to the President, and thus his moral dilemma. Since then, he began to deploy his considerable intellectual talent in the service of PDP. If he was not double speaking, he was adopting sophism in his interpretation of INEC’s powers and the constitution.”

What is happening in Nigeria in 2007 has a precedent in the past. A departure from the 1959 pre-independence elections when there was a multiplicity of parties, only two parties/alliances dominated the political landscape in the 1964 polls. They were the Nigerian National Alliance (NNA) and the United Progressive Grand Alliance (UPGA).

The NNA was made up of the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) and the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP), headed by the late Chief Ladoke Akintola. who had earlier formed the United People’s Party (UPP) when he broke away from the Action Group (AG). Other members were the Midwest Democratic Front, an offspring of the Midwest People’s Congress and individuals from the AG and UPP in the newly formed Midwest Region; the Dynamic Party, led by Dr. Chike Obi, the mathematician; the Republican Party, under Dr. J OJ Okezie; Niger Delta Congress, and the Lagos State United Front.

UPGA, on the other hand, was made up of the Michael Okpara-led National Convention of Nigerian Citizens, NCNC; AG, led by Alhaji Dauda Adegbenro (Chief Obafemi Awolowo was then in jail on charges of treason); Northern Elements Progressive Union, under Malam Aminu Kano; United Middle Belt Congress, UMBC, chaired by Joseph Tarka, and the Northern Progressive Front, NPF.

Three areas of crisis were clear in the period. First, was the jailing of the AG leader, Chief Awolowo and the probe of his party’s finances.

There was also the 1963 Census, which put Nigeria’s population at 55.6 million. A controvery trailed it because the Northern Region was, according to the figures, more than half of the nation.

A follow-up to the census was the registration of 22 million voters who would determine who to occupy the 312 seats in the House of Representatives.

As the elections drew closer, the National Electoral Commission and the North-dominated NNA began a massive disqualification and harassment of opponents.

Mallam Zamani Kazo, an UPGA candidate in Tiv Divison was detained since October, so much that he could not participate in the December polls. Worse, 13 UPGA supporters were put behind bars in Makurdi.

Matters degenerated to a level that Mrs. Francisca Tarka, wife of Joseph Tarka, accused the police of “delving too much into politics and condoning acts of hooliganism being perpetrated by NPC thugs.”

Mr. Azi Nyako Izase, a candidate contesting against Balewa in Bauchi South West, according to The West African Pilot of 18 December 1964, complained that the Divisional Electoral Supervisor made it impossible for him to submit nomination papers “by avoiding me.” He condemned the “furtive effort to return Balewa unopposed.”

In Ogbomoso, two UPGA candidates, Dr. Christopher Adeoye and Joseph Oyegoke, were remanded in prison “for chanting slogans to the annoyance of their rival party.” They were released after the December 1964 elections had been concluded.

On 16 December 1964, Joseph Tarka was arrested for unlawful incitement. He, however, described his travails as “the political baptism meted by an oligarchy and reactionary fleet whose main aim is to destroy whatever remains of the country’s democracy.” He further accused the NPC of conspiracy to hinder the filing of nomination papers by UPGA candidates.

He charged: “UPGA candidates were left half dead, arrested on inspired charges. Candidates were confronted by NPC agents, including village heads and their nomination papers rejected.” Tarka further argued that the person opposing Balewa was “not given an opportunity for a fair deal.” He said it would be shameful to see Balewa smiling into parliament to tell the world he was returned unopposed “whereas his opposer is deliberately obstructed from nomination.”

In 1962, a federal commission of inquiry was set up to probe the relationship between the Action Group (AG) and certain companies in the Western Region. The National Bank, especially, was said to have given funds to the party between 1959 and 1961. So also was the National Investment and Properties Company Limited.

The commission alleged that the Western Nigeria Development Corporation received loans in excess of £6,000,000 from the Western Regional Marketing Board.

It was further alleged that over £2,000,000, given by the marketing board to the WNDC, was also diverted. Worse still, the company gave AG over £4,000 between 1959 and 1961. At the end of the December 1964 elections, out of the 312 seats, one was declared vacant, the NNA allegedly clinched 198 seats; UPGA, 108; and Independents, 5.

Balewa was one of them. Other ministers returned were Chief K.O. Mbadiwe, Aviation; Mba Amechi, Police; Waziri Ibrahim, Economic Development, and Alhaji Musa Yar’Adua,(father of the PDP presidential candidate), Lagos Affairs.

The elections and the process that led to them, were so flawed that the President, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, refused to call on Balewa to form a government. However, when the Armed Forces surrounded Zik’s Presidential mansion, he reportedly changed gear.

The way the NNA was brazenly returned unopposed, according to political historians, emboldened the Akintola government to rig the 1965 regional election in the West, resulting in a conflagration that gave the military the reason to strike in 1966.

– Additional reports by Olusola Olaosebikan, Ernest Omoarelojie, Michael Mukwuzi, Clement Oriloye and Morayosola Bakare.

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