Maurice Iwu as election vampire – Levi Obijiofor

No Comments » March 23rd, 2007 posted by // Categories: General Articles

Guardian March 23, 2007

Maurice Iwu as election vampire

By Levi Obijiofor

THE chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Maurice Iwu, has copped a bit of bad press in the past two weeks. And indications are that, as the national elections draw nearer, Iwu would continue to receive critical comments in the media. Iwu has been in the news for several reasons: his ill-advised outburst that no court in the country could overturn INEC’s decision to disqualify certain political candidates from contesting the elections; Iwu’s repudiation of the idea that election observers from outside Nigeria should be allowed to monitor the elections; and of course serious questions about academic integrity which continue to hover over Iwu’s heads.

After watching Iwu’s press conference last week in which he made some outrageous claims about the power of INEC to disqualify political candidates, in spite of recent Federal Court decisions, one wondered about the source of the powers that Iwu alluded to INEC. By stating that no court in the country could overturn his (INEC’s) decision to disqualify political candidates from contesting national elections, Iwu spoke as a self-proclaimed Czar in a country with no history of Czarist regimes. Iwu’s comments have compromised his position as an impartial election umpire. Certainly, the 1999 Constitution and the Electoral Act did not confer on Iwu and INEC the power to disqualify political candidates. The Nigerian Bar Association clarified this issue last week.

One of the most provocative statements made by Iwu at his press conference last week was that, “After the election, parties may either continue the cases in the regular court or proceed to the election tribunal. If INEC accedes to court judgments seeking to change candidates now, fundamental logistical problems would be created. And this may critically affect the ultimate efficiency and success of the elections.” Iwu might have his preferred options about how aggrieved politicians should seek legal redress but he certainly does not have the right to claim that politicians who suffer incalculable injustice should not take legal action just so that they do not disrupt the success of the elections.

It is like kicking a man in the groin and asking him to withhold tears or complaints. Iwu’s logic seems to be that, irrespective of the gravity of injustice committed by INEC, it is better for the country and the judicial system to allow the election process to run its course rather than allow legal actions to disrupt or delay the elections. This implies that INEC can deliberately deny certain candidates their right to contest the elections and that the candidates should keep silent because it is in the interest of the nation that blatant errors committed by INEC should be forgiven and forgotten. This argument is so nonsensical it is like offering INEC a carte-blanche on which it could script the names of election winners well before the elections actually take place.

Iwu’s argument is absurd. It is appalling. It is indeed ghastly. Iwu does not have the power or the right to determine which court judgments he should obey and the judgments he should ignore. From his utterances, Iwu appears to be on a collision course with the Constitution and the Electoral Act. Beyond that, Iwu has projected himself as the greatest threat to democracy and an obstacle on the path of the forthcoming elections. He must be checked before he demolishes the integrity of the elections and the hopes of many Nigerians.

The forthcoming national elections have thrown up the tell-tale signs of a nation on the edge of political implosion. Iwu’s interpretations of sections 137 and 182 of the 1999 Constitution are as distorted as his reliance on the same sections as the basis for disqualifying some political candidates. Iwu appears to be reading upside down the unambiguous judgment delivered by Justice B. Kuewumi in regard to whether or not INEC had the legal or constitutional authority to disqualify political candidates whose names had been submitted by their political parties. Ever since Justice Kuewumi made the landmark judgment, INEC officials have been dancing on the truth, claiming that the judicial decision also vindicated their position. But even in the eyes of the layperson, it was absolutely clear that INEC did not have any power in the Constitution and in the Electoral Act to disqualify political candidates whose names were duly submitted by their political parties. This much was pronounced by Justice Kuewumi. INEC officials are at liberty to twist the facts of the judgment and they have been doing so without self-control.

In spite of the claims by Iwu that INEC’s decision to disqualify some political candidates was driven by the Constitution and the guidelines in the Electoral Act, evidence continues to mount, indicating that Iwu has tossed aside wise counsel and decided to wage a personal war against certain political candidates and their parties. This is the most unfortunate and dangerous aspect of the process leading up to the elections. For the first time in the history of democratic elections in Nigeria, the chief election umpire has turned himself into an election vampire. Indeed, many Nigerians perceive Iwu as a loose missile which is being used by his bosses to destroy the democratic process. Rather than serve the Nigerian people, Iwu has chosen to follow the path of perfidy by serving man and mammon (in biblical terms). Let’s put it more appropriately: Iwu now serves as a robot programmed to respond to the wishes of his bosses. And that is precisely the dilemma for everyone.

Iwu is not listening to anyone. Legal authorities have spoken against Iwu’s actions and contemptuous statements. The Sultan of Sokoto, a highly respected religious leader, has spoken against INEC and in particular Iwu’s disdain for the rule of law. The Nigerian Bar Association has warned against the likely consequences of the actions of one man leading the nation toward self-immolation. And, no less a personality than Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka has warned against the despotic utterances made by Iwu in regard to INEC’s determination to disqualify certain political candidates who are hated in Aso Rock. All these point to one conclusion: national elections that are deliberately designed to fail. But it is not just the failure of the elections that poses the greatest threat to national cohesion. It has to do with widespread concerns about public reaction to national elections that are perceived to have been compromised in order to yield pre-determined results. We must fasten our seat belts in anticipation of unprecedented outrage against elections that are widely perceived as “fixed”.

The perplexing question for most people is why Iwu, a man who suffers serious credibility problems, was selected to supervise crucial national elections. Prior to his appointment as INEC boss, Iwu lacked the relevant experience required for the job. In addition, serious allegations of academic integrity have been twirling over the man’s head and he has chosen to keep mum rather than respond. Beyond questions of academic integrity, Iwu’s conduct and utterances since his appointment suggest he is acting according to the script handed to him by his boss, President Olusegun Obasanjo. The danger is that Obasanjo, in his last few weeks, has nothing to lose but everything to gain if the elections are compromised or marred by violence. That way, Obasanjo would get the chance to extend the tenure he so desperately wanted but which was thwarted by the National Assembly in 2006.

Iwu’s attempt to present himself as the saintly rhinoceros of the political process does not match his public persona. Here was a man who, soon after his appointment, stated rather outlandishly that he was opposed to the presence of foreign election observers in Nigeria. Surely, Iwu would prefer to conduct the elections in the dark so he would be able to fulfill the objectives for which his bosses appointed him. But Nigerians are not living in the dark ages anymore. For the elections to be conducted in a free and fair manner, the courts must check Iwu in the interest of the nation and also in the interest of the judiciary.

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