At A Crossroads Over INEC's Iwu – Essay by Mohammed Abubakar

No Comments » February 8th, 2008 posted by // Categories: Electoral Reform Project





Saturday, February 02, 2008              

At A Crossroads
From Mohammed Abubakar, Abuja

What to do with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), as presently constituted may have become the nation’s current political dilemma. Although INEC boss Professor Maurice Iwu continues to talk tough, to award himself generous pass marks over the conduct of last April’s general elections, widely criticized as a flawed process by local and international observers, the consensus of opinion seems to be that the electoral commission under Iwu did more harm than good to Nigeria’s constitutional democracy. The question then is, what to do? Can this INEC lead the country into its democratic eldorado by way of a free and fair electoral process in the foreseeable future? In the opinion of many, the answer is no. The only problem is, the political authorities, apparently because they are beneficiaries of Iwu’s electoral misdemeanour, appear at a loss what to do about this INEC. It is the story of a nation at a political crossroads of sort.

SINCE the April 2007 general elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has come under severe criticisms by both local and international observers over the process and outcome, which are considered to be fundamentally flawed. Many believe that repeating the polls would be the only way to restore credibility to the process.

However, the Chairman Prof. Maurice Iwu and his commission see things differently as they have used every available opportunity to justify the conduct and outcome of the polls, which they believe have successfully broken the jinx of transition from one democratically elected government to another.

Because opinions are united among the cross spectrum of Nigerians that the elections were not free, fair and transparent as claimed by the commission, there have been agitations for him to either resign or be booted out by the Federal Government.

Because of the agreement within the polity that the elections were flawed, the federal government raised an electoral review panel under a former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mohammed Lawal Uwais to make recommendation that would cure the electoral system of the inherent problems. But, while the committee is yet to begin its work, there have been strident calls for Iwu’s removal.

But the Professor of Pharmacognosy does not believe he should give attention to such ‘diversions’ as he calls the agitations, and the renewed activities within the premises of the commission of late are evidence that Iwu is not in a hurry to go anywhere. Again, this is one issue that neither the embattled INEC boss, known for his fighting spirit, nor his media aides are prepared to engage antagonists on the pages of newspapers. They prefer to tread carefully.

Analysts attribute his seeming boldness to the fact that his appointment and that of his Commissioners are covered by the statute. While announcing the dissolution of the boards of federal parastatals, companies and institutions on October 23, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Babagana Kingibe, in a statement said the dissolution exercise did not cover those federal executive bodies listed in the constitution or appointments whose tenure are stipulated in the statute.

INEC is one of those executive bodies listed in section 153 (1) (a-n). Section 154 (1) of the same provision states: “Except in the case of ex-officio members or where other provisions are made in this constitution, the Chairman and members of any of the bodies so established shall, subject to the provisions of this constitution, be appointed by the President and the appointment shall be subject to confirmation by the Senate.

Section 157 (1) of the constitution provides that subject to the provisions of subsection 3 of this provision, “A person holding any of the offices to which this section applies may only be removed from that office by the President acting on an address supported by two-thirds majority of the Senate praying that he be so removed for inability to discharge the functions of the office, (whether arising from infirmity of mind or a body or any other cause) or misconduct.

But in a rare comment on the issue, Iwu, while speaking to the commission’s in house newsletter, noted that he was not considering such movement now, particularly now that he had so much to accomplish in post-election activities.

“I will stay as long as I have work to do,” he declared, noting that he intended to carry on with the post-election activities he had been saddled with, such as the impending continuous voter registration exercise, distribution of permanent voters’ cards and delineation of constituencies which the commission was working on, which would finally be submitted to the National Assembly for approval.

To demonstrate his resolve to continue to stay put, the premises of the commission has been a beehive of activities during the week. For example, Iwu, was in December at the National Assembly to defend the N500 million request the commission submitted to the assembly for approval to conduct by-elections in some parts of the country where their elections are being voided by the tribunals.

To demonstrate its seriousness, the commission recently commenced another round of voter registration as well as distribution of authentic voters’ cards to those that registered during the last registration. Moreover, the commission has since started the conduct of some by-elections. The ones conducted so far have been for the Federal Constituencies where two federal lawmakers died.

They include those of Dr. Aminu Safana from Katsina and Hon. Segun Oladimeji from Oyo State. While Safana, a medical doctor and erstwhile Secretary to Katsina State Government (SSG) slumped on the floor of the House during the debate on the N628 million contract scam involving the former Speaker, Patricia Etteh, Oladimeji, an apostle of strong man of Ibadan politics was killed in his hotel in the city.

But the Action Congress (AC), the Labour Party (LP) and the National leadership of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), among other bodies and interest groups have been putting the commission boss under pressure to quit, insisting that following the damning verdicts being passed on the out come of the the April 14 and 21 general elections, he (Iwu) could no longer be trusted to conduct by-elections.

Of recent also, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), who doubles as the Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, John Onaiyekan have also added their voices to the call for a re-run of the polls and the sack of Iwu.

At least, four state governors have lost their seats and scores of Senators and members of the National and State legislators too, as a fall out of the outcome of the polls. The presidential candidates of the AC, Atiku Abubakar and ANPP, Muhammadu Buhari currently at the presidential appeal petition tribunal challenging the declaration of President Yar’adua on May 29 have also called for the sack of Iwu.

Though only one governor has lost his seat so far on grounds of alleged electoral malpractice, reports of huge discrepancies have been coming from such states as Edo, Ondo and Ekiti. Similarly, in some states, Senators and key members of their legislature have lost their seats.

For example, Senators John Shagaya and Satti Gogwen of the AC have both lost their seats in Plateau. Similarly, Hon. Emmanuel Goa’r, the Speaker of the State Assembly and his counterparts from Kogi and Benue States have also lost their seats in their legislative houses. Senator Ayogu Ezeh, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Information and Media Affairs, has also joined the league of legislators, whose elections have been axed by tribunal. Senators George Akume and Joseph Akaagerger both from Benue State have been added to the list of those whose mandates have been questioned by the tribunal.

AC, while calling for Iwu’s sack said in statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Lai Mohammed that given the spate of reversals of the outcomes of the elections, Iwu no longer had moral credibility to conduct even by-elections, let alone the 2011 general elections.

The NEC of NBA last month rose from its meeting also demanding the resignation of Iwu following some judicial confirmations that the April elections were flawed. In a statement signed by its President, Mr. Olisa Agbokoba (SAN), NBA said Iwu’s resignation had become become imperative in the light of those judgments.

“The widespread acceptance that the general elections were flawed has started to receive judicial validation as Elections petition Tribunals have started overturning a good number of results returned by INEC. INEC will be required to organize, conduct and supervise by-elections if the courts so order,” the NBA statement read in part.

“NBA feels without prejudice to your standing that it is in the public interest that you resign your office to allow INEC a fresh start in the conduct of new elections. This is a necessary sacrifice that you ought to consider making in the national interest.”

In all these developments, the commission sees it as part of the democratic process. For example, while monitoring the January 26 by-elections in Ibadan Oyo State last Saturday, the National Commissioner in charge of Operations of INEC, Mr. Adedeji Soyebi told newsmen that the reversals did not amount to a vote of no confidence on the commission, adding that without the judgments, the electoral process would not be complete.

Besides, he also looked into the future with much optimism for the commission having re-positioned itself for the work. He cited the by-election, which he said went on well as the basis, noting that a lot of things have been done since the last general election to guarantee the credibility of the polls, citing the successful conduct of the by-election as a test case.

Indeed, Iwu two months ago gave his commission, a pat on the back for its efforts at giving Nigeria and Nigerians the best elections so far conducted.

Similarly, speaking during the official public presentation of the of the final reports of the 2007 election, in October, Iwu blamed the political class for unnecessarily heating the polity and attempting to scuttle what was rather a comprehensive preparation.

During the occasion, the commission’s boss awarded a whopping 80 percent pass-mark for the successful conduct of the elections. For him, rather than blaming INEC, Nigerians should look in the direction of a section of the political class, which, according to him, did not want election to hold in the first place.

Iwu also raised the stake further in his fabulous claims about the April elections when in his usual combative manner, he attempted to make a comparative analysis of the election by equating it with the June 12, 1993 general election which was annulled by the then military administration of Gen. Ibrahim Bdamasi Babangida.

Speaking during the recently concluded All Nigeria’s Editors’ Conference in Bauchi State, Iwu not only gave his commission a thumps up, but also blamed the media, which he said did not play its watch dog properly. According to him, the April election was freer than the 1993 elections, which was inconclusive, but widely believed to have been won by the late businessman, Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola.

He lamented a situation why an election that did not “produce a president or vice-president would be adjudged as the freest and fairest, ignoring the one that produced both the president and vice-president for the country.”

“It is a sad commentary on our country that the only election we have accepted as free and fair was an unsuccessful because nobody and nobody had been sworn-in as president,” he declared diffidently.

But chairman of one the political parties observed at the weekend, if “Iwu gave himself and his commission 80 percent score in October, I wonder what percentage score he would give the commission now that the outcomes of those elections are being upturned left, right and centre.”

To solve the constitutional problem that removal of INEC Chairman may cause, Second Republic Governor of Plateau State, Chief Solomon Daushep Lar, in an interview recently advocated the removal of time lag in the appointment of INEC leadership from being a constitutional matter, and that it should be based on performance. In his opinion, the tenure of any particular leadership of the commission should be determined by the public acceptance of the outcome of elections so conducted.

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