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Prof. Iwu refereeing Nigeria's 2007 elections,Obasanjo's party and international community

BY CHIDO NWANGWU in Abuja (Nigeria) and Houston, Texas. SeeINTERVIEW, below.

April 2, 2006, USAfrica, Houston, Texas:
Prof. Maurice Mmaduakolam Iwu, born on April 21, 1950 in theeastern Imo State of Nigeria, has the extraordinary historicalcoincidence of refereeing the presidential elections in Nigeria onthe day of his 57th birthday. Evidently,hehas the most challenging "government work" in Nigeria, today, exceptbeing the president of Nigeria. He undertsands his job is not an easyone; not by the facts of the controversial history of elections, hispredecessors' ratings and the compelling realities and interestscompeting in today's Nigeria. Iwu, Chairman of the IndependentNational Electoral Commission (INEC) is, yet another, scholar ingovernment -- with high expectations to perform.

To have a first-hand look and feel for the preparations for theall-important2007 elections in Nigeria, I flew from Houston to Nigeria; spendingsome time in Abuja, Owerri, Port Harcourt and Lagos. Listening to himin his office at the headquarters of Nigeria's elections body, INECin Abuja, you can tell the bio-resources and pharmacognosy specialistis determined to make history on the side of progress despite theodds. But his focus on the logistics of the elections and litigationsof aspirants in the law courts have kept him in the eye of thestorm.

Some key members of the opposition parties insist he's doingPresident Obasanjo'sbidding, and in part Anambra's Andy Uba's (who they allege had a handin Iwu's appointment). He scoffs at both allegations and dismissesthem as reflecting empty speculation-- citing a previously unreportedstory (he told USAfrica and CLASS the story) about the lateapplication entry of one of the Obasanjo family friends. The fellow'sinability to make the qualification deadline set by INECwas not overlooked by a friendly discussioninvolving Obasanjo, Iwu and the president's daughter, the ruling PDPsenate candidate Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello (see exclusive report below).

This former professor at the Univeristy ofNigeria Nsukka (where he still fondly recalls we first met in theearly 1980s --with me as a student of political science/publicadministration) has to contend with the pre-election assessments andexpectations of Nigerians and the international community.While he sees himself as a visionary andstrategically-minded public servant, his critics argue that the INECwhich he leads has been unrealistic in planning and not fullyprepared for the mamoth challenges ahead of the 2007 elections. Also,the Alliance for Democracy whose presidential candidate died in March2007 has demanded same "based on the laws of Nigeria...." INEC saysno, the elections will go on. The same position is held by Obasanjo'sgovernment. The opposition spearheaded by the Action Congress (led byObasanjo's VP Atiku Abubakar) has charged INEC of flagrant disregardof the law courts and the law.

Amidst some of the court challenges and logistical issues,there are some traditional rulers, political activists and partisansand civil rights protagonists who are calling for the April 2007elections to be postponed. The new Sultan of Sokoto Alhaji MuhammadSa'ad Abubakar III is the most visible and powerful Nigerian whospoke while I was in Nigeria in March 2007 that "We cannot sit down,fold our arms and say everything is OK." Obasanjo dismissed thosesaying the elections will not hold as "speaking from theirnose"!!

But the American and international communities (the dominantdemographics of USAfrica,, The Black BusinessJournal and CLASSmagazine's readership) may not need to focus on whatcolorful parts of the human anatomy Nigerian leaders speak from aslong as the elections are seen to be fair, free and reflecting thewill of the people. An unstable transition will set Nigeria back,again! Mainly through 2006 and into 2007, some internationalinvestors have remained wary, watching, hesitant to expand newinvestments; they are waiting to see if the emergingliberalization/privatization of the economy will be matched withpolitical plurality. Iwu fully understands the connection. Theviolence and terror in the Niger Delta have complicated the oil andgas business as much as it has the voting logistics in the area. Iwas in Port Harcourt, the nerve center of daily petroleum commercialactivity in the area. The Niger Delta will be quite intersting towatch.

At the end of the day, the success of the INEC in running afree, fair and accurate election will help move Nigeria's democracyforward. On the other hand, any shenagigans or any facts indicatingthat the powerful INEC is siding the president's ruling PDP partywill cast a long shadow on the determination of Iwu, a scholar andpolicy thinker to institutionalize voting and electoral ethos in thelargest democracy in Africa.

Prof. Iwu told me that contrary to the charges of lack of fullpreparedness, the INEC has marshalled out the logistical support andelectronic platforms to revolutionize and improve the electionslandscape of Nigeria. Only in a few weeks, the rubber will hit theroad , and the final test of INEC's efforts and Iwu's vision will beseen across ballot boxes and results across the far-flunggeo-political arenas of Nigeria. One fact I can tell him: both thewinners and losers of the elections will mention his name for good orbad.
•By Chido Nwangwu, in Abuja (Nigeria) and Houston, Texas.Thefollowing are excerpts from our exclusive interview in wireless: 832-45-CHIDO (24436)

Chido/USAfrica/CLASS: In terms of the preparations for theApril 2007 Nigerian elections, you've engaged a lot of technologicalinvestments, in seeking, as you stated sometime ago, to minimizeelectoral malpractices and accuracy in outcome. How far has thatproject gone?

INEC CHAIRMAN, PROF. MAURICE IWU: The project is going very well,we had earlier wanted it to be all electronic, but we had to dealwith the reality on ground. Namely that the politicians themselveswere not ready for that outright and full immersion (intotechnology). So we decided then to allow the process to be by manualvoting; but to have an electronic environment enveloping the system.What it means is that we would be able to facilitate the processelectronically, whereas the ordinary voter would not see anythingwrong with what his doing. It would be the same ballot paper; thesame method he has always voted. But the difference is that it iselectronically controlled, that we are in an environment that thevoters register is electronic, the transmission of the data iselectronic. The communication platform is improved upon, and overtime we hope we would only have to deal with more technologicalplatforms for elections in Nigeria, and it would reduce significantlythis time the rigging. And, hopefully in future it would stamp outcompletely any possibility of anybody rigging.

There are two ways you can prevent rigging. One is to appeal tosomebody's own moral conscience and tell the person not to do it. Theother way is to prevent the person from doing it even if he wants to,we do and are doing both.

Chido/USAfrica/CLASS: The other areas of managing the electionsinclude the related issues of electoral violence, partisan violence,forgery, and so on. If you will weaken the capacity of people tocompete fairly and squarely, the outcomes are no longer fair. Howdoes INEC come into this issue?

INEC CHAIRMAN, PROF. MAURICE IWU: INEC directly has no role in thesecurity setup. But we do try to call the attention of the securityagents on one hand, as to the dangers of electoral violence and onthe other hand we then talk to the Nigerian people ourselves, educatethem as to the dangers of electoral violence. Much more importantlyis the fact that the same people who should benefit more from anorderly election are the people who are being used, most times, tocreate havoc (and violence). So it is a double jeopardy for them, andwe need to point out that to them. Nobody recruits the son ordaughter of a millionaire to get into political party violence; it'sgoing to be the son or daughter of a poor man. If the economy goesbad if the election doesn't go well, who suffers more? It's the samepoor man and poor woman. So it's really not good for an ordinaryaverage Nigerian to get involved in such violence.

Chido/USAfrica/CLASS: The International community andcountries, as you know, remain very interested in what happens inNigeria. Share with USAfrica and CLASSmagazine readers theInternational implications of the planned April 2007 Nigerianelections which you are conducting as national elections chairman.What does it mean for business, the policy environment especiallyexpanding the legal space for Nigeria's democratization.

INEC CHAIRMAN, PROF. MAURICE IWU: We are happy that theInternational community is showing interest in what we are doing, butwe don't really want to miss the point that the election is forNigerians. For us it is very important that we have a smoothtransition from one civilian elected government to another. This isour first time to achieve this feat. And if we or when wesuccessfully achieve it, I think we would be able to tell the worldthat Nigeria has indeed been able to accomplish something that peoplebelieved and thought was a jinx for the country. We hope that at theend of the day it would help sustain the economical reform that ourcountry undertook within the last four (4) years, particularly.

Chido/USAfrica/CLASS: So if a politician is evidently andmaterially seen as practicing violence and promoting violence, INECcannot sanction him or her? Or would you sanction with therecommendation of the security agencies?

INEC CHAIRMAN, PROF. MAURICE IWU: We can sanction the personbecause the person is breaking the law, but most times we don't haveany law enforcement power per se. It would be the law enforcementagency that ultimately that will still have to apprehend the person.Even in the election proper it is the presiding officer who will callthe attention of the law enforcement people that something is goingwrong.

Chido/USAfrica/CLASS: Also regarding the powers of the INEC andthe constitution, a major issue that you have had to deal with isregarding qualifying or as you said yesterday (March 15, 2007, at theINEC headquarters conference room in Abuja) that the constitution"precludes" certain persons for "certain reasons" or factors. Thatposition has become a very controversial issue as you can imagine. Onthe pages of all the newspapers (March 16, 2007) they had the pictureof the Vice President in crutches, some reading "INEC removes Atiku","Broken", or "INEC disqualifies the Vice President Atiku...." Did youstate, specifically, that the INEC does not have powers todisqualify.

INEC CHAIRMAN, PROF. MAURICE IWU: Yes. We have never disqualifiedanybody, we don't even have such authority and we have never claimedsuch authority. All we say is that some people, ab initio, and thecourts agree with us, have been precluded from participating in theApril 2007 elections. Just like no Ghanian can contest for electionin Nigeria. The constitution precluded Ghanians.... I keep sayingGhanaians because we are neighbors , let us use Sierra Leoneans for achange. No Sierra Leonian can suddenly come to contest here. It alsosaid nobody less than a certain age can actually contest. Having saidthat, let me make the point that all the political parties that hadcandidates that were mentioned in the indictment process they changedthem all. If you had four hundred and something people and they wereall changed except one, then you know that something is wrongthere.
We are talking about systems here not individuals, and we have topreserve the systems for (the good of all). So, I don't want to gointo the details of that because frankly we are surprised thatanybody is raising issues along those line. But this is Nigeria; thisis politics and the media are only doing what they can to sell theirpapers and appeal to people who can listen to them. But frankly thisissue shouldn't even be an issue at all.

Chido/USAfrica/CLASS: It is an issue; and if you permit me tofollow up on it. I also read you know, for lack of better word I willqualify it as a threat. Atiku's party, Action Congress (AC), saysthat the 2007 elections will not hold if their candidate isdisqualified. They cited what happened in Ivory Coast that (shouldINEC and the President Olusegun Obasanjo's government continue onthis path), the 2007 elections without Atiku allowed to contest willonly bring in instability, chaos, anarchy and all other emanations ofviolence and political breakdown in the country. Does INEC take thisthreat seriously?

INEC CHAIRMAN, PROF. MAURICE IWU: Well that is a matter for theGovernment and security agents. My job is to manage the electoralprocess and that is what we are doing the best we can. If people makethreats it's not my job frankly to respond. I don't even hear them,because only when you talk about ballot box, ballot paper and votesthat's what interest me most. It has nothing to do with nationalsecurity issues, we don't know very much there.

CLICKhere for EXCERPTS from part 2 of our exclusive interview inAbuja