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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

Chido/USAfrica/CLASS:In terms of the issue of money and politics, you highlighted the factthat there are politicians who are are spending more money, who arerunning beyond the parameters specified by the INEC and otheragencies to make for a free, fair elections. How would INEC enforcethis part?

INEC CHAIRMAN, PROF. MAURICE IWU: That is one of the mostdifficult reforms we have made. We have set the standard, we have setthe limits (on expenditure). But frankly the the limits are only asgood as those people who are involved in the process. In a cash-

based economy, it is difficult to track. In a place where peopledon't have the tendency to obey the law and make full disclosures youfind that it is really problematic; but we are determined to use theinstruments at our disposal namely the possibility that there wouldbe whistle blowers, people within (the political parties) whowould know what has happened and also the fact that we are alsomandatory reporting that way people must do. So we are hoping withthe combination of those we will be able to manage the process.

Chido/USAfrica/CLASS: So, will that suggest that if a candidateor a party exceeds their financial parameters the person could bedisqualified?

INEC CHAIRMAN, PROF. MAURICE IWU: No, no; the person would befined by law, but the interesting thing about this which people don'trealize is that if you are convicted for just stealing a cow it isconviction. And if you are an ex-convict, you cannot run for publicoffice. People don't even realize that, you don't only have to beconvicted for murder or for something big if you are just convictedfor stealing a cow you are an ex-convict and that would be in yourrecords. So we are hoping that that would be enough deterrent topeople.

Chido/USAfrica/CLASS: Also on the atmosphere for the election, afew weeks ago into 2007, the President of Nigeria, retired GeneralOlusegun Obasanjo spoke, in his words, that the 2007 elections wouldbe "a do or die affair", with the certainty of victory for his ownpolitical party, the PDP. How does this impact the capacity of thecommission, to manage what potentially are going to be very hecticelections.

INEC CHAIRMAN, PROF. MAURICE IWU: Well, when you see the Presidentyou can ask him about the details or the implications of what hesaid. But that the election is very important. We know that theelection is really very crucial for the sustenance of Democracy inNigeria and that is why we are taking the whole (elections) very,very seriously. And, that is why the transition is being managed theway it is being managed.

Chido/USAfrica/CLASS: On the issue of voting rights forNigerians in the Diaspora, you were one of the African professionalsin the Diaspora; tell me, will it happen anytime soon, that Nigeriansin the diaspora will have some measure of voting rights.

INEC CHAIRMAN, PROF. MAURICE IWU: Oh yea, very very soon. Ibelieve that if this electronic platform that we have succeeds, theamendment of the constitution will be a matter of time. It willrequire during voting that people go to our embassies and register tovote and then vote there. And we can count it and transmit theresults down here (in Abuja). (So, we) don't really need tophysically move ballot boxes here and there, you see that it ispossible.

Chido/USAfrica/CLASS: On the issue of women and elections inNigeria, are there any efforts on the part of INEC to expand theircapacity to participate or even contest as candidates.

INEC CHAIRMAN, PROF. MAURICE IWU: Yes one of the criticalchallenges we identified very, very early in our preparations is thewhole issue of women in politics; the gender issue. We included(women interests) among the issues of electoral violence, money inpolitics, and so on. Even the fundamental issue of mind set is agender issue. We try to have programs and projects that addresses thegender issues to try to help to encourage more women to participate.The money we are getting from the United Nations DevelopmentProgramme (UNDP), the European Union (EU), directly from the UK andCanada are being used in part on the gender issues. The idea here isthat we are mindful of the fact that this country, first of all, hasalmost the same number of men as there are women. We also know thefact that the few times women have been in governance they have donevery well, they have excelled. So we are now to say that for Nigeriait's a two way thing. First of all from a human rights perspective,we need to give all citizens equal opportunity and encourage thosethat seem to be less privileged in the political system. Secondly,from a national interest point of view if women are doing that wellthen what it means is that you should be able to increase the qualityof leadership of governance in our country by encouraging more women,and for those two reasons we are really en-backed on aggressiveprogram on gender issue.

Chido/USAfrica/CLASS: What are your hopes for the 2007elections; and any fears?

INEC CHAIRMAN, PROF. MAURICE IWU: 2007 elections. We are almostthere; it is going to happen in less than a month's time. If I haveany fears it is one of the ones you have expressed; mainly thatpeople may allow their own individual interests over ride thenational interests. That is all. Otherwise, I think everything isunder control. The preparations are on the way, we are at the laststages of the electoral process, and that is going very well.

Chido/USAfrica/CLASS: How would you like to be remembered asINEC Chairman given all the challenging and historicallycontroversial context that anyone who has served in the position haveto face?

INEC CHAIRMAN, PROF. MAURICE IWU: Well, however I want to beremembered doesn't add as to how people would remember me. But whatnobody will deny is that I took the bull by its horn. And that I didchange the system, and I realigned it to the line of reality. Irealigned it to the truth, I also realigned it to the situation wherewe have made some fundamental changes. INEC and (Nigeria's) electoralsector will never be the same again. We will now have for the firsttime an electronic voters register. We would be able to tell theworld that we had a credible election.
The politicians may not be happy because they have been benefittingfrom the ways of the past but the generations yet unborn will lookback to 2007 and agree that it was a watershed in our system. Thatwe were able to jettison what we were doing before and embracesomething new. We are hopeful that with the preparations we have madeand with the good will that we are getting from their ordinaryNigerians, that 2007 will be our turn around year.
When we start sustaining this democracy as I keep telling people whocare to hear, when we finish this election, if you come back toNigeria in 2008 you would ask what magic did these people do. Thewhole confidence building (will be such) that Nigerians will be proudof themselves. Also, the amount of investors that will come here, theamount of developments that will be happening here, the wholeeconomic development thing will be based essentially on a stabledemocracy and people will come to us.

Chido/USAfrica/CLASS: Do you have any other hobbies apart fromwork.

INEC CHAIRMAN, PROF. MAURICE IWU: For now it's all work. Thehobbies, that's why they are hobbies; they will wait for leisuretime. There are no leisure time now.

Chido/USAfrica/CLASS: What is your relationship with thePresident (Obasanjo), personally?

INEC CHAIRMAN, PROF. MAURICE IWU: Very cordial. Personally,whenever you meet him you cannot help but like him. His a veryhumorous person and when somebody has a good sense of humor it iseasy to get along with him. He's like any President of a countrygoing through what we are going through now. He is concerned and isvery supportive of us.
We go to him; he never and has never summoned us. We go to him whenwe need help in terms of logistics or Presidential support or movingone particular ministry to do something or another; and that's theway it has been. We have a free hand. I was making a note the otherday about (an aspirant), a representative from his own hometown (inOgun State).
There was something about (the aspirant's) submission coming late orso. We didn't change the rules. He took it like any other citizen andsaid you people didn't accommodate the aspirant, and we said yea wedidn't. And, his daughter Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello was interested in thatcandidate. But the President did not influence anything once he wastold the submission came in late, that was it. That was even in hisown hometown. He didn't know who and who is approved for elections inhis own state of Ogun.

Chido/USAfrica/CLASS: So, you are confident he (PresidentObasanjo) will give you a free hand to run the elections....

INEC CHAIRMAN, PROF. MAURICE IWU: Yea to something that is asimportant as nomination, something as crucial as nomination; thePresident Obasanjo did not see the list until yesterday (March 15,2007); like any other person.

Chido/USAfrica/CLASS: When you made the announcement andreleased the list.

INEC CHAIRMAN, PROF. MAURICE IWU: Exactly. Until we made theannouncement public.... When people don't know what is going on theyjust talk. I have a friend who is a governor in one of the SouthEastern state. He knows me so he didn't even try to ask anything. When the list came out, he started complaining. He said by the waywhy did you put this, and I said we didn't substitute the personbecause the person came late; and if it is late, it is late. We alsohad a situation in Anambra state. The same kind of thing happened; wehad a case of the former governor Chris Ngige which is now in court.This man was in America, he was overseas when this (registrations)happened and everybody thought that we would just let him get thenomination because it was Ngige. We ignored that (assumption). As faras this (INEC) job is concerned all Nigerians are equal. Forelectoral purposes, it is one man one vote. We also had the issuewith some other aspirants in the same state of Anambra. There are alot of big men who believe that as long as you are a big man thatwhatever you do is law and they buy pages in the newspapers abusingus. But it goes with the job.

Chido/USAfrica/CLASS: You've mentioned Anambra repeatedly; andsome people keep saying that PDP candidate Emmanuel Andy Uba hasrelative influence regarding your appointment and position. Is ittrue?

INEC CHAIRMAN, PROF. MAURICE IWU: But I just told you Chido thatthe President of this country has no influence over INEC, evenregarding his own home state. The governor of my state has noinfluence (on my doing my job). You can talk to him, the governorUdenwa who is my friend. If you have time you can talk to Andy Uba.

The Anambra issue is something the Igbo people from the South Eastmust ask themselves questions; it is something that they must have toreflect deeply upon. How come every election time is messy in thatplace they always have great problems. Luckily for us, we arearresting it early enough; that it will not happen again. That theywill have fair elections like any other state.

Chido/USAfrica/CLASS: You insist there's no influence on yourcapacity to do the job?

INEC CHAIRMAN, PROF. MAURICE IWU: People who know me know I do myjob judiciously. My associates and friends can talk social things,talk about church (our faith), talk about anything but when it comesto my work, the only place you can discuss it is here. You can go tomy wife and ask how many times has she talked about INEC with me andshe will tell you that that is "a no go area." And, this job has tohave certain, basic parameters.

Chido/USAfrica/CLASS: Prof., thank you for making time for thisinterview.

INEC CHAIRMAN, PROF. MAURICE IWU: Thank you Chido for coming allthe way from the United States to see things, first hand and chatwith us here at INEC.

Chido/USAfrica/CLASS: Lest I forget, do you have anymentors?

INEC CHAIRMAN, PROF. MAURICE IWU: Mentors in the sense that at myage you would have seen so many mentors some living, some dead, somestill active...(USAfrica & CLASS Publisher's note: I lookedaround Prof. Iwu's office and saw the picture of that key mentor,late Mallam Aminu Kano. Pointed to it, and Iwu smiled and noddedaffirmatively...interesting... I wondered, any moresurprises....)

USAfrica and CLASSmagazine photography by our photo editor(Nigeria) Agbo Agara

CLICKhere for EXCERPTS from part 1 of our exclusive interview inAbuja