An Eye-Witness Account of INEC Chairman Iwu's Press Briefing in Washington, DC

INTRODUCTION

On Tuesday, December 18, Washington DC National Press Club,  Prof. Maurice Iwu of Nigeria's Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), presented to the US public and Nigerian Diaspora  the official report of the April 2007 Elections. I was present from the beginning to the end of the briefing.  I took copious notes, but was so disgusted by the proceedings that I was first reluctant to write any report on it.

But I am beginning to read some hagiography of the proceedings, both from persons present at the event and those not even present, so I am hereby compelled to produce my own version of the National Press Club event.....

Here goes....

 

THE REPORT PRESENTATION BY PROF. MAURICE IWU

Mr. Sunny Ofili of The Times of Nigeria website (http://www.thetimesofnigeria .com )  was the arranger and overall Moderator of the forum.   Iwu/INEC's chief press secretary Mr.  Andy Ezeani [nice guy, who indicated that their work at INEC had not been easy at all] assisted Sunny. On the high-table with Prof. Maurice Iwu were the Acting Nigerian Ambassador to the US, Usman Baraya;  INEC's lead counsel Colonel Dr. Babatunde Bello-Fadile (remember the guy who "betrayed" Obasanjo during the alleged Abacha ?  I later greeted him in Yoruba "E ku ewu ojo." thanking God for his spared life);  and Dr. Amanze Obi, Chairman of the Editorial Board of The Sun (who clearly, I suspect, was having his way paid by INEC to cover the international tour.)

Baraya did the opening and closing remarks; Bello-Fadile passed information back and forth to Iwu during the briefing; but Amanze just sat there and contributed nothing.  [I went up to  Amanze later on to ask why he should be sitting in front with Iwu on the high table when he should be an independent reporter. He had no clear response to that, except to say "Why not?"] 

Copies of the 106-page report were handed out to all present.  I picked up as many as 10 copies (Bello-Fadile, nice guy, handed me a bunch from a Ghana-must-go bag, and would have given me more if I insisted)  in preparation to send five copies  as Xmas gifts.

Moving on...

Iwu was a disaster on two legs and sitting on his hind, spitting prejudice and bias as any INEC chairman could, prejudice and bias so thick that you could cut with a knife. He was throwing slanderous accusations on individuals and organizations, domestic and international, left, right and center,  in a reckless manner unbecoming of a public official.  He is so tactless that one wonders how he attained any administrative height where, as you rise up, some diplomacy is required.  He shouts and boasts and pontificates.  He must have been PRETENDING all the while he was moving up, until he got to a "constitutionally protected" position as INEC Chairman, which is why he stated that he could not be intimidated out of his position.

According to him, everybody was out to get him and the country down, get INEC down, get the country down, and without him, the country would have "scattered" by now.  There were three groups:  Those who wanted an interim government; those who wanted to stay in power;  those who wanted the military to take over were plotting throughout, but all  of them were SHAMED by his singular heroic act of staying the course,  and by the "God that I serve", he thundered piously.  INEC headquarters in Abuja was even attempted to fire-bombed on the day of the presidential election, he reminded us, and the suspects are currently being prosecuted.  He stated that power-drunk people with deep pockets - aka Abubakar Atiku, without naming him -  were prepared to drag the country down, and even infiltrated his INEC.  He said that a whole SAN, a lawyer of the petitioners - who he did not name -  was involved in forging INEC documents to show in court that INEC had pre-published some results and forged others.  He stated that some people in Washington, colluding with some Nigerians in Washington - and looking slightly towards me - colluded against Nigeria. 

With regard to finances, he said that the government up until now has not released money required for training of INEC officials, and he had to find money by other means. He stated that the EU attempted to bribe INEC with 10million Euros, then 20 million Euros and then finally 40 million Euro if he  (Iwu) could (i) allow them to sit on his INEC meetings and (ii) provide them the electoral register, including the finger prints of (he thundered) "The President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria".  Can you imagine?   He refused all their bribery attempts:  how could he, Nigeria not being a "banana republic" allow that?  Finally, as a compromise,  they agreed to put all the 40million Euro (basket) money offshore, and spend the money on his behalf as need.  He SWORE before God and Man that he did not touch A PENNY  of international money.    He said that his refusal was the start of his problem with the EU and why they wrote a bad EU report about the  April 2007 elections.

He said that INEC had THE BEST FACILITIES in Africa to run any elections; that on the eve of the elections, everybody  including Gowon and Buhari and the Council of State   testified to his readiness. [That is true:  I watched that TV drama;  Buhari lost my support on that day for not seeing through that charade.] Iwu said that EVERY DECISION that he took was constitutional - until any court ruled otherwise - and that he obeyed every court ruling.  [One does not fully understand Iwu:  the Constitution was not changed in-between rulings, was it, so did it not mean that he was INTERPRETING the Constitution wrongly, that is why the Courts ruled against him so many times?   When I asked him later why he had tried to prevent Diaspora presidential/vice-presidential candidates before the court ruled against INEC, he stated that he knew that they were legally qualified, but that he DELIBERATELY wanted the courts to rule clearly on it so that there would be no problem later on.  When I asked Isa Odidi later on whether this was his understanding, he flatly denied it, saying that Iwu told them that there was no way they could contest.]

Iwu said that INEC rose to the challenge of producing 60 million ballot papers in three days, and that he should be praised for it, not vilified. He said that some people took money to print papers;  to deliver by plane; but made off with the money.  But he said that the proud and efficient  Army, Navy and Air Force of the Federal Republic of Nigeria - God bless them! -  came through in flying colors when he needed them, and ballot papers were delivered to ALL the 200,000 polling stations in the country - minus maybe one or two !

He said that if Umar Musa Yar'Adua contested ten times, he would win ten times over poor parties and petty politicians who were busy abusing him (Iwu) and Obasanjo and not preparing for elections.  He said - and I am quoting him now that  "rigging is when the outcome of an election is NOT what it should have been if the elections had been completely free and fair".  

I almost dropped my pen when I heard him say that line.  Why bother voting then, I asked myself?

He said that the elections would have been better if his electronic voting machine were adopted, like it should in the next elections.  He wanted more participation of women. Blah, blah!

Moving on to question time....

QUESTION & ANSWER TIME

Question & Answer  time was pathetic.  Clearly there were human plants ALL over the briefing room.  All the people who asked questions - except maybe three of us  - might as well all have been from Imo State, possibly even from Iwu's village, maybe all with the last name of Iwu but with pseudonyms, in this day when an "Mrs. Damilola Okanlawon" might really be an "Mrs. Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello"!  They might well have been. 

My friend Ugo Harris Ukandu (of the Nigeria Democracy and Justice Project, Washington DC) started off by blaming the press for Iwu's problems; I had to go to him later on to express my utter disappointment.  Moderator Ofili had to tell him that the Press was not the issue here.   One professor in a fashionable tie wondered why Nigeria should be so blamed when America had his own electoral problems;  I forget his name, mercifully.   Another person got up and said that there were political parties on the ground who could not win anything and were complaining. Someone in bow tie asked a tame question. I no longer remember what DC resident Brian Udejiofor asked, but it was not earth-shaking ! :-)

On and on......I just shook my head because these were really not questions but many were clear plants in support of Iwu.

The most annoying to me was our own Mr. Robert Ngwu of NIDO fame,  who LOUDLY introduced himself - falsely - as "past Chairman of NIDO", and stated that even to organize elections for NIDO was problematic as evidenced in their controversial Dallas 2007 elections, not to talk of  a whole nation. [In Dallas, Dr. Ola Kassim was re-elected Chairman of NIDO Board, to some cries of "Third Term!" and illegality.  A renegade faction of the board later chose Ngwu as its chairman, and for a while there was a bitter tussle for leadership.]  

Ngwu's intervention drew laughter of course !  I just shook my head - Usman Baraya and myself looked at each other and shook our heads, knowing fully well that Robert Ngwu was lying through his teeth.  [I was seated right next to Ambassador Uchechukwu, who was the Chairman of the Upper Room meeting that resolved the NIDO crisis by ensuring the stepping aside of both Ngwu and Ola Kassim; we looked at each other briefly too.]

Moving on...

Reporter Constance Ikokwu of This Day - the only woman in the room for a while (there were finally about three total), in a room of many 30 Nigerian and 2 American Whites - pointedly asked Prof. Iwu why he should be touring the world to present the INEC report.  He replied that first he had been pilloried around the world and among Nigerians in the Diaspora, so he came to present his own side of the story.  Also, he delayed to come so that he could not be seen as influencing the ongoing tribunals.

A man from Abia State and long-time resident of the Washington DC metropolitan (I forget his name now) who had gone home to be a senatorial candidate complained that there was no voting in his district, that he could not even vote for himself.  He made a mistake of clumsily asking about the Electronic Voting Machines which Iwu promised.  Iwu seized upon that and mocked him very mercilessly, saying that that is why he lost since he did not know that the Parliament had disallowed the use of EVMs!  There was more laughter in the room.

MY OWN QUESTION TIME

I got fed up, so signaling to Moderator Sunny Ofili, I got up to ask my question. 

When I started to preface my question with some biographical statements on Iwu, he objected, saying that he did not want me to be get personal.  I objected too - since he too had been personal in his many statements.  I prevailed.  I stated (jokingly) that he was not the first male, first professor or first Southerner to be INEC Chairman, and so that next time we might want to try for a female Northern Judge to head INEC.  [Later, in response he stated that my reference to a female was part of an ongoing agenda of blackmail against him in Nigeria, because there was a PARTICULAR woman in mind that had been touted to replace him.  I had NEVER heard of such a plot, and I knew then that this Iwu fellow was paranoid.]  I further stated that what was unique about him was that he came from the Diaspora (and we expected better); he was a scientist (like me, and we are known for greater accuracy), and more importantly, he was the first Chairman chosen from WITHIN the ranks of the commissioners, having been a commissioner since 2003 before becoming Chairman in 2005.  [My implication of course was that he had been chosen back then for a purpose, planted by the powers-that-be, Andy Uba included,  to replace Guobadia in time for new elections to do some dastardly deeds that he promptly proceeded to famously do.] Finally, I stated that his most distinguishing character was that he exuded so much confidence that it had turned to stubbornness, arrogance and pugnaciousness.

He winced when I punctuated my submission with the arrogant caim, but I pressed on.  I stated that his statements during and since the  election period were so reckless and biased, especially since the Tribunals were still going on, and yet he was telling us that Yar'Adua would win ten times over. I indicated that his statements all through the election process had been tainted with such biased statements and moves.  I indicated to him that while in 2003 there were 560 petitions, this year there were 1250 petitions, only about 600 of which had been disposed, so what was he doing making statements all over the world about petitions that had not been disposed of?   Was this not all sub-judice?

I could of course have told him about the waste of time he engendered when he insisted on the EVM until the Parliament stopped him in his tracks; or how his boss President Obasanjo's insidious Third Term Agenda impaired his (Iwu's) preparations until it was aborted in May 2006; or Iwu's insistence on "appealing all appealable judgements" against INEC, thereby hitting upon deadlines; and how his incompetence led to having pictures and logs and candidates' names omitted from ballot papers; or how ballot papers never arrived at all at their destinations.  Yes, the presidential election had some logistic problems, but how did that impact those other elections, I would have  wondered?

But within the short time that I had to ask my question,  I omitted all of those accusation.  I wanted to pin Iwu down on his sub-judice international tour, which was heavily indictable.

He did not give a convincing response, except to state that all the cases had almost been heard.  He reeled out a statistic that in 2007 there were 50 parties while in 2003 there were 30 parties, so 1250 petitions were not statistically more significant than 560 petitions (he missed my point of course of sub-judice; I was not concerned about whole numbers) - and he vaguely hinted at "that woman" who was being touted to replace him !   [I still need to know who it was, this woman.  N1,000 prize is due.]

Personally, he did not look the happy man that I knew who came to Washington DC BEFORE the elections. 

 

BRIEFING OVER - CONFRONTATIONS AT THE CORRIDOR AND CURBSIDE

After the conference was over - and Ambassador Baraya had invited everybody back to the Embassy for a reception with Iwu and co. at 6-8 pm - Iwu was confronted with quite some angry people along the corridor of the Press Club, particularly those who came late at 12 noon thinking that was the time it started instead of the 10 am starting time.  One Alex Okeke, and Tony Nammor were pretty riled at him, with Alex telling him and others who would hear that Iwu was a disgrace to Igboland. Speaking in Igbo to the about 90% Igbo individuals there, he said that they were all sell-outs for defending Iwu who had caused so much pain in Igboland. He said that he was an observer in Anambra State and that he saw all the farce.  Tony Nammor was a Senatorial candidate himself in Delta State from the Diaspora, and though a less excitable fellow than Alex, he made his point too..  Alex was quite upset with me and others for joining a group that took a picture with Iwu - he would have none of that silliness -  but I had to I tell  him to relax, that he did not know what I wanted to do with the picture.  Maybe make a target practice of somebody? :-))

He relaxed.

Ogbeni Lanre Banjo - ever colorful with bow tie and all - also came late and made Iwu hear of his own near-death experiences as a gubernatorial candidate of the NCP at Ogun State, both in 2003 and now in 2007.  There was quite some heated exchange, and we had to step away from the corridor to the curb of 14th Street NW if the cops were not to be called in to check some rowdy Nigerians.  Lanre Banjo continued curbside, and complained to Iwu that the Ogun State Resident Commissioner made himself unavailable even to candidates.  Iwu then asked him what his name was.  When Banjo could not remember, Iwu said, "See, see, a candidate who cannot remember the Electoral Commissioner; how can he win?"  - to guffaws !

It was time to leave the premises - it was now about 12:30 pm, with the event having started at 10 am - and so I was leaving but not before Bello-Fadile insisted - or maybe I insisted, he is quite a pleasant fellow - that we take a picture together and implored me to come to the Embassy for the reception later on in the evening so that we could all discuss in a more informal setting.  I did not promise I would, but I said that I would consider it.

I lied.  I could not bring myself to spend more time in such INEC company, so I did not attend the evening session at the Chancery.

 

SO WHAT TO DO WITH IWU?

Soon after the elections were over, I called for Iwu to be fired or resign.  He has not been fired and he has not resigned.

Clearly the President cannot fire him by law, and only a two-third vote of the Senate with a recommendation to the President can fire him for cause.  Increasingly it also appears that he has a tin ear and will not jump unless pushed.  Mercifully, since he became a National Electoral Commissioner in August 2003 - but became Chairman in May 2005 - his five year term runs out in August 2008 rather than May 2010.

However, that means theoretically that he would be responsible for presiding over all the elections being asked to be re-run by the Tribunals all over the country.

That prospect is INCONCEIVABLE, and one would hope that a letter petition will be drafted to the National Assembly to ask it to ask Maurice Iwu to be eased out of the Chairmanship seat.  Alternatively, once the Presidential Election petition is over one way or the other, one hopes that Alhaji Umoru Musa Yar'Adua would summon enough courage to call Iwu in and ask him to tender his resignation. There is not too good a sign of that, since the President did not strongly issue an advisory about this past week-end's farcical local government elections in about eleven states that saw a 100% sweep by the PDP amidst glaring rigging and violence, which alarmed Yar'Adua sufficiently for him to call an urgent meeting of governors for after the holidays.

Alternatively, political parties might sue to the courts stating that they had no confidence in Iwu and refuse to have new elections under his management.

We are clearly not out of the woods yet.

Bolaji Aluko

PS:  I have attached a compendium of press reports to my essay:

- This Day:  I will not resign, says Iwu (by Constance Ikokwu, who attended the briefing throughout, and asked a question.)

-  Tribune:  Why govs, others are losing at tribunals - Iwu  (by Dotun Oladipo, who was NOT at the briefing but came late, he  interviewed Lanre Banjo and myself briefly on the side walk.  I suspect that he too, like Amanze Obi, was on the reporters' delegation of INEC because Iwu/Ezeani instantly asked him where he was when he arrived later after the briefing was over.)

- Tribune: Iwu gains recognition in US (Idowu Samuel, Abuja) quoting some unknown ONLID organization and one Aloy Ejimakor, clearly a planted hagiographer.  How Idowu Samuel can write from Abuja about an event that occurred in Washington, DC, I don't know.

 

APPENDIX

IWU IN DC:  A Compendium of Press Reports

THIS DAY

I will not Resign, Says Iwu

From Constance Ikokwu in Washington, D.C., 12.19.2007

Amid calls for his resignation over the alleged shoddy handling of the April elections,  the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Comm-ission (INEC), Prof Maurice Iwu, has said nothing will make him resign.

Reacting to a question from newsmen after the presentation of a report on the election in Washington, D.C., United States (US) yesterday, Iwu said although "mistakes" were made, he maintained that politicians wanted his head at all cost because of their failure to disrupt the entire electoral process.

"Some people have called for my resignation. These are partisan people who wanted to be in power at all cost. Some people are partisan; they have media; they shout and they shout loudest. I've just made a presentation and you can see the support of Nigerians who have now had the facts."

The INEC boss told THISDAY that the question of resignation did not arise.

He said the anger of some critics, particularly politicians were misplaced.

"They should work harder to win elections during the next polls," he countered.

"How can you allow someone who has partisan interest; who lost election; who has all rights to be aggrieved from venting his anger. But the point is that the anger is misplaced. We should think in terms of their working hard to win elections next time and not trying to personalise issues.

"One thing is a fact. The fact is that the election was a triumphant movement on the part of Nigerians from one civilian elected government to another. That is something that nobody can remove from Nigeria."

He declared that the country had made a "tremendous stride".

The bickering of a handful of people should not be allowed to affect negatively the fortunes of the masses, he thundered.

"The Commission wants the bigger interest of Nigerians to prevail," said the INEC boss.

Explaining the rationale behind INEC's presentations abroad, he said it would allow Nigerians in the Diaspora the opportunity to hear the facts in order to make judgments themselves.

"In terms of public opinion, we are trying to capture our people as many as possible in terms of their knowing what happened at the elections and then be able to form their own opinion," he remarked.

Iwu said the report was coming late, more than six months after the election, so as not to interfere with the election petition tribunals, adding that the tribunals were part of the entire electoral cycle.

"Until their job is completed, the national electoral process is still on.

Some of the challenges faced include inability to access funds meant for training; lack of preparedness of some political parties who did not have polling agents or physical presence; late arrival of election materials flown in from South Africa among others.

"The last batch of materials arrived the country by 10 p.m Friday night and was distributed within 12 hoursto the 774 local government areas and 8,800 wards. This was a huge challenge," he declared.

He maintained his previous assertions that some powerful politicians worked to get the polls postponed so that an interim national government would emerge.

The INEC chairman said others planned to cause trouble by seeking a court judgment to stop the announcement of results, adding that another group who benefited from military rule wanted to topple the government.

The "guiding principle" of INEC, he stated, was to conduct the election in order to checkmate the third term agenda, which was the wish of the masses.

On international observers, Iwu stated that most of them ignored the rules.

"They cannot do that in the Federal Republic of Nigeria," he stated.

He explained that INEC rejected an offer of 10 million euros from the European Union (UN) based on principles.

"The offer was increased to 20 and later 40 million euros but it was rejected. The animosity with EU began when INEC rejected their request to sit in the commission's meetings and to have a copy of voters tabulated electronically," Iwu said.

On resident electoral officers, the INEC chairman argued that he had no right constitutionally to determine what happened in the states. "My job as Chief Electoral Officer starts with preparing the election. I have no authority to tell resident electoral officers what to do. Did I tabulate the results tendered by resident officers? I am swearing by God Almighty that I did not. We did everything we said we will do according to the Constitution" he submitted.

He said the Commission did not prevent anybody from voting or being voted for.

TRIBUNE

Why govs, others are losing at tribunals - Iwu

Dotun Oladipo, Washington - 20.12.2007

CHAIRMAN of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Maurice Iwu, has said the lack of internal democracy in political parties caused the upturning of the results of some of the April 2007 elections.

Iwu, speaking on Tuesday during the presentation of a report of the commission on the April elections to Nigerians resident in the United States of America at the Press Club in Washington D.C, said that none of the elections upturned so far had been as a result of rigging or any deficiency in the conduct of the election on the part of INEC.

He said as such, no one could say the upturning of some of the elections was an indictment of INEC.

"No, far from it. It is actually a work in progress in the sense that those governors whose elections are being questioned arose mainly from internal party democracy.

"That's part of the lessons we learnt. It is not an indictment on the commission.

"If the elections were annulled based on rigging, then we'll take that seriously.

"But as of now, out of 36 governors, none has been fully upturned because they are still undergoing appeals. "So we can't even say that any has been really upturned."

He also faulted the reported call by the security agency in the United States of America, the Homeland Security, for the reconstitution of INEC, adding, "I have not heard of the message.

"But I will be surprised because I don't know what INEC's reconstitution has to do with Homeland Security in America.

"If they said that, that must be something happening based on the lobby people are making here, which is a one sided lobby.

"How can someone be talking about something happening in Nigeria that they know little about?

"INEC is reconstituted periodically based on our constitution and I think our constitution will be obeyed when the time comes."

Iwu said he was also not bothered by the call for his resignation, adding, "I am not an angry man at all.

"What I am is somebody who is so passionate about our country. "I am passionate about Nigeria in the sense that we have made such tremendous stride.

"We should not allow people to allow their bickering to affect the fortunes of 140 million people.

"I am passionate in the sense that we want the bigger interest of our people to prevail."

However, two prominent Nigerians residing in the United States, Professor Mobolaji Aluko, and Mr. Lanre Banjo, disagreed with Iwu that INEC did a good job.

Aluko said that INEC was biased in its handling of the election. Speaking during the briefing, Aluko said INEC went beyond its brief by taking sides in some cases.

He said that INEC could have performed better. Banjo, who met Iwu outside the venue of the briefing, said INEC gave undue advantage and support to some candidates.

Banjo said that the officials of INEC were not accessible to candidates not favoured by the powers that be.

Though Banjo admitted he did not even know the name of the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) in his state, Ogun State, when challenged by Iwu to substantiate his claim, he said it was obvious the REC was acting on orders from above.

He said even when the REC was subpoenaed by the election petition tribunal, he refused to heed the call.

He also faulted Iwu on his briefing in London, the United Kingdom, that it was impossible for former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and General Muhammadu Buhari to have won the presidential election because they did not campaign enough and had party disputes to contend with.

He said that both men were popular enough to stand for election even at short notice.

TRIBUNE

Iwu gains recognition in US

Idowu Samuel, Abuja - 20.12.2007

CHAIRMAN of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Maurice Iwu, may have won the hearts of Nigerians in the United States during his last visit to Washington where he formally presented the official report on the 2007 general elections to the US government and Nigerians in the country.

Indications to this emerged following an official endorsement of his presentation on the 2007 elections in Nigeria by a US-based Organisation of Nigerian Lawyers in the Diaspora (ONLID) and the recommendation by the lawyers to the government of Nigeria to allow him remain in office to conduct subsequent elections in the country.

The lawyers said they had forwarded their position to the government of Nigeria on the outcome of the 2007 general elections and the need to stabilise the political system in Nigeria in the ongoing dispensation by allowing Iwu remain as INEC chairman.

The position of the US-based Nigerian lawyers contained in a press statement was ,however, a contrast to the impression held generally about the INEC boss in Nigeria following allegations that he compromised in the conduct of the April polls in the country.

According to a statement singed by the Convener/Executive Director of the ONLD based in Washington DC, United States, Mr. Aloy Ejimaker, the presentation by Iwu was lucid and explanatory, adding that "every Nigerian who listened to Iwu agreed that he tried his best to make the April elections hold in Nigeria in spite of the landmines planted around the conduct of the elections.