I am not quite sure what it is, or what it was, about Professor Maurice Iwu’s professional resume that caught the eye and swayed the judgment in his favour of those who appointed him to the role of Chairman of Nigeria’s Electoral Commission. A cursory perusal of his resume reveals that his academic grounding and professional experience are rooted, almost exclusively, in the field of pharmacy and the related sub-discipline of pharmacognosy in which he achieved professorial rank.
Impressive though his resume is, it scarcely seems to be the right prescription required to remedy Nigeria’s symptomatic and persistent electoral disorders. Much rather, it reads like the resume of a candidate seeking appointment to the role Health Minister or Director of the National Agency for Food, Drug, and Administration & Control (NAFDAC), or some other medical or health related discipline.
Seeing that much of his professional expertise was garnered within the confines of research laboratories in universities, it is difficult not to think, that in his present role - and this on the strength, or more properly, the weakness of his organisation of the last general election - that he is a fish out of water and a square peg in round hole. But then again, it could be argued that Nigeria is a laboratory, in which inconclusive experiments are routinely undertaken, time after time, with consistent unsatisfactory outcomes.
Since his oversight of the Nigeria’s last general election (an election widely adjudged to have been a fiasco), other democracies - mature and fledgling - across the world, within and without our geographical hemisphere have conducted and concluded general elections with success and without bloodshed.
The object lesson of this to Professor Iwu and his retinue of Electoral Commissioners and Nigerians as a whole is that it is possible for human beings like us, to cast, compute, and collate votes and communicate the outcome of the same to their respective citizenries with a minimum of contradiction, controversy, and conflict. It also puts paid to the notion that nascent democracies, such as ours, are doomed to stagger in their march, rather than stride purposefully, with balance and poise, towards the conduct of credible elections.
Now with every turn of the ever turning Gregorian Calendrical Wheel, we inch ever so close as a nation, to the 2011 general election. 2011 is not as distant a time period or prospect as it may first seem or sound. Before long, our electoral bells will sound, and our political class like iron filings reacting to the pull of a magnet, will respond to its chimes.
This being the case, Professor Iwu and his Electoral Commissioners must realise that they have only a limited window of opportunity within which to address, some or all of the serious failings which characterised the 2007 general elections. In this regard, Professor Iwu has gone some way, at least theoretically so, to identify some of the issues that marred the last election. But in his recognition of some of the issues he has adopted something of a conjurer’s sleight of hand, through his not too subtle ascription of blame to others other than his Commission.
In a lecture entitled ‘Beyond 2007 Elections: Framework for Sustaining Democracy in Nigeria’ (a title suggesting an implicit acknowledgement of the flawed conduct of the 2007 election) delivered at the University of Nigeria; Professor Iwu, identified amongst other things, four issues which he felt impeded the smooth conduct of the 2007 elections. Issues which he claims to have brought to the attention of the inattentive powers in government, prior to the conduct of the 2007 elections, but with scant acknowledgment or resolution from them.
The four issues are as follows:
§ Excessive use of money in politics;
§ Threat and actual use of violence in elections;
§ Gender inequality and ineffective political participation; and
§ Badly skewed mindset of Nigerians about elections.
But conspicuously missing from this list is any mention of the major logistical shortcomings of INEC, before, during, and after the 2007 election. The non-inclusion of this important shortcoming creates the impression that the professor and his Electoral Commissioners are more adept in matters of extrospection than introspection. He does, however, attempt to deflect attention away from his Commission’s logistical weaknesses, by alleging that the funds required to enable his Commission do its job were not released to it on time.
No one familiar with Nigeria will doubt the validity of the first two of the four issues. But his rendering of the first issue appears more like a coded reference to the financial corruption to which his and other public officials involved in the conduct and outcome of elections are exposed or susceptible to. The second issue has been an ever present feature right from before independence. Both of these issues require, for their resolution, the input of the Police. But whether the Police Service is up to this challenge is an entirely different matter; seeing that it too grapples unsuccessfully with issues of a similar nature.
The third issue is something of a curiosity. It remains to be seen whether gender equality leading to greater participation of women in politics will promote the conduct of fairer elections in Nigeria. Except of course, the professor believes, that the female of our species are more saintly beings in comparison to our men, in whom perhaps, an irredeemable riff-raff element preponderates.
As to what he terms the badly skewed mindset of Nigerians towards elections, it may never have occurred to Professor Iwu that this mindset, if true, may have been cultivated after many electoral disappointments, in which the people have repeatedly seen their mandates stolen from them over the years.
But all is not lost. Professor Iwu and his Electoral Commissioners can, if they begin now, with sincerity of purpose, to address some of the issues highlighted in addition to INEC’s logistical inadequacies, through a concerted number of programmes aimed at the general public, such as:
§ Voter Education Initiatives: Informing voters of their importance in the electoral process and the perils of ‘selling’ their mandates or having them stolen from them;
§ Promoting the inclusion of civic lessons on elections in the national education curriculum;
§ Enlisting and utilising the services and talents of drama groups to dramatise the benefits of free and fair elections to schools and communities across the nation;
§ Training electoral officials in the proper planning and running of elections;
§ Engaging the Nigeria Police in security planning sessions well ahead of the next general elections;
§ Organise mock elections in known trouble spots at least a whole year before scheduled elections to form an idea of what to expect in ‘live’ scenarios;
§ Deploy a deputation of Commission officials to study the recent Ghanaian electoral experience. Deploy a similar contingent to monitor the conduct of South Africa’s elections later this year.
On the whole Professor Iwu and his Commission need to become more proactive in their conduct, it is not enough to identify issues and deflect the blame to others no matter how deserving of blame they maybe. He needs to rise to the challenge of his job. Otherwise, no matter how intelligent a man he is in other unrelated areas, there will remain an active doubt in the minds of Nigerians as to whether he is merely a square peg in a round hole. In 2011 we can’t afford another meaningless electoral ride on a ‘merry-go-round’ to nowhere.