At a season of deep emotion over the debate of the of tenure of Iwu as Chair of INEC, Rev. Father Matthew Hassan Kukah’s words of wisdom merit what Maurice Iwu’s virulent pursuers should contemplate. Rev. Kukah is not a politician and neither is he of the partisan streak. He is an unbiased, morally upright messenger of God who speaks from a heart, not induced by political or pecuniary gains. He is a man of wisdom who has established a fine reputation on national discourses. His remarkable and intellectual contributions to the development of the nation at times of national crises have been immense and invaluable; his responsibility as secretary to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and lately, a member of the Electoral Reform Commission.
When Rev Kukah spoke recently, precisely in The Guardian of Sunday, March 29, 2009 advising Iwu’s foes, that the nation "cannot progress with the harassment of Iwu", Kukah’s candid opinion sounded as always, the reasonable and impartial arbitrator on national issues than the droning rhetoric of the "kill Iwu now" crusaders. There were many more salient points he raised in the interview that are worth a further appraisal here.
First, Kukah pointed us to the bitter truth and reality of our electoral experiences and the need to refrain from the blame game of every successive electoral commission chairmen for our electoral miseries. His position was explicit and logical. He would not be, and cannot comprehend why "people are complaining about" the chairman of INEC and how he constitutes our electoral problems. He was emphatic when he acknowledged "the very fact that we say we are looking for a person of integrity does not mean that anybody that gets there would not become a crook". The point arising from this which critics of successive INEC chairman should note is: The political environment, rather than the person of Chair of INEC is the primary determinant of the outcome of our elections. Thus, the problem of elections "would not be solved by who is the chairman of INEC" even if that person is the Pope, the infallible.
So, whoever the chairman of INEC or whatever electoral reforms is put in place will not make any difference in the electoral process except the politicians first "decide by themselves to live above board…and subordinate themselves to the principles of decency", per Kukah. The politician, the chief stakeholder in the electoral process is the one that urgently needs a reformation of character and a reorientation to elections. Electoral malpractices, maiming and killing of political opponents are the makings of the politicians, not the chairman of INEC. This should challenge Iwu’s critics to rationalize their thought processes and the need to judge the outcome of elections not in isolation but the disposition of the contestants for whom such election was conducted.
Rev. Kukah has called Iwu’s critics to this objective self-assessment. This must first start with a just appraisal of INEC’s performances under Iwu in the 2007 and subsequent re-run elections. Kukah has taken the lead in this and his honest judgment in the said interview was unequivocal. According to him, "as intellectuals, we need to ask, what is it that happened in 2007 that had not happened in 2008? Why is it that the elections had gone relatively speaking, without serious controversies? Because it is the same INEC that has been conducting the elections. Has he (Iwu) gone to Damascus? Why is it that things have changed?" With an enabling environment and right preparations, INEC has demonstrated with the bye-elections that it has the character and experience to meet with the challenges of election management. This is an apparent contrast with the "state of emergency" elections of 2007. Or what others have also aptly called ‘transition elections’, meaning that the election was unique and presented more challenges to the ones before it.
Though Iwu’s sworn adversaries tend to close their minds on the predicaments his electoral commission faces in every election, they will never deny the man his courage of convictions. The scenario painted of the April 25th Ekiti governorship re-election in the back page of Nigerian Compass Newspaper of Saturday, March 21, 2009 was too scary for angels to dare to thread in the state until after the elections; yet Iwu is intent on forging ahead. The artistic impression of parties holding all manners of cudgels with the umpire standing between the divides, holding a symbol of the coveted governorship crown told the complete story of electioneering process in Nigeria and the vulnerability of the electoral umpire.
The Gabriel Akinadewo article "K’olomo kilo fomo re, Ekiti a ro" (Parents, warn your wards, Ekiti will be bloody) indeed, summarized electioneering time in Nigeria as the "era of destruction, demolition devastation, dismantling smashing, vandalism, violence, killings, elimination, extermination, liquidation, abduction, propaganda and all the vices"; the decisive factors for winning public office in Nigeria. So far, on March 9, 2009, Ahmed Saddiq, an Ekiti indigene was viciously murdered in a clash between PDP and AC supporters at Oye Ekiti. How many more will be killed? So, where is Iwu’s fault in all these? None. This is the crux of Kukah’s thesis.
On March 22, 2009, Simon Kolawole, a die-hard critic of Iwu wrote (in Thisday) that "the conventional wisdom is that if you control the motor parks, you control the thugs; if you control the thugs, you control the polling booth; if you control the polling booth, you control the votes! That is why associations such as National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) and Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria (RTEAN) are very strategic to politicians and there is always a fierce battle to control them". I don’t think Kolawole meant to, but this very remark of his completely exonerates Iwu from all the previous blames he had heaped on the man in his previous essays; and it also makes Kukah’s point.
The other day, in a press conference to disparage Iwu and INEC, Peter Obi, the governor of Anambra state involuntarily let the world into how ungovernable his state has become. The governor cannot conduct local government election in his state even at the expiration of the tenure of the present officials. Conducting the election, the governor declared, "would likely precipitate mayhem". "If you put ballot boxes anywhere in the state, they will carry it and run away". However, INEC (under the much under-appreciated Iwu) will have to conduct the governorship elections in the Anambra and Ekiti states.