On the back page of THISDAY of March 15, 2009, one Simon Kolawole impliedly claimed to have been privy to a grand Nigerian conspiracy of an Imo variety where Professor Maurice Iwu, INEC and Ohakim got together someplace and ‘awarded’ the governorship of Imo State to Ohakim on a platter. After reading the sadly rambling contents, I became more bewildered than informed because the allegations spewed by Kolawole could not check out with events in Imo (or even rest of Nigeria) during the time-line leading up to the 2007 transition. And worse still, Kolawole strained the cannons of civility and free speech by going as far as calling Professor Iwu a ‘terminal disease’ – a strong language and fighting words I am troubled that an enlightened THISDAY allowed in print. As a Nigerian who also observed the 2007 elections and read accounts turned in by numerous realistic observers, I feel it is my duty to the Nigerian public to write this rejoinder (or right of reply) and send it to Kolawole’s email address listed in his column. I hope he and Thisday will publish it as such. My submissions now follow:
Regarding the conduct of the elections in all of Nigeria, the ‘Observer Group of Organizations of Nigerians in Diaspora’ (OGONID), in its official report had concluded as follows: "We praise Maurice Iwu and INEC for their courage; and we agree that the result of the election is a true reflection of the popular will of Nigerians. Parties prevailed where they were predicted by the strength of their numbers and structures to hold better chances than their opponents. Parties condemned the election wherever they lost and praised it wherever they won – thus corroborating the notion that the election was acceptably free and fair for the most part, even if it failed to meet the highest standards seen only in countries that have operated uninterrupted democracies for more than two centuries. While Nigeria should strive to attain the same standard, we should not be enslaved or destabilized by the pursuit of it". To date, I still stand by this assessment as the most accurate and realistic characterization of what happened in 2007; and it is on this notion that most Nigerian Diaspora came to closure on the 2007 elections, which if I may add, is also viewed by our vast majorities as an ‘historic and difficult transition’.
Better yet, the following week (on March 22, 2007), the same Simon Kolawole in his Thisday column, under the caption ‘Understanding the Fashola Phenomenon’, sadly contradicted himself by stating 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".
Well said Mr. Kolawole. By your own hand, you embarrassed yourself and Thisday by your self-rebuttal of the invectives you penned against Maurice Iwu the previous week. Second, you implied that in Lagos State, it is the duo of Tinubu and Fashola that control the mass of hardworking Nigerians you called "thugs" and "touts" and that it was these people that helped them to rig elections in Lagos State; though, in the same piece, you also implied that this phenomenon applies throughout Nigeria. Now, I ask you the following questions: Are you now going to write another piece where you will also call Tinubu, Fashola, NURTW and RTEAN ‘terminal diseases’ like you called Maurice Iwu? And can you explain where Professor Iwu fits into this your new theory that whoever controls the thugs controls the polling booth? Does Maurice Iwu control the thugs in all of the states of the Federation of Nigeria? While Mr. Kolawole ponders these questions, let’s turn to Imo State, which he used as the test case (or evidence of Iwu’s ‘terminal disease’).
To be sure, the situation in Imo was entirely different from the rest of the federation. There, PDP, OBJ and Udenwa publicly (at the stadium in Owerri) disowned a judicially reinstated Ararume and directed PDP’s bewildered ranks to vote another party’s candidate; and this was after INEC had already printed ballots that bore Charles Ugwu’s name and picture. But thanks to Maurice Iwu’s sense of fairness and quick reaction to unfolding events, INEC still redoubled to add Ararume’s name to the ballot in record time. But with the airwaves, newspapers and grapevine awash with Ararume’s total rejection by his own party, prospects of victory for him plummeted dangerously. I am from Imo and I am personally aware of the potent rumors that, concerning the first ballot on April 14th, PDP could not make up its mind between PPA’s Ohakim and APGA’s Agbaso. This wishy-washy attitude on the part of the PDP created a lot of tensions around the Governorship elections (as contrasted with the concurrent Assembly elections); and explained why it was possible for the contest to be marred while the Assembly elections (held on the same day), but which had no similar uncertainties, could have proceeded without incident.
Those of us physically present in Imo State on April 14th, 2007, including the INEC Imo REC, elements of Police and SSS, Ohakim, Agbaso and Ararume (but excluding a certain Simon Kolawole of Thisday) were eye-witnesses to the violence (and legion irregularities) in their worst manifestations, all perpetrated by the bitter contestants, not INEC. We also saw that whereas the Assembly balloting was proceeding smoothly on the clarity of party lines, the confusion surrounding the Governorship segment presented monumental temptations to voters and party ranks to engage in all manners of malpractices. Because of this and the other evident irregularities, all the governorship contestants and their political parties (including Agbaso and Ararume) sat down with INEC and agreed that the aspect of the balloting relating exclusively to the Governorship contest was inconclusive and therefore should be rescheduled for another date. Again, for avoidance of doubt, it is easy to see why that aspect of the poll regarding the Governorship election presented weighty issues that warranted cancellation or the conclusion by the consent of all participants that the election was stillbirth. It was purely a matter of contrast between an Assembly election in which the contestants did not go into the race with their party telling the whole nation that it did not have any candidates and a Governorship election (even though being held simultaneously) in which the PDP not only did not disown its own candidate but was, as of April 14th, also clearly undecided on whom next to support.
On April 28, 2007 when the election that produced Ohakim was held, PDP’s rejection of Ararume was not only still total, open and subsisting, it became clear that the PDP has finally found its voice when it pointedly directed its ranks to vote Ohakim at the polls. I was there and I heard it on the radio; I read it in the papers; I witnessed it all, the choice was absolute. The only thing I didn’t see or hear was about a certain Simon Kolawole of Thisday prancing around in Imo State (looking for ‘terminal diseases’ to write about almost two years later?). Well, the truth is that I knew for sure that Simon was not in Imo State either on the 14th or 28th April, 2007 as he even admitted same in his article under reference here (recall that Kolawole claimed that he got much of his information by calling people on the cell phone and listening to hearsay and crass political gossip, with all the election-day poor cell network, mischief, warts and all). As for me, being an eye-witness to this very strange political development in my native Imo, I knew that a hithertofore token candidate like Ikedi Ohakim and his young PPA were poised to score an upset of a lifetime. An upset which surprised no one, not a consenting PDP, not Imo citizens (of mostly PDP ilk) and certainly not a lone-ranger Ararume - which explains why Ararume did the unusual by joining Ohakim and INEC to object to Agbaso’s later-day attempts to ride on an April 14th that never happened.
That was the situation in Imo – an unusual act of political self-immolation by a dominant (and favored-to-win) PDP in the midst of an important election. Then, enter Professor Maurice Iwu - the maestro, ever so gutsy in the line of fire, who defied all odds (like he did on a grander scale throughout the Federation) to see the elections through and ensure timely emergence of a new government for his native Imo despite all the bedlam. That was leadership and vintage umpiring that delivers - ramrod and focused (contrast with the 1993 election that was touted as the fairest but never delivered any result or transition). I say so because it was Iwu’s quick reaction, competence and independence that gave Imo (and even Nigeria) an end game and brought closure to a tortured transition. The plain truth is that there was a vacuum in Imo and nature abhors a vacuum. Thus, other than Ohakim, any other candidate, howsoever fledgling could have capitalized on the extant vacuum to prevail in the ultimate contest on April 28th. What made the difference for Ohakim (above Agbaso and others) was that PDP was absolute in adopting him publicly as its own and sole candidate on April 28th. So Iwu and INEC didn’t have any business helping an Ohakim that was already riding on the coattails of a PDP that had the Imo electoral environment - lock, stock and barrel. And as against Agbaso’s Owerri zone, Ohakim’s Okigwe zone was favored from the get-go, which explains why Charles Ugwu and Ararume (both from Okigwe zone) were also heavily favored but for the Supreme Court verdict against Ugwu and PDP disavowal of Ararume, respectively.
It therefore follows at basic logic that Ohakim did not have to feel indebted to Maurice Iwu for a victory he garnered on the goodwill of the PDP plus the political capital brought by his hailing from Okigwe zone. On the contrary, Ohakim’s appointment of Iwu’s sibling – Cosmos, as the SSG, is unarguably because of only two reasons. The first reason is that Cosmos Iwu, aside from being Iwu’s sibling, is also a valuable PDP top facilitator to any political rewards the PDP extracted from Ohakim as a pre-condition of deploying its better structures to assist him to victory. So, Mr. Kolawole, if you must point fingers to where Ohakim might have all the reasons in the world to show some (deserved) gratitude, you should point to an Imo PDP that openly adopted him in full view of all Nigerians who listened to radio and read newspapers at that time. I am assuming that you did neither, otherwise you would not have succumbed to the temptation of risking a libel action by maliciously calling another fellow Nigerian a ‘terminal disease’, just because he is an Igbo from Imo State, who also happens to have umpired an election you did not like the result. That Professor Iwu is a public figure hardly justified the unabashed malice you purveyed against his person.
And there is more. SSG Cosmos Iwu has the cognate experience and personal political clout (PDP Deputy State Chair) required for the job and thus qualified on that score alone – in a government that was bound to be bipartisan and which he helped to power. In other words, there are other weighty considerations totally unrelated to his being Maurice Iwu’s sibling that qualified him for the job. Do you expect Chief Cosmos Iwu, an upstanding Imo citizen by any standards to suddenly grow cold from cashing in on his stellar qualifications and political capital simply because his brother happens to be the INEC Chair? Please, give me a break.
In the United States (a democracy of higher rank, ideals and experience), President Kennedy appointed his younger brother Attorney-General because he was a Democratic Party apparatchik as well as one of America’s finest lawyers; and that even paved the way for the younger Kennedy to nearly win the American presidency but for the assassin’s bullet. Mr. Kolawole, I am sure you would have also called the senior Kennedy (loved so much by the rest of the world) a ‘terminal disease’ and run the risk of Americans sending in their Marines after you. While you ponder that, let me ask you this question: Are you going to object to Thisday employing a relative of yours who is otherwise qualified for the job, simply because you are an editor at Thisday? Or do you want me to reel out the names of all those you assisted to some plum job at the Thisday? Don’t bother.
Ejimakor is an attorney and analyst.