On July 28, 2009, Olatunji Dare (writing in The Nation Newspaper) got it wrong on Iwu; and it smelt like a deliberate act of misinformation. In a back page column, titled ‘Maurice Iwu’s World’, Mr Dare invented an Atlanta lecture that never occurred, at least not "the other day", as Dare wanted the public to believe. Besides this glaring and fundamental falsehood, there are many more points that Dare got so wrong on Iwu that one is tempted to conclude that the sole purpose of the piece was to dredge up some old-wife’s tales as part of a gathering conspiracy to discredit the 2011 elections (a rather sad and clumsy replay of what happened in the lead-up to 2007). Let us take those points in seriatim:
First, Mr. Dare based his comments entirely on a lecture in Atlanta, USA that Iwu never delivered "the other day" as Mr. Dare alleged. "The other day" was meant to convey the stark falsehood that Prof Iwu was in Atlanta very recently to deliver the said lecture that vexed Dare. The truth is that Prof Iwu was in Atlanta alright to deliver a lecture but that was in July 2008, not "the other day" (or even anywhere near this year) as Dare conjured. I know this for sure because I was there. So, what’s the purpose of Dare’s brazen conjuring? Or what manner of vile that might have driven a columnist into such a time-warp on a subject he was at pains to purvey as a major commentary fit to deliver his death blow to INEC?
Second, Dare, rather than the verdict itself, sought to overplay the dissent of four Supreme Court Justices in the Presidential election verdict in favor of Yar’Adua (or the result Prof Iwu declared). Pray, where else in the world are people fixated on a mere dissent to the point of trying to force it on society as some gospel. To be sure, like it or not, the verdict is now the law of the land and that ought to close the matter. It is so in the much-emulated United States – in Gore versus Bush – in which there was also a large number of Supreme Court Justices that dissented in favor of Gore or a manual recount - against Bush. Yet the majority verdict for Bush was welcomed by one and all, and Americans, who are remarkable for respecting their courts, never overplayed the dissent but quickly came to closure on an election that revealed irregularities far in excess of what Dare and Co alleged in the Nigerian variety. Bush went to rule for two terms thereafter. Americans refrained from insulting their Justices or calling Kathleen Harris - the Florida umpire - delusional, as Dare called Prof Iwu, without qualms.
Third, Dare blamed Prof Iwu for the odd five guber-elections that were nullified by the courts, pointing particularly to the Anambra case that held that Peter Obi’s tenure had not expired when the polls held. This is a distortion of the law of the case. First, the Anambra case began with Abel Guabadia when he was the Chair of INEC. It was Guabadia who declared Ngige Governor of Anambra and thus triggered the complex and scotched-earth legal challenges launched by Peter Obi that Iwu only inherited when he became Chairman. Second, the Nigerian Constitution – the black letter law of the case - implied ‘uniformity of tenure’ by prescribing that guber-elections be held same day throughout the federation (except for cancelled elections, as in Imo) and there was no judicial precedent in Nigeria that had held otherwise and by which Maurice Iwu would have been bound. As lawyers would say: It was an issue of first impression and therefore beyond the limited administrative purview of INEC to resolve in Obi’s favor. Thus, Iwu was right to comply with the extant (and as yet un-interpreted) constitutional provision on point by holding the guber-election in Anambra same day guber-elections were also held in other states. Third, Maurice Iwu is not the Supreme Court of Nigeria, neither is INEC any one of the courts of the land mandated to interpret the strictly constitutional question of when a governor’s tenure ends. Fourth, as of the date of the election, the issue of tenure of Peter Obi was the subject matter of a pending and raging litigation and it would’ve been unconstitutional and in contempt of court for Prof Iwu to pre-empt the court by pronouncing that Peter Obi’s tenure had not ended. Fifth, there were other parties-in-interest – those that fielded candidates and thus had a legal and political stake in seeing to it that the guber-election held in Anambra State on April 14, 2007.
Looking at the above scenario, it is easy to see that INEC did the right thing by holding the Anambra guber-election when it did. Yet, it is puzzling that Dare remarked with glee that in this case, the "tribunal rebuked INEC for holding an election to an office that was not vacant". An obiter Dare hyped as gospel; but in the same breath, he still fretted at a Supreme Court ruling that sustained Iwu’s conduct of the Presidential election. This is the bane of the fringe professional pursuers of Iwu and INEC. They celebrate any verdict (and dissent) that favors their partisan interest but prove unable to muster the basic intellectual honesty or common decency to even accept any opposite verdict or postulate. Coming to the other four nullified guber-elections that so much irked Dare, one that begs for clarification (for Dare’s benefit) is that of Rivers that replaced Omehia with Amaechi – a case that revealed neo-legal complexities that went far beyond the contemplation of all Nigerians, including an INEC that functions as a mere administrative agency (as opposed to a judicial body). Again, this very case spewed several issues of first impression, besides also bordering on the limited powers of INEC to stop political parties from fielding candidates of their choice. For that case and others like it, one learned commentator advanced what is amongst the best argument in the following words:
"As Chair of INEC, Professor Iwu is charged with abiding by the law, not over-reaching himself to become ‘tsar of political parties’ or a one-man court of equity that must right every intra-party electoral injustice..... That some people will ignore these legal complexities and still point to Amaechi’s case as another nullification that counts against Professor Iwu goes to illustrate the gathering demerits of such postulations, besides revealing a bizarre fixation for making Maurice Iwu the perpetual fall guy........"
Further, Mr. Dare went on to take issues with Iwu’s remarks as to why anyone should expect INEC to conduct a ‘first-class’ election in a third-world environment. Yet, in the same piece, Dare contradicted himself by pointing to factors that best underscored Iwu’s argument. Those factors include fraudulent registrations (Dare claimed someone registered his name and picture in Ekiti); and that Tiger Woods and other American celebrities were also registered in Ekiti. First of all, Dare should find out why all the alleged fraudulent registrations that included his name and that of Tiger Woods, Mohammed Ali and Colin Powell happened only in Ekiti, of all states. Did it occur to Dare that someone, somewhere in Ekiti worked very hard to procure these fraudulent registrations in Ekiti in anticipation of using them later to discredit an election that he already figured he has no chance of winning? Fraudulent registrations like these are amongst what Prof Iwu was lamenting as militating against any desire for ‘first class’ elections. In America where Dare lives, the Republicans, during the election that brought Obama, alleged fraudulent registrations against the Democrats and vice versa, including frauds as bizarre and as un-Nigerian as registering cats and dogs and illegal aliens to boot – abominations that Dare has not yet attributed to Iwu’s INEC. Pray, did Dare really read the Iwu speech that he misplaced in time? Or did he just glean a few remarks that he felt were easy enough for him to analyse out of context?
Continuing - Dare referred to Prof Iwu as ‘delusional’ – a description that is more in sync with Dare’s weird questioning of why INEC had to use Nigerian Air Force planes to transport ballots to various locations in the country. Haba! Dare! Are you now charging the Nigerian Air Force as complicit in these many grand Iwu-procured conspiracies wrought on the 2007 elections? Did Iwu (and now the Nigerian Air Force) rig it in Abia and Imo for PPA, in the far Northern states for the ANPP, in Lagos for the AC, and the rest of the federation for the PDP? It is either Iwu is a genius of an umpire with many tentacles, imbued with sophisticated abilities to ‘rig for and against’ all at once, or those alluding to this complex web may have been bitten by the bug of conspiracy theories. Better still, a keener reading of Dare’s belly-ache at the involvement of the Air Force reveals that he even inadvertently exonerated Iwu and instead held the Nigerian Air Force responsible for (aerially?) rigging Yar’Adua to power, simply because a ‘do and die’ OBJ was the commander-in-chief.
Finally, so many things can be said to rebut Dare’s desperate attempt to muzzle Iwu for expressing an opinion on the controversial matter of proliferation of political parties. But for lack of space, let’s just say that Prof Iwu, like other Nigerians, has a right to his own opinion, especially as it relates to real-life experiences he garnered in the course of regulating and registering political parties in Nigeria. Recall also that the issue of number of political parties began with Babangida that decreed only two parties for Nigerians, which a lot of folks applauded at the time. Then, there was Guabadia, who insisted on very stringent rules for registering political parties before the Supreme Court ruled otherwise. Now, vast numbers of Nigerians are talking of collapsing all other political parties, sans PDP, into one ‘mega party’ that will have any hope of running a serious campaign in 2011, meaning that the chickens are coming home to roost where, despite Dare, ‘2011 Nigeria’ may end up with only two political parties (in reality, not inside the briefcase). In 1999, Olu Falae’s AD had to enter into electoral alliance with the APP because even then it was felt that AD was too small and regional to have any credible chance against a more nationally spread PDP. This is the sort of thing Prof Iwu was talking about; and that is: You can have as many parties as you want to have, because that’s the law, but better make sure that they are strong and serious enough to win elections. Clear enough, you will agree, yet Olatunji Dare didn’t get it.