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How Maurice Iwu (INEC) Saved Nigeria From Being Another Kenya by Ugo Harris Ukandu



Election is a necessity for every democratic country because it is the only fair way for making a clear choice between two or more competing opponents for public office. But in Africa, we seem to be falling for an international conspiracy (in collaboration with a few selfish African leaders) to perpetuate the long-term aims of slavery and colonialism to divide and conquer Africans by tribe, creed, ethnicity, religion and a ‘we-versus-them’ mentality. In every African election, there is hardly a loser willing to concede victory to the opponent. Every loser begins to believe that he won once the so-called international election observers and monitors begin their usual mantra of casting aspersions on the conduct of the election and the electoral umpire. These are the same observers and monitors who prefer to stay in five-star hotels in African capitals and give opinion and recite numbers on election preparations and results in rural areas of Africa, and purvey wild statements that incite a nation against herself.

It is time to curb these activities, especially when these monitors/observers do not know much about the local political or electoral dynamics of the African locale. International organizations and other countries are welcomed to partner in elections conducted in Africa if they come with the purpose of sincere collaboration in advancing our democracy without threatening our stability. But in any case, such as in Kenya where the foreign observers usurped the powers and roles of national electoral umpires, Africans are supposed to summon the courage to tell them off like Professor Maurice Iwu did before they go too far. Kenya capitulated to excessive foreign interference and is now paying the ultimate price for it.


In both Nigeria and Kenya, the EU offered some money, demanded pride of place at meetings of national electoral umpires and wanted unchecked access to the biometric data on all registered voters. In Nigeria, a patriotic Maurice Iwu and a confident INEC refused the EU money and the demands based on sound national security considerations. And this was the point when the EU at once began a sustained international and local campaign of discrediting the Nigerian election and INEC leadership. This sowed discord among the citizens of Nigeria, the political parties and the contestants for office. Added to this were the other problems Nigeria already had to deal with such as the militancy in the Niger Delta as well as some in Kano and Yobe states. But Nigeria was to overcome because Maurice Iwu refused to play wimp like his Kenyan counterpart, who has become notorious for allowing foreigners too much leeway and now seems unwilling to defend the result he declared.

INEC and Nigerian authorities did a very good job in saving Nigeria another sad story in our history. Today INEC and Dr. Maurice Iwu have been vindicated when you look at what is happening to Kenya primarily because the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) accepted the controversial demands Maurice Iwu had rejected and thus paved the way for a situation that has made the foreign observers the ultimate electoral umpires for a sovereign and stable nation like Kenyan. For some peanuts and poor handling of her national security, Kenyan now has to deal being turned against itself and for the first time in its post-colonial history. Now with more than 700 people killed by mob and more than three hundred thousand people displaced and turned to refugees, the same two-faced EU is still on hand to help settle the problem they fueled. This has become the lot of Africans every election time, except for Nigeria which, through Maurice Iwu’s eyes, saw Kenya and rejected it before it happened.

According to a recent report by Reuters of January 17, 2008 on aid to Kenya: “European Union should freeze all aid to the Kenyan government until the crisis over President Mwai Kibaki's disputed re-election is solved, members of the European Parliament have said. The lawmakers, who criticized the EU executive for disbursing 40.6 million euros ($NZ78.24 million) of aid a day after the election, said the result was not credible and called for a fresh vote if a fair recount was not possible. The European Parliament asks for the freezing of all further budgetary support to the government of Kenya until a political resolution to the present crisis has been found. The disputed election has dented Kenya's democratic credentials and rattled donors. Post-election turmoil, in which hundreds have been killed, has hit Kenya's economy as well as supplies to east and central African neighbors. Although its aid is limited compared with what it gives poorer African countries, the EU is one of Kenya's top donors, providing 290 million euros between 2002 and 2007…...” unquote

As an African, I am sick and tired of the problems and havoc election has caused Africans simply because we take some aids and economic assistance that don’t mean much to our overall national development. Nigeria has matured to a point where we must reject any attempt to dictate impossible electoral values to us just because of some small foreign grants we can afford from a day’s oil royalties. As a people, we have had our fair share of foreign-instigated conflicts during our infancy as a nation and we can ill-afford such conflicts in our present state of national maturity. In 1966, my father, my family, uncles, relatives and thousands of my people and other tribes were butchered in Northern Nigeria during and after an election which led to two bloody coups in rapid succession. My heritage and faith as a person born in Northern Nigeria was totally destroyed. Evidence is legion that another major part of the reason why these had to happen was because we had easily accepted the overbearing interference and influence of the British in our domestic politics and their instigation of bitter tribal politics in what was supposed to be a healthy contest amongst African brothers that happen to speak different languages. A repeat could have occurred in 2007 if Maurice Iwu had not been around to ensure that the transition took place despite all the international and domestic conspiracies to scuttle it.

Thus, looking at Kenya, and how Maurice Iwu saved the day in Nigeria, these questions arise in my mind: Does election or democracy really matter for Africans, given that both are creating more and more problems for us? Is there any other alternative for selecting our leaders in Africa in the face of this mindset from the West that African elections are not credible? Are we being herded to a corner where we can no longer be confident of our hard-won sovereignty and then go wholesale to invite our former colonial masters back to conduct elections for us? Is there no way we can have some sort of a tenured electoral umpire (one that has delivered on a transition election) at times like this when our nation is still in democratic transition?

While considering these questions, we must first deal with the problems which are already identified as constituting some of the drag that has bedeviled our difficult match to democracy. We must begin with the role of foreign election monitors, especially the EU genre, which all together must be told clearly where their role begins and ends. Their combined influence on local electoral logistics must be curbed, otherwise we may fall into the situation that led to the problem in Kenya where these foreign observers/monitors arrogated the powers and reach of the national electoral umpires to themselves and began to call the shots as though they are the final arbiters of all elections held in Africa, and thereby undermining the local constitution and authorities. Election is one of the most important and true tests of a nation’s sovereignty and coming of age, and therefore any nation perceived as wobbling on delivering on her national elections courts the disrespect and overlordship of other nations.


When these observers/monitors discredit the election authorities working under the difficult conditions of over-heated transitions, it becomes humanly impossible for the natives or ordinary people to respect the law and order in place, if not the election outcome as well. How can you expect your citizens to respect poll results declared by electoral umpires that have already been discredited by all manners of foreigners with doubtful intentions towards your country? No election is perfect and also cannot be expected to reflect values foreign to the locale where it is conducted. The Europeans learned from their mistakes and so, they should encourage Africans to learn from their own mistakes as well. Disparagement or reckless assessments intended to isolate the electoral leadership will never cut it.

Part of the effort therefore is to encourage aggressive information management on the part of African governments of the day to counter any negative misinformation that attempts to discredit our electoral umpires and the institutions we have in place at the given point in time. Lessons can be learned from India, Taiwan, South Africa, and other emerging democracies which have done well at countering negative press and succeeded in projecting an acceptable level of some electoral purity. And most importantly, we must understand that electoral tribunals (and judgments issuing from them) are part of the overall process of all elections even in advanced democracies. Therefore, we must refrain from this infantile tendency to celebrate yet another nullification of an election as further proof of how rotten our elections are. In our system of phased electoral process, INEC is merely the agency of original jurisdiction (much like a trial court with original jurisdiction), with finality of election outcomes residing with the tribunals and other higher courts. Thus, it will not be fair to call for resignation of an INEC boss merely because a result he declared had been overturned without also calling for the mass resignation of all trial judges whose judgments are overturned on appeal.

By: Ugo Harris Ukandu
Nigeria Democracy and Justice Project,
 Washington, DC.


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