Maurice Iwu’s Faux Pas
Jideofor Adibe, PhD, LLM
Professor Maurice Iwu, chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), is constantly in the news, often for the wrong reasons. Even before the conduct of the April 2007 general elections, he had attracted so much controversy that doubts were raised about his neutrality as an umpire in the elections.
To be sure, given the peculiarities of the Nigerian political environment, the zero-sum-nature of our politics, and the ‘Nigerian factor’ of not taking responsibility for failures, it is doubtful whether anyone could chair any election body in Nigeria without being dogged in controversy or accused of being a lackey of the governing political party. To this extent, some of the criticisms of Iwu are unfair or exaggerated. But Iwu, by his style and body language, has not helped matters. Some critics have gone as far as accusing him of suffering from delusions of grandeur.
Professor Iwu’s conduct of the April 2007 elections has been well documented. What has been shocking to many Nigerians and international observers was not only that the elections were very shabbily and incompetently conducted, but that INEC has continued to thump its chest for ‘a job well done’ while regarding any critic of the elections as an enemy with an ulterior motive. This is certainly unhelpful to Iwu’s image.
Related to this is that Professor Iwu sometimes conducts himself as a politician rather than an umpire of elections. For instance at the height of the criticisms of his conduct of the elections and strident calls for him to be removed, he organised, or at least welcomed, a solidarity visit from some Igbo youths. This is usually the stuff of politicians, not of appointees of sensitive public bodies such as INEC. Similarly the AIT recently showed footage of him being honoured with a chieftaincy title by his village and surrounded by top government functionaries, including Vice President Dr Jonathan Goodluck and other PDP bigwigs. That most of the dignitaries on the occasion were top members of the PDP could hardly engender confidence in him as a neutral arbiter of the electoral process.
Professor Iwu again seems to have borrowed from the book of our politicians when he turned, or closed his eyes to his Chief Press Secretary, Andy Ezeani, turning himself into an attack dog. For instance when Professor Wole Soyinka criticised the INEC chairman, Andy Ezeani retorted with uncomplimentary references to his age. Similarly when Ken Nnamani, former president of the Senate, condemned the electoral body, Ezeani again fired back by accusing him of having exerted undue pressure on INEC to postpone the elections so that he would emerge as the nation’s interim president. He also reportedly threatened that after the completion of the work of the Election Petition Tribunals, INEC would “prosecute the likes of Chief Nnamani whose electoral offences in the 2007 elections are well documented.” Vituperations such as these and a penchant for using intemperate language often makes INEC and its principal look petty, and incapable of taking or responding professionally to criticisms.
Rather than an attack dog what professor Iwu probably needs is someone who is likeable, polite and measured. A n attack dog will only reinforce the perception of his own negatives, rather than complement his weaknesses.
INEC’s communication strategy also appears flawed. One would think that INEC, following the criticisms that trailed the April 2007 election would start with mapping out the various constituencies that are critical of its work, and then devise appropriate strategies for selling its own side of the story to each constituency. The lack of strategy here is evident in the very disagreeable way INEC responded to criticisms from Professor Wole Soyinka. While even the most ardent supporters of critics like Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe and Gani Fawehinmi would very readily accept that these social critics are not always right, and that they do indeed sometimes go overboard in their criticisms, they do not doubt their integrity, honesty and patriotism and would not want to see them insulted or humiliated. In fact acolytes and admirers of these three critics could be said to constitute the core of the ‘vocal press’ and the online ‘ambush journalists’, known for their idealism and constantly spoiling for a fight, especially with top government functionaries. Therefore by being rude and trying to humiliate Wole Soyinka, INEC may have succeeded only in giving the ‘vocal press’ and ‘ambush journalists’ the fight they naturally crave for. It is remarkable that Nuhu Ribadu, the former chairman of INEC, despite his shortcomings, achieved the unique feat of winning over these three critics to his side, and by so doing also won over the ‘vocal press’ and the online ‘ambush journalists’. Writing, says Camilo José Cela, the Spanish winner of the 1989 Nobel Prize in Literature, is necessarily a denuciation of the times in which the author lives. If you extend this to these three critics, it becomes easier to understand where they are coming from.
One may also wonder which constituency INEC directs its communication to – apart from the Yaradua presidency and the PDP hierarchy - because even when Iwu makes presentations, the undeniable flourishes of brilliance in his papers are often lost in the fact that they are usually crafted as angry repudiations of the points marshalled against him by his critics. His presentations would be more effective if they were aimed at presenting and selling his own side of the story in the political marketplace of a clearly identified constituency.
Recently there was news report that INEC last year gave the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) N11,743,000 for the student body’s maiden Leadership Training Workshop in Abuja. If INEC’s un-stated aim was to win over the students as a constituency of support, then the money is simply misplaced because as a former student leader, I know there are so many political tendencies within the student body and leadership that sustaining any support from students is difficult. This is worsened by the fact that the leadership of student bodies such as NANS tends to drink from the same ideological fountain as Soyinka, Gani, Achebe, the ‘vocal press’ and the online ‘ambush journalists’. Therefore to insult and humiliate Soyinka while apparently wooing NANS doesn’t seem to make a strategic sense.
Jideofor Adibe is editor of the multidisciplinary journal, African Renaissance and publisher of the London-based Adonis & Abbey Publishers Ltd (www.adonis-abbey.com), a publisher of books and journals and provider of publishing services including editing, indexing and layout.