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Prof. Iwu's refereeing of Nigeria's 2007elections, Obasanjo's party and internationalcommunity

BY CHIDO NWANGWU in Abuja (Nigeria) and Houston,Texas

April 2, 2006, USAfrica, Houston, Texas:
Prof. Maurice Mmaduakolam Iwu, born on April 21, 1950 in Umuezeala,Umukabia, Ehime Mbano in the eastern Imo State of Nigeria, has theextraordinary, historical coincidence of refereeing the presidentialelections in Nigeria on the day of his 57th birthday. Evidently, hehas the most challenging"government work" in Nigeria, today, except being the president ofNigeria. He undertsands his job is not an easy one; not by the factsof the controversial history of elections, his predecessors' ratingsand the compelling realities and interests competing in today'sNigeria. Iwu, Chairman of the Independent National ElectoralCommission (INEC) is, yet another, scholar in government -- with highexpectations to perform.

To have a first-hand look and feel for the preparations for theall-important 2007 elections in Nigeria, I flew from Houston toNigeria; spending some time in Abuja, Owerri, Port Harcourt andLagos. Listening to him in his office at the headquarters ofNigeria's elections body, INEC in Abuja, you can tell thebio-resources and pharmacognosy specialist is determined to makehistory on the side of progress despite the odds. But his focus onthe logistics of the elections and litigations of aspirants in thelaw courts have kept him in the eye of the storm.

Some key members of the opposition parties insist he's doingPresident Obasanjo's bidding, and in part Anambra's Andy Uba's (whothey allege had a hand in Iwu's appointment). He scoffs at bothallegations and dismisses them as reflecting empty speculation--citing a previously unreported story (he told USAfrica and CLASS thestory) about the late application entry of one of the Obasanjo familyfriends. The fellow's inability to make the qualification deadlineset by INEC was not overlooked by a friendlydiscussion involving Obasanjo, Iwu and the president's daughter, theruling PDP senate candidate Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello (see exclusivereport below).

This former professor at the Univeristy ofNigeria Nsukka (where he still fondly recalls we first met in theearly 1980s --with me as a student of political science/publicadministration) has to contend with the pre-election assessments andexpectations of Nigerians and the international community.While he sees himself as a visionary and strategically-mindedpublic servant, his critics argue that the INEC which he leads hasbeen unrealistic in planning and not fully prepared for the mamothchallenges ahead of the 2007 elections. Also, the Alliance forDemocracy whose presidential candidate died in March 2007 hasdemanded same "based on the laws of Nigeria...." INEC says no, theelections will go on. The same position is held by Obasanjo'sgovernment. The opposition spearheaded by the Action Congress (led byObasanjo's VP Atiku Abubakar) has charged INEC of flagrant disregardof the law courts and the law.

Amidst some of the court challenges and logistical issues, thereare some traditional rulers, political activists and partisans andcivil rights protagonists who are calling for the April 2007elections to be postponed. The new Sultan of Sokoto Alhaji MuhammadSa'ad Abubakar III is the most visible and powerful Nigerian whospoke while I was in Nigeria in March 2007 that "We cannot sit down,fold our arms and say everything is OK." Obasanjo dismissed thosesaying the elections will not hold as "speaking from theirnose"!!

But the American and international communities (the dominantdemographics of USAfrica, USAfricaonline.com, The Black BusinessJournal and CLASSmagazine's readership) may not need to focus on whatcolorful parts of the human anatomy Nigerian leaders speak from aslong as the elections are seen to be fair, free and reflecting thewill of the people.

An unstable transition will set Nigeria back, again! Mainlythrough 2006 and into 2007, some international investors haveremained wary, watching, hesitant to expand new investments; they arewaiting to see if the emerging liberalization/privatization of theeconomy will be matched with political plurality. Iwu fullyunderstands the connection. The violence and terror in the NigerDelta have complicated the oil and gas business as much as it has thevoting logistics in the area. I was in Port Harcourt, the nervecenter of daily petroleum commercial activity in the area. The NigerDelta will be quite intersting to watch.

At the end of the day, the success of the INEC in running a free,fair and accurate election will help move Nigeria's democracyforward. On the other hand, any shenagigans or any facts indicatingthat the powerful INEC is siding the president's ruling PDP partywill cast a long shadow on the determination of Iwu, a scholar andpolicy thinker to institutionalize voting and electoral ethos in thelargest democracy in Africa. Iwu whose resume holds such achievementsas getting his professional training at the University of Bradford ,Bradford , England , receiving a Master of Pharmacy degree in 1976and a Ph.D in 1978. He is a recipient of many academic honors,including WHO Visiting Scholar to Dyson Perrins Laboratory,University of Oxford (1980), Fulbright Senior Scholar Award ( OhioState University, Columbus Ohio and the Department of Chemistry,Columbia University, New York (1983), Senior Research Scholar awardU.S National Research International Prize for Ethonobiolology(1999)

Prof. Iwu told me that contrary to the charges of lack of fullpreparedness, the INEC has marshalled out the logistical support andelectronic platforms to revolutionize and improve the electionslandscape of Nigeria. Only in a few weeks, the rubber will hit theroad , and the final test of INEC's efforts and Iwu's vision will beseen across ballot boxes and results across the far-flunggeo-political arenas of Nigeria. One fact I can tell him: both thewinners and losers of the elections will mention his name for good orbad.
CLICKhere for EXCERPTS from part 1 of our exclusive interview inAbuja

CLICKhere for EXCERPTS from part 2 of our exclusive interview inAbuja


ChidoNwangwu, recipient of the Journalism Excellence award(1997), is Founder and Publisher of USAfricaonline.com (firstAfrican-owned U.S.-based professional newspaper to be published onthe internet), USAfrica The Newspaper,CLASS magazineand TheBlack Business Journal. andother blogs He has served as an adviser to the Mayor ofHouston on international business (Africa) and appears as an analyston CNN, VOA, NPR, CBS News, NBC and ABC news affiliates.e-mail: Chido@USAfricaonline.com. wireless: 832-45-CHIDO (24436).
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