INEC, CONTRACTORS AND THE MEDIA
Immediate past Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Maurice Iwu, would go down in history as the man who made the most sacrifice in the nation's electoral history. He had been vilified, even by those who have now admitted that he was not the problem of our perennial electoral woes. Never in the nation's electoral history had one man been so singled out for orchestrated chastisement by persons who actually were the perpetrators of all electoral evils and who, in any sane society, ought to be in jail.
Right from the day he was appointed and without giving him any occasion to resume and prove himself, the critics and their paymasters went to town with the hurriedly fabricated story that the professor of pharmacognosy never attended the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), as he claimed. Not even the efforts of Iwu's UNN classmates to repudiate the story cut ice with his traducers. And once they realised that their story could not sell among Nigerians, the critics switched to the next script. This time, they claimed that Iwu never had a patent, as he claimed. They argued that Iwu's claim to have discovered a cure for Ebola virus was a fluke, a scientific heist. Again, their story refused to fly. Those who had worked with him, both in Nigeria and in the United States rallied round him.
This trend continued all through his five years tenure as INEC tenure. Now, out of office you would expect that the campaign to hunt him down would cease. Never! This time, a remnant of the old tribe of Iwu critics has continued in their old habit. This time, apparently tired of fabricating new lies to suit the caprice of their paymasters, they now rehash the same old wild tales they have been telling since 2006.
Early this month, they used the platform of Insider magazine to spin their story. And what was that? That Iwu awarded contract for the supply of transparent ballot boxes to a Nigerian company, Emchai Nigeria Limited, without clearance from another Nigerian company, Bedding Holdings Limited, which claimed it has the sole franchise for the supply of such boxes in Nigeria .
Strangely, the story was not that the company that got the contract did not supply the materials but that both INEC and the contractor did not get the nod of the acclaimed owner of the patent. Yet, the story mocks logic in its inability to repudiate the fact that the company that eventually supplied the materials also has its own patent to trade and transact business on ballot boxes.
Again, it is public knowledge that this matter has been a subject of litigation in a court of law. Why are the sponsors of the story shying away from judicial process, which is the best and proper channel to settle such dispute that borders on an intricate legal matter like patent? Nigeria is not a stranger to patent laws; therefore, we expect that Nigerian courts would be competent enough to handle disputes arising from such matter.
The thrust of the story is that INEC under Sir Abel Guobadia entered into a licence agreement with Bedding, which will enable the commission procure and use such material. While one does not dispute the existence of such agreement or the claims by both Bedding and Emchai that they each have their respective patents duly issued by the relevant authorities, one is at a loss why, in a democracy, Nigerians seem to have jettisoned the old and scared order of seeking redress through the court of law. Instead, what we see today is a desperation to try persons and institutions in the media.
This media trial of the electoral institution, surprisingly, has been extended to the Professor Attahiru Jega era. Critics of INEC have, without waiting for Jega to conduct the first election, dismissed his efforts so far as a well choreographed script by the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to rig the election. The report even insinuated that the present INEC leadership has entered into yet another contractual obligation with Emchai for the supply of ballot boxes for the forthcoming election, a situation which going by the slant of the report is yet another fraud in the offing.
The report has thrown up several posers. Is it possible for one organisation to claim monopoly in a business, in a democracy that promotes free enterprise and competition? In a situation where two or more bodies are laying claims to a patent, the proper thing should be to go to court rather than resort to trial by the media.
My initial reaction after reading the story was to spare a thought for Guobadia, Iwu and Jega. Because of the billions of Naira involved in the conduct of elections, people see INEC as a contract-awarding agency. Yet, the business of conducting election goes beyond award of contracts.
This writer is an avid apostle of patriotism and on that note, I commend the award of contracts to indigenous firms. But going by the unfolding events, INEC should be wary of desperate businessmen who would deploy media intimidation to commit the commission into dancing to their own drum beats. The fact that INEC, under Iwu or Jega, did not award contract to a particular firm does not make the process flawed. Enough of this unwarranted trial of INEC via the media. And enough of the anti-Iwu, anti-Jega gimmicks.
- Ahmed M. Maiyaki
Wuse Zone 6, Abuja