SECRETS ABOUT 2007 ELECTIONS - IWU
Ever since he left office, Professor Maurice Iwu, erstwhile chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), figuratively went underground, shunning the limelight. He refused to speak to the press even when journalists thought he ought to speak, especially during the last general elections.
Iwu has broken his silence.
In an interview, he explained some of his actions, as chief electoral officer of the nation. He talked about threat to his life and others. 'There were several threats to my life as the chairman of the commission; serious threats both from within the country and external interests outside Nigeria, but none of those threats deterred me.'
He stated also: 'The vicious campaign against INEC and its leadership was actually launched in 2006, a clear one year before the 2007 elections. The well financed and organised campaign had little to do with the conduct of elections. I endured the wicked lies, abuse and fabricated stories against me and my family by individuals and groups who believed that I wronged them by not acceding to their various unpatriotic requests.'
'If people go to the tribunals to seek for redress of perceived injustice, as a result of flawed elections, it is better than having them kill themselves. Imagine 520 people killed during the last election; that is inhuman.'
How do you unwind after the day's job?
At the end of the day, I catch up on the papers and watch international news TV stations. I review the day with my family and sometimes we entertain visiting friends and family members. I start my day with attendance to Morning Mass at the nearest Catholic Church and logically my day really ends with the night devotion. I begin to unwind from about 7 p.m. the way I began the day by saying my morning devotion.
What is your favourite pastime or hobbies?
I read, mostly subjects unrelated to my technical area of interest. I play Chess. I devote a considerable time in the activities of my Church. Since leaving INEC, I have been involved in the work of the Passionists Congregation, a small group within the Catholic Church founded by St. Paul of the Cross in 1720, dedicated to Passion of the Crucified Christ. We have just established the first community house for the Congregation in Nigeria at Umukabia, Imo State.
Do you play games of any sort, and why?
I used to play table tennis, but I hardly have time to play any formal games now. I say formal because when you have grandchildren they can engage you in any game they like, even football. I do exercise.
What kind of music do you listen to?
I like all kinds of music. I used to listen to jazz and soft instrumental music most of the time, but these days I am attracted more to gospel music. I play the guitar a little so I play with my grandchildren sometimes.
You must have developed very thick skin against criticisms over your tenure in INEC and the election you conducted. Given the benefit of hindsight, what will you say is your greatest regret?
I really do not mind criticism, as such. Constructive criticism is healthy and can only make you perform better but when criticism is used as a propaganda tactics to undermine or even destroy an institution, then the only logical counter-measure is to ignore it completely. I was very mindful of the objective of most of those who criticised us. I am a self-assured person and weighed every decision I made carefully, so such rubbish hardly moves me.
The other aspect of the so-called criticism is that it was very difficult to separate it from the politically motivated and well-funded smear campaign against my person and my family. The fact that somebody is occupying public position exposes you to public scrutiny and criticism, but it should never be a license for a deliberate vilification and abuse. That should never be tolerated. I was sure of myself, so I was really not bordered by all the hired attacks on my person.
On regrets, there is really not much that I regret in my personal conduct of the 2007 elections or my headship of INEC. When I accepted to head the commission, I was under no illusion as to the difficult job I was asked to perform. Nigeria had not been able to successfully transfer power from one elected civilian government to another democratically elected government since its independence 47 years ago and that was the challenge. I had to work with a sharply polarized workforce negatively impacted by the division within the ruling and dominant party, and the acrimonious relationship among the political elite. In such a charged atmosphere every move we made was suspect.
It was alleged that former President Obasanjo tried to arm-twist you to do the impossible before the 2007 elections, but you refused and went ahead to conduct the elections against all odds. Could that be the reason the elections appeared fraught with crises?
Not really. The issues were beyond President Olusegun Obasanjo as a person. Most Nigerian politicians, for different reasons, did not want us to conduct election in 2007 and they did everything to frustrate us.
We were seen as a stooge of Obasanjo and that you were working in line with the tenure extension project and suddenly you backed out. What were your reasons?
If you know me well, then you will agree that I can never be a stooge to any human being. I believe that President Obasanjo was a strong and effective president and provided the type of leadership that the country needed at that time. He had issues with a section of the political elite, which had nothing to do with the allegation of tenure extension and anybody who served during his administration was easily labeled by this vocal clique that hated him with a passion. If I was in any way in favour of tenure elongation, I had ample opportunity to actualise it by simply postponing the presidential election; first, with the death of the presidential candidate of the Alliance for Democracy, Chief Adebayo Adefarati, a few days to the elections, secondly, the Supreme Court verdict of April 16, 2007 to include His Excellency, Atiku Abubakar on the ballot only five days to the election scheduled for April 21, and thirdly, the late arrival of the printed ballot papers would have provided acceptable alibi for the postponement of the presidential election and the constitutional crisis that would have resulted would have made the president to remain in office. Even after the elections, with the problems we had with that election, I was under immense pressure from highly placed Nigerians to declare the election inconclusive, which would have resulted in an interim government, again with the sitting president having the upper hand, whether to remain in office or leave. My over-riding concern was the stability of the country and to avoid the loss of innocent lives such a crisis would have brought. Now, I am told that such considerations are not really important after all. How sad!
What's your understanding or knowledge of the Nigerian environment before you became the INEC chairman? We ask this question because the impression out there is that you were just brought in to do hatchet job.
Before INEC, as you probably have found out, I was a lecturer at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and while at the university, I started as the UNN branch secretary of the academic union and during that period, when we had a struggle about the sate of Nigerian universities and the salaries of university workers, Festus Iyayi, the late Mamoud Tukur, Asobie, Julius Ihonvbere and Biodun Jeifo were the ones that fought for university autonomy and made it possible to separate the university system from civil service salary structure; that was my first entry into the Nigerian political scene and that had its cost. My wife still remembers the harassments we had during the military regime. That was the actual fundamental struggle for democracy in Nigeria and the current INEC chairman later became the president of ASUU and I served as the vice president. We were together during the military days. In fact, the then Head of State still remembers me till today as to what we did at the time. Some of the people who were in the current scene were with us in those days; we were detained by the military at the time and it was a struggle that we did until some of us then left the country.
During the time of the struggle, some of the names I know now, I knew way back, somebody like Femi Falana, for instance, was our lawyer. I remember an issue we had with the university authority and the military wanted to use the students' union leadership at UNN to test out a particular decree and then Femi Falana had to travel by bus over night from Lagos to Enugu to be able to help us in that legal case. Our main lawyer then was Alao Aka Bashorun; he is late now; so we were all together to help in the struggle. So, when I hear people talk that I just came from the blues; no; it is a commitment to democracy; that was why I took the INEC job. I just read in the papers a few days ago, somebody was questioning my rationale for abandoning my lucrative job to come to Nigeria to take the INEC job. It was because my understanding was that nobody had been able to succeed in piloting INEC or piloting the country to move from one civilian regime to the other. Each time, something happens and Nigeria went back to its chaotic scene. The reason was not that Nigerians didn't want it; it was purely a management issue and that was how I saw my job as a purely technocratic management issue that needed a strong will to succeed. I didn't think that my job was to go and start counting ballot papers in the field because there was no way I could multiply myself into the 120,000 polling units, no that will be a magic. So, that was essentially me before I came into INEC. I had an unblemished record, as a democrat, provable one, not by newspaper writing but as a product of a struggle.
What position did you hold when Prof. Attahiru Jega was the ASUU president?
I was the vice president of ASUU and we were also in what we called the 'strategy and options committee' with Professors Julius Ihonvbere, G.G Dara and others. There was a commitment that we had in making changes happen. So, Attahiru and I knew each other and that was why when I became INEC chairman, I had to also invite him, Festus Iyayi and others to be some sort of consultants. If you like, I gave them specific jobs to do for INEC. Attahiru Jega helped us in the North-West, in the whole issue of electoral violence and then Festus Iyayi helped us with the electoral mind set issue.
Let us look at your relationship with Prof. Attahiru Jega. When you came in, you recalled the good old days of ASUU, so you made use of their intellect to contribute to INEC and to the work that you were being given. Now that he took over from you, has he invited you also to participate in helping to educate him in some areas aware that you were both pals in the good old days of ASUU?
Not really, but that is an area I would not want to go into. I do not want to give any attention to the falsehood dished out by the so-called opposition media. For instance, when there was a problem with the April 2, National Assembly election, it was easy for some media houses to blame me for it. In fact, they said I was appointed as adviser or consultant to INEC and there was no truth in that. I actually had no direct contact with INEC or any input in the election. We are very good friends but I have nothing to do with his job.
You have been trying to be modest in your assessment of you era at INEC, but Nigerians call you all kinds of names. Are you not worried?
No, I'm not worried at all. The issue here is that you cannot do the kind of fundamental change that I did without people getting offended. If somebody is used to lazing about in bed and you just wake him up, he will wake up with a frown; so what we did was necessary for this country. In fact, it is the other way round; we obeyed the rule to the letter; if I knew that if you don't like a law, you get the National Assembly to change it, we could have done that, but we obeyed the rule to the letter; that was the difference. We thought that the days for the elections were sacrosanct; we didn't play around with it; we thought that certain things had to follow certain rules; we believed that parties would also do their own part, but they didn't; so that is the key. It would have been very easy for me to blame it on somebody else; no, it is important that we were able to stick to the rule of the game, as laid down and that was what we did.
What is your take about conduct of elections in Nigeria?
Human institutions evolve. With time, the system will be able to deliver flawless elections. Democratic culture is one of those things that you cannot hurry, people learn from their mistakes and the system improves with experience. There has to be a fundamental acceptance of the principle of one-person-one-vote by all of us, even at the party primaries. Most Nigerians are uncomfortable with the truth and it is bizarre when people lie to themselves and proceed to condemn others based on their false re-configuration of reality. You may be right but we have to first of all accept the truth or face the eventual consequences of the lies we are telling ourselves now. Freedom and truth are inseparable.
You were once quoted by the media as saying that you reserved your comments about the 2011 elections because you did not want to join issues with anybody. That was then. Now , what is your take on the 2011 elections?
I still reserve my comments on 2011 elections or any comparison whatsoever. I brought in far reaching innovations and institutional developments in INEC that will continue to sustain our democratic experience. The term 'DDC' is now used freely in Nigeria now, but people are quick to forget that the phrase 'Direct Data Capture' did not exist in Nigeria electoral lexicon before I became INEC chairman.
Your elections produced 2,000 tribunal cases. Now, there are about 400 petition cases, which mean, things are getting better. Do you subscribe to that?
Things have to ordinarily, get better; we worked for it. Let me also put it very bluntly even if I may sound very immodest. 2011 wouldn't have happened without Prof. Iwu. I laid the ground work; whether Nigerians give me the credit or not, it doesn't matter; history will bear me up that we were the ones that introduced the use of direct data capture into the voter registration system; we were the ones that said that adhoc staff had to be done away with and got the NYSC; we were the ones that said that formal training had to be given to those who conduct elections; we were the ones that were able to hold political parties accountable for their conduct; they were angry with it, but that was how it should be. So, as I said, it wasn't a popularity contest at all. The issue is that our law provides for people to seek redress in court. I would still prefer to have 2,000 cases than to lose lives; that election in 2007 was the most peaceful we have had for a very long time and then a situation where then we had many inter-party cases about who was the candidate and who was not the candidate, that has nothing to do with INEC; the election itself, in terms of being peaceful, was peaceful.
So, I still don't want to compare, as I said; when the time comes, historians will be able to judge. The IG of Police said that 520 persons died in 2011; if it is a country where human lives matter, then I would prefer that people seek redress in court rather than take machetes and guns.
There were threats to your life when you presided over INEC. Were you frightened as a result of the threats to allow your adhoc staff do whatever that pleased the powers-that-be?
There were several threats to my life as the chairman of the commission, serious threats, both from within the country and external interests outside Nigeria, but none of those threats deterred me. You may recall the issue of the truck laden with gas-cylinders that were targeted at my office on the eve of the presidential election. I had to relocate to INEC HQ annex on Airport Road to announce the result of the presidential election. I had to be completely incommunicado for 24 hours after the release of the results. Even the conduct of the re-run election in Bayelsa State was at immense personal risk and I had to undertake a pre-election visit to the state at the height of the militant activity and kidnapping in that state. The job was unusually dangerous because of the political tension at the time, but I was confident that God will see me through and He did.
Concerning the use of the ad hoc staff, I was the one that phased out the use of ad-hoc staff based on the experience of 2007. It is the RECs that recruit the ad-hoc staff and there is absolutely nothing any INEC chairman could do to select and employ the thousands of personnel needed for the general elections. We introduced the use of NYSC personnel and established the Electoral Institute for staff training and process development. For 2011; we had embarked on the re-structuring of the electoral officers cadre and the employment of additional personnel. It was obvious to any discerning person that I was not the type you could easily intimidate and that was why they resulted in public propaganda against me - not necessarily by the opposition parties.
Your integrity has been questioned severally by public commentators and speakers over the outcome of the 2007 elections. How do you feel each time such scenarios arisen?
It is indeed, unfortunate that we have such level of mischief, treachery and wickedness in our society. There are many key players in the electoral process, including the election management body (INEC), political parties, the government and the electorate. It takes the combined efforts of all these players and others to determine the outcome of an election. As chairman of INEC, I was in no position to influence the outcome of the 2007 elections. The constitutional role of each player in the process was very clear. I went the extra length to fulfill my own role in the process and greatly improved the system. The political class always find it expedite to sacrifice others in their quest for power. Former governor of Cross-River State, Donald Duke, summed it up well in his lecture at Transcorp Hotel last year (July 14, 2010) in which he painted a graphic account on 'How Governors Rig Elections.' It clearly showed that INEC chairman cannot influence what happens in the field on Election Day. To date (more than four year after the 2007 elections), no single person, either staff or participants at the elections has accused Prof. Iwu of directing, instructing or participating in any manner whatsoever in any electoral malpractice. INEC rose to the challenge of the 2007 elections, in spite of the monumental hurdle placed before it by the political environment and the attitude of the key participants in the electoral process. The commission managed, with the grace of the Almighty God, to provide the platform that enabled Nigeria to transit from one civilian regime to another.
There was also a section of the political class that was not ready for any election in 2007 and adopted a strategy of discrediting the commission and holding me personally responsible for their failure. There's another group, including those who actually won the election but decided to distance themselves from the institution and the system. They condemned the election, but lacked the moral courage to resign from the positions they held that resulted from that election. There was also the international dimension, which is still too murky and dangerous to even discuss now. Could you believe that over $200 million was spent on a hate campaign against me and other targeted persons? The public is gullible and when bombarded intensely with any information, no matter how improbable, will begin to accept them as the truth. As I indicated earlier, I know myself and I treat with disdain comments from hired writers and paid agents of foreign interests.
The vicious campaign of calumny against INEC and its leadership was actually launched in 2006, a clear one year before the 2007 elections. The well financed and organised campaign had little to do with the conduct of the elections. I endured the wicked lies, abuse and fabricated stories against me and my family by individuals and groups who believed that I wronged them by not acceding to their various unpatriotic requests, not because I couldn't defend myself at that time, but because doing so would have been a major distraction from a major task of conducting the first civilian-to-civilian democratic election in Nigeria. I took it as part of my sacrifice for the stability of the nation.
Before you left office, there was some kind of thanksgiving that was held in your church in Imo State and an array of Nigerian politicians attended. Why would such people identify with you openly when many believed you conducted bad elections?
I think they see me as a friend, if you know Nigerian politics well, if you are not in office, nobody comes near you; for them to come after I had left office shows you the kind of person I am. I don't think we are the most grateful set of people on earth, we maybe the happiest people on earth, as the papers say, but in terms of gratitude and sustaining friendship, I don't think so. The issue there is that it was a solemn occasion; it was not just a thanksgiving. This is a thanksgiving my family does every First Sunday of Advent, whether I am in office or out of office, but we were also dedicating a church and we went out of our way to invite those people because we were building a Cathedral near my place.
Ordinarily, we don't invite politicians because it was purely a spiritual event; so I think they came in solidarity to us. I had very good relationship with people from my own point of view; with people who are in politics. The three presidential candidates were persons I really admired. I had tremendous respect for them. I wouldn't mind any day if any of them is Nigeria's president because they are really honorable people; so I didn't have any issues at all inviting them to anything that we were doing.
It is understandable that Nigerian politicians will naturally want to cultivate or court relationship with anybody who is INEC chairman for one favour or the other. Did you experience such when you were INEC chairman?
Of course, people would want to cultivate you and all that, but I am also not a very outgoing person; so I hardly left this house to visit anybody. I kept in touch with the people I knew before I got into office, but the key thing there is that those of them who know me know that I am a very strong-willed person. If I take any decision, it stays, except you counter it with a superior argument. I won't change it based on sentiments that I know you. No, I think many people did respect that and I didn't have that kind of pressure.
After the 2007 elections, the late President Yar'Adua said in Germany that the elections were massively rigged and flawed. Were you not disturbed by that statement?
I didn't read it. I didn't hear what he probably said or read; if it was massively rigged or flawed, he would know better. My job was to organise elections. I wasn't a player. I wasn't in the field; he was in PDP, he was a political party chieftain, maybe they rigged. I wouldn't know and except if you are God, there is no way you will be in Abuja and know what happened in Katsina or wherever, except somebody told you that they rigged. The other aspect of it is that if he, indeed, believed that the elections were rigged, then he should have resigned, it's just a moral thing to do. If I find that I am a product of fraudulent process, I will just quit.
On account of several cases that were upturned by the tribunals, were you not disturbed?
These are issues that history will be able to know what happened; it is still too early to comment as to what happened. I wasn't disturbed; we did our job, and the electoral tribunals are part and parcel of the electoral process. Voting is one thing, but the electoral process include a review at the tribunal. I think that is something positive for our system rather than negative.
Before your tenure expired, we heard that you were lobbying to be retained. If per adventure you have the opportunity again, would you still want to play the role of INEC chairman?
Let me correct one thing. I never lobbied anybody that I would like to be re-appointed. The Senate president, David Mark knew that I didn't want to continue. The president knew that I didn't want to continue. I even took certain governors into confidence and told them that I didn't want to continue. If I had taken that gamble of continuing, my family would have been affected because we agreed, within the family, that I had had enough. I only agreed to stay till the time I left office to make a proper transition until somebody was appointed. So, those are the kind of rumours you get in this country, you keep quiet because those who are on the know, know the truth. As I said, the people I should inform, I had informed and they knew that I had no intention of staying.
How was your family disturbed?
Not the abuse, but the threats to their own lives because I have grown up children with their own families; there was one of the threats that we got that did not target me but threatened my children and grandchildren and telling me where they go to school, where they were and all that. I still have the written note, not even verbal and phone; no family would want to go through that for another five years. So, my family and I agreed that I quit. However, in the interest of the institution, it was necessary not to present the picture of a lame-duck chairman. It would have been bad for INEC and democracy.
You worked in the USA for 14 years. Were you having some kind of support from the American government when you were INEC chairman?
No, there was no such support.
When you were getting threats, did you seek International support?
We were totally on our own because we didn't even know where the threats were coming from, so it would have been very foolish to seek external support.
Were you banking on South-East support?
I think I even had more problems from the South East than most other parts of the country, but God provided us with adequate intelligence, which was most important and then the security that came with it; it was all because I had this child-like trust in my God and he never disappointed me.
How do you see the accusations labeled against you?
I am a Christian; the man I follow, the God I worship, had it worst. He was sinless, yet he was crucified and He said, 'can a slave be treated better than the master?' The answer is no. It is a wicked world, so I'm not bothered at all; if they were praising me then I would have been worried; if thieves call you a good man that means you are a thief. If they were praising me I would be worried, but I did something that didn't benefit them and that is why some of them are upset. I don't mind what people say; they are entitled to their opinion, but where the thing is so sad is when people tell themselves a lie and live with the lies. During the last election, there was nothing they didn't write; first, that I was an IBB campaigner and the General and I have never sat down to talk about politics in my life. Secondly, that I supported ACN with N750 million and then asking the security agencies to investigate me; thirdly, that I bought a paper for N 2 billion.
You could see a build-up and then you sit down and ask yourself what have you done to this person and the answer is that you have done nothing. And with all that, the good Lord answered, you saw the reply, I didn't have to reply. So, if I have such an advocate (God), why should I try bothering to do a 'flimsy' reply? I have this self-assuredness that my God will always be there for me.
What informed the decision of INEC not to number the ballot papers that were used for 2007 election?
People quickly forget; we did not deliberately decide not to number the ballot papers. The ballot papers were numbered, printed, ready to go to press; now the Supreme Court gave a judgment on April 16, saying that we were wrong not to have included the name of Atiku Abubakar in the ballot papers. We had made a plan B that included everybody but the plan B became faulty because of the fact. When the process was started, we didn't want to see the ballot papers until it was ready; we didn't even preview it just to make sure that there was no leakage.
When we got that judgment, we had four days to print and circulate 65 million ballot papers. I remember one of the secret services to one of the foreign countries said it was impossible, that it will take more than God for the election to take place using those ballot papers and I called him and told him you shouldn't say that there is nothing more than God, that God will do it for me and He did it. We printed those ballot papers in two days, flew them into the country, distributed them. They were printed in batches using different presses; so there was no way they could synchronise their serial numbering and they warned us that they could not do that, but that they were going to give us batch numbers. So, if every other person played by the rule, if you were there and the election was conducted there and so on, does it matter if it was serialised or not, it's just that people were fraudulent?
Then there was lack of mutual trust; it was an emergency situation. And again, as I said, we were also working at the understanding that the election time-table was sacrosanct, that you cannot change it. Secondly and much more importantly, there was such belief that we didn't want to conduct the elections at all and if we had deferred that election by just two days, there would have been street fights. Nigerians would have still been fighting over that.
I am comfortable with the fact that people blame me for not numbering the ballot papers than that because of me, hundreds of Nigerians lost their lives. That will be something I would not be able to live with. I was comfortable with the fact that we had an emergency situation, unforeseen, unplanned for and we responded to the way we know best and rather than praise us for rising to the occasion, we were being vilified that it was deliberate.
Have you met former President Obasanjo since you left office?
Yes, I have seen him in public forum.
You have not gone to Otta to say hello to him?
I don't even know what Otta looks like. I have never been to Otta farm, contrary to what people report.
Any fundamental reason or you just chose to keep away?
No, I told you I don't visit; that is me. I stay in my house here and most of my friends will tell you that I hardly visit and they take no offence with that.
Do you exchange telephone calls?
Is he somebody you admire because you speak so proudly about him at some fora?
Yes, I admire him as a leader. I believe that God loves this country and I believe that He sends to people He loves certain persons at certain times to deliver them. Obasanjo or somebody like him was necessary at the time he presided over the country and I still believe that.
What do you have to say about President Jonathan's Presidency?
He is the president and he is trying his best based on the circumstances he found himself.
And the election that produced him has also gone to the Court of Appeal and perhaps, will end in the Supreme Court. Are you worried about the processes?
No, it is part of the process; it is part of the electoral process. Elections are always contested in Nigeria. I hope nobody reads meaning into it, but once the Supreme Court makes a pronouncement, we should all accept it.
Are you still having threats to your life or to that of your family?
Not that I will like to discuss, but it is always better to take precaution.
And you are at peace with your family members?
Yes, I spend more time with my wife and four grand-kids to make up for those lost times.
You seem to be enjoying your retirement now?
Yes, in fact, I am retiring for the third time now, but I have a research organisation that I lead. I am really happy that the scientist that took charge of it did a good job and they are still running it. So, they found me a place within the organisation.
Do you still communicate with Jega till date?
Yes, we communicate, but not on INEC.
He doesn't seek your advice?
If he does, I won't tell you.