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I?m Under Pressure - TheNews/Saharareporters

June 9, 2006

What are the challenges of your assignment as the Chairman of the

Independent National Electoral Commission?

 

For most scientists, you start from the laboratory, finding solutions

to the problems confronting mankind. Before I was made National

Commissioner in September 2003, I had about 66 scientists scattered all

over the world who were working with me in a collaborative manner.

So, I am experienced in managing complex system because it is not easy to

manage scientists and achieve optimum result such that the

66 researchers achieved under my leadership. Though the management of the

electoral process is a different ball game, both entail managing a complex system.

he challenge of managing the electoral

system is mainly the mindset.

The person who has mindset does not know that

he is stereotypical and that, to me, is the greatest challenge. Some Nigerians believe that nothing good can come from INEC and this is wrong. They believe that the commission can not conduct free and fair elections. They are dead wrong.

Those who hold this view are unpatriotic, they are those who don?t campaign, they are those politicians who rig elections. But we are ready to oversee free, fair and creditable elections in 2007 and beyond. In 2007, Nigerians should expect surprises. Gone are the days when politicians rigged elections. In 2007, only the electorate on whose thighs sovereignty lays would decide their leaders. And INEC will respect the sanctity of the ballot box. Politicians and political parties that fail to canvass for votes would risk surprises. There is no other way to win than to convince the electorate by selling good manifestoes to the people.

But instead of campaigning, some politicians and political parties go about with a mindset that INEC would rig elections in favor of a particular party. I am nobody?s surrogate.

One of my friends illustrated the problems of mindset this way. A man with a mindset may draw a map of Nigeria and put Kaduna in the

North-East because that is where he wants Kaduna to be. Even if you correct it and tell him that Kaduna should be in the North-West geo-political zone, he may bluntly disagree. So the mindset issue is the greatest problem we have had since I came on board. We are poised to change this mindset, but it will take time for Nigerians to change their attitude and perception of the commission. And that was why I used the metaphor of an elephant and the small boy. The elephant follows the little boy just because of the mindset of the elephant. That is the danger of mindset.  Apart from the Rev. Chris Okotie?s Fresh Democratic Party and one other party that are campaigning and selling their manifestoes to Nigerians, the other parties with the exception of PDP are picking holes with anything

INEC does. I believe after INEC must have presided over a free and fair election, those who do not trust the commission would change this dangerous mindset in 2007.

Part of the reason this mindset refuses to die may be as a result of the way you were appointed. Besides, you have no prior experience of conducting a free and fair election.

I told you that I cannot be used or intimidated by anyone. How was my appointment unusual? After Mr. President nominated me, the National

Assembly overwhelmingly approved my appointment. So I didn?t come from the blue. The President did not impose me on Nigerians. The legislature at the national level followed the law of the land and due process to ratify my appointment. If you say I had no background of managing the electoral space you may be right, but don?t forget that I had managed the science world. And as the Vice President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), I was in the forefront of managing human beings, institutions and adding value to the system. Look, managing the electoral system is as simple as ABC if the problem of mindset is solved.

As INEC chairman, all eyes are on you. The international community is waiting to see how you will conduct the 2007 elections. Are you overwhelmed by this burden of history?

I am not overwhelmed. But I am conscious of that fact. I know that the commission?s actions, inactions and the manner we conduct the 2007 elections can make or mar the nation. I have the belief that 2007 will mark a new dawn. It will provide the opportunity to consolidate the democratic gains we have had for the past seven years. We have put our economy as a nation in order. All we need is convince ourselves that we can do it. If we do it right, you will not recognize this country in 2008.

Nigeria is the biggest market in Africa. So, whether any foreign power likes it or not we are an economic power to reckon with. I say these because people don?t know that elections can fix roads, economy, build hospitals and so on.

Secondly, I am not overwhelmed because I don?t have a camp commandant mentality. I see my job in a simple manner. Nigeria is like a bunch of flowers. The job of INEC is to provide the rope. We don?t even conduct elections. There are 500,000 people. All INEC does is to coordinate the management instruments. Five thousand out of 500,000 is just one per cent of 500,000. So we shall make sure we pick credible people who would be administrators at the polls. That is why I am asking professionals, academics, journalists and civil society groups to volunteer as honorific adhoc staff of INEC for just a week to administer or monitor the polls.

Besides, I have a team. I started with a formidable team of 12 National

Commissioners knitted together. Each one of them can enunciate the same philosophy that I have told you. We debate on issues, analyse them and arrive at policy directives within the limit of the law. Let me give you an example: when we wanted to arrive at a date for the 2007 elections, the operation department turned in their proposal, the legal people sat down to agree and disagree on some of the proposals. You can see that during the press conference, I spoke about the law as if I am a lawyer. I spoke like that because I was briefed. To answer your question, I see myself as first amongst equals in a group that is poised to conduct credible, free and fair elections that would be unprecedented in the history of Nigeria. I am a team player, I am not a lone ranger and that was why I said I don?t have a camp commandant attitude.

How do you cope with the pressure of office?

There is a lot of pressure on me. I am under pressure. But it is not in terms of people. The pressure does not stem from the demand of office.

The pressure is essentially a logistic problem which nags all chief executives. The fact that this is a game I don?t have a second chance to perform, I must fine-tune, fine-tune and fine-tune. To get the best piles a lot of pressure on me. You must have Plan A, Plan B and Plan C to achieve results. Let me give you an example. People thought we were too keen on the electronic voting machine (EVM). They believed we didn?t have options. In August 2005 when I introduced this concept, I said we were only introducing technology and that we were going to introduce a pilot, which was supposed to have ended by now, and then resort to Nigerians to know whether the EVM can be used in 2007 or not. But because of our due process regime, because of our procurement policy and the debate on the constitution at the National Assembly, INEC could not do the pilot. However, we are not hindered by the people who accused us of having hidden agenda to rig election for PDP. We only wanted to do a pilot on selected polling sites to show Nigerians that INEC has options for Nigerians in the future.

If we have hidden agenda, then the National Assembly dominated by the

PDP lawmakers wouldn?t have opposed the EVM all through. But our critics didn?t see through these discordant tunes that INEC is on its own. I am not the type that does not plan. If I were the chairman of the commission earlier, I would have concluded the voters? registration in 2005.

And this could only have been possible by meticulous planning.

INEC is crucial to the political system. Are you saying that politicians don?t pile pressure on you?

So far, none. We have cordial working relationship with the politicians across party divides. Because our jobs is to serve them. There is however pressure from political interest groups. There are people who would want to manipulate the system, manipulate the journalists. Some political groups fly a kite by selling a story idea to the media that they know is not correct. But we know that as the 2007 election is drawing close, they (politicians) will mount pressure on us. But we shall be transparent in all we do and the commission hopes that the politicians would reciprocate our due process. I will give you an example. Six weeks after we were appointed, some political interest groups sponsored a campaign of calumny against us. I call it media terrorism. From a purely technical point of view, I knew somebody was trying to attack my psychological inspiration. So I took vacation by traveling abroad because I never wanted to read the trash. I call it trash because I had not even settled down to work, yet they started attacking me. These interest groups have nothing to offer Nigerians and that is why they heat up the system and strive to discredit INEC. That is why I advise the media not to give prominence to these alarmist groups. They can criticize INEC but they should not create the impression that Nigeria is unmanageable. If somebody says he does not like me because I am short, I will not give a damn.

If a person has grievance with INEC, elections and party politics, I will listen. If somebody from Imo State says he does not like me or if he thinks that because I am from Imo State he cannot be qualified to run as president, I have no answer.  Because anybody appointed chairman of INEC must come from a state in Nigeria.

Why do you think Nigerians are suspicious of you right from the outset?

It is mindset. Something is fundamentally wrong with the people.

Somebody who is always crooked thinks that everybody he meets is a thief.

Anybody who sees my track record and background and concludes that I am not trustworthy, I think something is wrong with him. Without sounding arrogant, I think our system should be congratulated for persuading me to serve my fatherland. I have not come to INEC to accumulate.  There is no trapping that would accrue to me for accepting this job, except the satisfaction that I have served my fatherland or that I did not restrict myself to the narrow province of my discipline. And that is why I have told people that if I say vote for me, don?t, because I am not a politician. Nothing is wrong with politicians but I can?t be one because I am not disposed to seeking elective office as a result of my blunt nature.

Nigerian politics is not yet ripe for a very transparent and blunt person like Maurice.

What about pressure from the presidency? The belief is that you are not independent of the Executive arm.

I am not holding brief for the presidency. The system we have is the toughest in the world. The entire Senate had to confirm my appointment even though it was known for rejecting appointments in the past. I am not holding brief for Obasanjo, but let us go down memory lane. In 1979, I was in this country. People speculated that nothing would make     him not to hand over power to Awolowo. But did he? No. If somebody has shown rare courage in the past, for goodness sake, Nigerians should believe him.

I believe that Obasanjo cannot arm-twist INEC or foist his desires down the throat of the commission. Anybody who wins will be declared winner and INEC will award him/her certificate. I believe Obasanjo will hand over to whoever wins. As military head of state, Obasanjo, against popular speculation handed over to Alhaji Shehu Shagari in 1979 because he (Shagari) won and not Awolowo. This is democracy and I don?t see why

Obasanjo will impose a president on Nigeria, impossible. Secondly, we are putting in place a system that would make it fool-proof for a secondary school boy to conduct election as a result of some of the technologies we are proposing, because all he needs is to press a button. But the mindset of crookery sold to Nigerians by a few politicians is that every chief executive is crooked and a lackey of Obasanjo.

But are you not aware that the President nearly succeeded in manipulating the constitution to pave way for his third term? So why do you say he cannot foist his desires on Nigeria in 2007?

Thank God you said he nearly succeeded. But did the third term clause sail through at the National Assembly? The same in-built system that killed the tenure elongation clause is at INEC. The commission is ready to do the biddings of Nigerians and not any individual. After all, the

President did not tell anybody he wanted third tern and I don?t think the Obasanjo I know would have accepted to stand election in 2007 if that clause had been amended.

In the case of Anambra governorship and National Assembly elections, observers believe you were under intense pressure to bend the rules to favor the presidency and the Uba brothers?

The Anambra case was just a bad case of the 36 states. For me, it was a pass mark for Nigeria because there was confusion and long litigation only in Anambra governorship election. Chris Ngige did not win the election. It is only in Nigeria that somebody who rigged election would be bold and talk as if he had the mandate of the people. If it were the developed world, he would have hidden his face in shame. He admitted he did not win the election. So when the lower tribunal ruled against Ngige, INEC should have shouted hallelujah since we believe he didn?t win or since the powers that be wanted him removed. But INEC objected. The ruling of the court was not consistent. That was why we appealed against the ruling of the lower court and INEC was lambasted. But as soon as the appellate court quashed the appeal of Ngige, INEC awarded victory to Peter Obi, INEC didn?t begrudge Obi. I congratulated Obi and apologized for all the pains he had gone through. We gave him the certificate of return openly. In the case of Jerry Ugokwe and Christian Okeke in the Anambra House of Representatives tussle, I come from a background that I was harassed. I suffered a lot of injustice when I was a lecturer at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. I was bruised on several occasions to the effect that my fundamental human rights were trampled upon. So I have a bias for human rights. Ugokwe accused the government of the Federal Republic of violating his human rights. He said after Okeke took him to court, they did not allow him have access to an attorney. He had an attorney who walked out on him in anger. He wanted to replace him and the tribunal refused. Instead, the court said it had heard all it wanted to hear in summary and the judges gave judgement in favour of Okeke. We felt that was unfair to Ugokwe. He went to ECOWAS Court to enforce his rights. So my lawyers said we should wait for the outcome of the ECOWAS

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