Home OPINION INTERVIEW June 12, 1993 Election: Journalists Failed Chief Abiola, Nigerians, Says Humphrey Nwosu

June 12, 1993 Election: Journalists Failed Chief Abiola, Nigerians, Says Humphrey Nwosu

nwosu“I submitted all the results showing that (Chief M.K.O) Abiola won. His lawyer, Ajayi, would have seen the result, and any investigative journalist would have seen it. If it were the United States, Britain or any of the Western democracies, they would have queried why Humphrey and members of the commission were sent away with nothing, no severance allowance, nothing! That was how our journey, fighting for Nigeria, ended. And people are saying I collaborated with Babangida. Tell me what any reasonable Nigerian would have done under that circumstance?” These are the words of Professor Humphrey Nwosu, the chairman of the defunct National Electoral Commission (NEC) between 1989 and 1993. The June 12, 1993 presidential election was a poll that made international headline, not just for being about the best the country had seen at the time, but also for its annulment by its own architect, then military President Ibrahim Babangida, after one of the longest political transition programmes in history.
Fifteen years after, on June 12, 2008, Nwosu launched a book, Laying the Foundation for Nigeria’s Democracy: My Account of June 12, 1993 Presidential election and Its Annulment, in which he tried to explain the June 12 affair to a nation that was eager to know what went wrong. But the book tended to raise more questions than answers before a public that had already had its mind made up about those perceived to have helped to abort the June 12 hope. Six years on, and with another crucial election next year, Nwosu gives more insights into the June 12 subject, and talks about his regrets about the incident and how Nigeria can avoid similar political misfortunes in future, in this interview at his Enugu residence with This Day’s Vincent Obia and Christopher Isiguzo. Excerpts:
You maintained a low profile after the 1993 election until your book was published in 2008. But the book tended to raise more questions than answers to the June 12 conundrum. Six years on, and ahead of another crucial election, are there things you feel you should have put in the book that you didn’t or things you added in the book that you shouldn’t have put there?
I’m not quite sure that many people have read the book from page one to the end. Sometimes, people choose to believe what they want to believe. Every aspect of the book explained what we did, especially the process that led to the June 12 election. You would recall that on the night of June 10, 1993, 9.30pm, Justice Ikpeme gave a decision that there should be no election. If you would recall, my broadcast, usually before any election is done, informing Nigerians about the election, what to do, what not to do, appealing that people should go and exercise their civic right, was on, when the Director of Legal Services, Mr. Buhari Bello, and his assistant, Tony Ojukwu, came to inform me that Justice Ikpeme’s court had ruled that there will be no election, they were disturbed. It was unusual for a court to sit in the night. At the time, this decision was given by the court all sensitive electoral materials had been distributed all over the country. My National Commissioners had gone into the field to supervise election. What could I do, without my National Commissioners? I tried to reach the president, I couldn’t. I tried to reach the then Attorney General of the Federation, Mr. Akpamgbo, I couldn’t have access to him. What would a typical Nigerian do under the circumstance? But I felt the election must go ahead, but how would it be done, court had given a decision? I tried throughout the night to reach all the important political figures, I couldn’t. But the first thing I did the following day, June 11, was to seek audience with the Attorney General because he should represent NEC.
What transpired when you met Akpamgbo?
What really happened? I met him; in his house was the lawyer for ABN (Association for Better Nigeria). Recall that Barrister Umeadi was ABN’s lawyer. It was queer for a lawyer representing ABN to be in the residence of the Attorney General of the Federation. That struck me as strange; even though they might have known and I knew him, he saw me and entered one of the rooms; he said he would not want to have anything to do with NEC. Here was the AGF and I said, “What is happening, the court had ruled there would be no election tomorrow, meaning June 12.” He said, “No, there would be election.” He said, look, ABN coordinator is Nzeribe, he’s an Igbo man, he, Attorney General, Igbo man, Umeadi, Igbo man; and you chairman of NEC. He said no, go and relax, there would be a meeting of the National Defence and Security Council at 10 o’clock that same day and that they would overrule the decision of the court. Something in me said, would this kind of meeting go on without the presence of the chief electoral officer of the country. I wanted to ask him, something in me said, don’t ask him. Was it a deliberate action that I was not invited? But I decided to invite myself. This is the point Nigerians, especially the media, wouldn’t understand. Here was the meeting of the highest military ruling body summoned and all the leaders, the president, vice president, and even the chairman of the transitional council, Earnest Shonekan, etc., were there and I was not invited. Tell any person who would attend the meeting of the highest military body in the country uninvited. He said my director of legal services had just left, that he asked him to assemble all the decrees relating to transition to civil rule programme. I wondered in my heart, we have elections tomorrow, what would all these decrees do, would they be relevant? Nigerians were waiting to hear either from me, the president or the government because there was a general confusion in the country.
What happened at the meeting?
Something in me told me there could be a legal argument in that meeting and I needed the director of legal services in NEC. It was about 10.45am; I rushed to the headquarters of the commission, looked for the director of legal services, saw him and told him, “I need you to attend the meeting of the National Defence Council.” He asked, “were you invited,” I said no, he said he wasn’t dressed; I literally pushed him inside the car and said we must go there. We took a chance because you know the kind of security at Aso Rock and I was not invited. This is the point the Nigerian press failed to appreciate. I went there and was lucky because I used to be a regular customer to Aso Rock and they thought I was invited. They continued to open the gates until I appeared before the ADC to the president, Bamali – he died as a Major General in an air crash. At this point, the military was divided, some wanted the election, the pro-Abacha group didn’t want election. And here, I was caught in the middle. Every effort had been made to stop the election, that didn’t succeed. Those who didn’t want the election used the court. When I appeared before Bamali, he contacted the president and he said I should come upstairs. I walked upstairs. He said, “Why are you here?” I said I was there because of tomorrow’s election. It is important for these points to be made, because they said I collaborated with Babangida. Babangida was himself caught between the pro-Abacha group and those who wanted the election. So I told Babangida, we were ready and this court decision had been given last night. He said, “Are you not bound by it?” I said, “We are not bound by it.” He said, “Why are you not bound by it?” I reminded him of the situation in 1991 before the December 14 governorship election of that year. There was a spat of court injunctions – over 100 – hold election, don’t hold election, stop election. Prince Bola Ajibola was then the Attorney General of the Federation, you can verify this. The president summoned Ajibola and myself and said, “Find a solution to this spat of court injunctions so that the transition to civil rule programme will not be derailed.” We came up with a provision that once a date has been set for the general election in Nigeria, no court can stop that election. But that doesn’t mean that if after the election and it was found to be illegally conducted or didn’t meet the requirements of the law, it cannot be cancelled. That provision was crafted into the law, Decree 13 of 1993, that enabled me to conduct that election. I reminded the president further that this provision had been challenged at the Court of Appeal, Ibadan, and the provision of the law was sustained and, therefore, the Abuja High Court had no legal jurisdiction to undermine the position of the appeal court.
What was Akpamgbo’s position?
While I was relating all these, Akpamgbo was downstairs. The then Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Aliyu Mohammed – he died in an auto accident – went downstairs and informed Akpamgbo that I was upstairs. Akpamgbo came upstairs and the president asked me to repeat my position and I repeated what I said about the provisions of Decree 13. Akpamgbo said, “But Professor Humphrey Nwosu is not a lawyer, he should obey the law and postpone the election.” That is why I said people didn’t read that book. Shonekan was there. I could recall when on May 18, 1993 I presented our provision, arrangement for the election, before his transitional council, I was given a standing ovation. They said, “If you are able to implement all these, the nation will regard you as a hero.” Nwabueze, who was the secretary of education, is still alive. I’m mentioning these names because they all kept quiet. Babangida is still alive, Col. Umar, who wrote the forward, confirmed that everything I wrote in that book was true. When Akpamgbo finished, the director of legal services, Bello, interjected and said, “My learned senior, don’t misdirect this august body. Are you saying that a junior court can overrule a superior court?” That was the enigma before the council. I said I was ready for the election but if the honourable council would want the election not to go ahead, they should tell me what to tell Nigerians. At that point in time, there was a paper circulated. Some people stood up – I could see Abacha, he stood up – “postpone it for one week; we are not a banana republic.”
What were the contents of this paper?

Akilu was by my side, he showed me what was being circulated. It was a release by the director of information at the American Embassy, which stated that if that election was postponed, it would be unacceptable to the United States of America. On hearing this, those who didn’t want the election to go ahead said, “Postpone it for one week, America should not dictate to us.” My eyes caught that of Bagandida and he said, “Have you any opinion on this?” I said yes. I said that was an unnecessary intervention in Nigeria’s internal programme by a relatively junior officer in the American Embassy and it had nothing to do with your programme. I reminded the president that he had democratised the local government system, the state assemblies and governors were in place; you have democratised almost three-quarters of the federal government, with the National Assembly in place. The two-party system was functional, with SDP and NRC, two grassroots parties emerging. You’ve told the nation, the National Defence College, the world, you were going. If you postpone this election for one week, it would be the worst rigged election in Nigerian history. This thing was happening between 1 and 2 o’ clock on June 11, 1993. It was after hearing from me that he said, “Go ahead.” He said, “Hold at your headquarters a world press conference, remind Nigerians that the elections should go ahead; two, give that officer at the American Embassy 48 hours to leave Nigeria.” He told Olu Adeniji – he was external affairs minister under Obasanjo – to write the letter to the officer and that he should be in that press conference. He told professor Omo Omoruyi, who was director of Centre for Democratic Studies, to tell monitors to go and monitor the presidential election throughout the country. That is why I praise Babangida, if he had not said so, if I had not attended the meeting uninvited, if he had listened to the pro-Abacha group, the June 12, 1993 election couldn’t have held. All the people are alive and none of them has challenged that position in my book. The press conference was held at the NEC headquarters at 3 o’ clock on June 11, 1993.
If you were so committed to the success of the June 12, 1993 election, why did you keep quiet for 15 years before relaying these things?
When you have an opportunity to do a public duty, as I had, you have to put in your best. All about Humphrey was in it, my heart, soul and spirit, I put into organising that election. And to make elections free and fair, the loyalty of your staff, their welfare are important. This is one thing I don’t know whether most organisations in the country today pay attention to. I moved my staff from Lagos to Abuja. Abuja sometimes is a difficult city for junior staff. Before they left Lagos, I bought 250 two-bedroom bungalows with N10 million on my own initiative. The money that was left after the governorship election, I asked for permission to use it. I thought when the president had moved and we were to move, what would happen to those who cannot hire the Abuja expensive flats. In Kubwa, I bought these houses, furnished them and bought buses. Today they own those houses. Before then, I had also renovated three-bedroom flats for intermediate staff. Owing to Obasanjo’s monetisation policy, they own those flats worth between N25 million and N30 million today. Why would they not give loyalty? I paid close attention to the welfare of my staff – both permanent and non-permanent staff. That is one major factor in getting the loyalty of those who would handle sensitive electoral materials so that they don’t look left or right when they are enticed by politicians who will want to win at all cost. That’s why sometimes I keep quiet. Every chief electoral officer has the opportunity to organise his commission whichever way. I wouldn’t want any person to say Humphrey interfered. I have other things that I did that made the June 12, 1993 election free, fair and credible.
But some people still feel you compounded an already complicated situation by failing to complete the announcement of the results of the June 12, 1993 presidential election. How would you respond to this?
Because of the logistic preparation I put in place – I had internal communication system through which I could reach every state of the federation – results were coming in. In order not to influence the outcome of the election, results were announced at the polling stations. At the state and national levels, I had collation committees made up of national commissioners, representatives of political parties, foreign bodies. As the resident electoral commissioners came in with the results, they were announced publicly. This was going on and the result would have been out within three or four days. But halfway, as the results were being collated, the same Abuja High Court, presided by the chief judge of Abuja, came out with a decision that the results of the election should no longer be announced. This time, the national commissioners were around. We mounted a big board at the headquarters of the commission where the results were recorded and announced publicly, Abiola, Tofa – Abiola was leading. I told you the military was divided. The same pro-Abacha group met at the National Defence and Security Council and summoned me and asked if this was the way every Nigerians would be hearing about this election through the signboard. I said, “This is the provision of the law, to make it transparent. I don’t interfere, no one does, this is what Decree 13 approves.” Abacha said, “So you went ahead to conduct the election which the court said you shouldn’t conduct? Go and dismantle the board.” You know it was a military regime. In fact, at the point we received this, almost all the results were in. The only result remaining was Taraba, out of the 30 states of the federation; that was about June 15. It was when I was coming out of Aso Rock that I was served the court decision by a Commissioner of Police. I went back to the commission’s headquarters, the Taraba man, Professor Pius – he is now late – was just coming in with the result.
Was there a serious effort to vacate the Abuja court order?
I called an emergency meeting to discuss what next to do about the legal restraint from the Abuja High Court. It was for us to vacate the judgement and conclude our job. But who would do this for us, given the position of the Attorney General of the Federation, Akpamgbo, who had argued with me and I had my way? Meanwhile, the government set up the Abacha committee to look into the election and advise it. The commission had decided we should challenge the judgement in court, and here was the Abacha committee, which had David Mark, the present senate president; Murtala Nyako, the present governor of Adamawa State, who was second to Abacha in the committee; General Aliyu Mohammed; Akilu; me; secretary to the commission; Akpamgbo. When we got to Abacha’s residence, another subcommittee was set up, a smaller committee comprising Akilu, Akpamgbo, me, secretary to the commission, Aliyu Umar, who is late now, and director of legal services. When we got there, I told them we had no business challenging the process, as the law had already set out the process, and anything we did would be outside the law. The law provides that the result should be released and if anyone objects to it, he should go to the tribunal. I said if the government, which is the highest sovereign authority representing the people of Nigeria, wanted a political solution, the winner was Abiola, so they should invite Abiola and negotiate with him. They said we should go back and report to the larger committee, which Abacha headed. I told the chairman of the committee we were a technical body set up to conduct and release election results, we were not a political body, that Abiola had won the election and the only result not collated was that of Taraba. I said if they wanted political negotiation they should invite Abiola. Abacha shouted on me, “You went ahead with an election the court said you shouldn’t hold; you are not even a member of the National Defence and Security Council. You are telling us what to do. Who are you? Call your commissioners to appear before the National Defence and Security Council.” It was the era mobile telephone was just beginning in Nigeria and David Mark was the Minister of Communications. I was about to call them, then, he said I should tell him the name of my personal secretary and he would do that for me. It was he who called my secretary, Andrew Umanah, to tell the national commissioners they were wanted in Aso Rock.
What was Babangida’s reaction to all these?
I, Professor Ideria, Bello, Umar arrived Aso Rock and were put in a room pending the arrival of my other colleagues. As soon as they arrived, we joined the others, Babangida was presiding. He said, “What is your official position regarding the election, the court says don’t announce.” I asked the president to give us three minutes to confer so that whatever we came out with will be the decision of the commission and not my personal opinion. I reminded my colleagues the enormity of the national assignment on our hands and how we were even promised national honours if we got it right, and we were getting it right until the sudden changes. I told them we must vacate the judgement and have legal authority to complete the announcement of the results so that we are not seen as undertaking an illegal task, by going to the Court of Appeal in Kaduna. We agreed on this position. This was what we announced to the body and they said, “You are now on your own.” Now, who would have gone to the court for us, it was the Attorney General, but he was not available. I took the initiative and Bello went to the appeal court in Kaduna quietly within the next two days and appealed. The court was summoned. Abiola was represented by GOK Ajayi, Tofa was also represented, and we submitted all the results showing that Abiola won the election. Were it to be in the United States, the journalists would have published the results. Where were Nigerian journalists? They were only busy saying Humphrey collaborated with Babangida rather than following the sequence of events. All the results were submitted to Okey Achike’s court – he was heading the appeal court. In its preliminary meeting, the court agreed that the Abuja High Court had no business interfering with Decree 13. It said there was a procedure on how results should be released and if anyone was not satisfied they could go to the tribunal, not the High Court. The appeal court gave a date, June 25, for accelerated hearing of the case so that we could conclude the good work we started. But on June 23, 1993, they dissolved my commission. No court or journalist has commented on the dissolution of NEC on June 23 when the court would have sat on June 25. I submitted all the results showing that Abiola won. His lawyer, Ajayi, would have seen the result, and any investigative journalist would have seen it. If it were the United States, Britain or any of the Western democracies, they would have queried why Humphrey and members of the commission were sent away with nothing, no severance allowance, nothing! That was how our journey, fighting for Nigeria, ended. And people are saying I collaborated with Babangida. Tell me what any reasonable Nigerian would have done under that circumstance? And throughout Abacha’s rule, almost five years, he never agreed that that election should have been conducted. His Minister of Information is there, he was always calling it an illegal election. What have Nigerian journalists done about all these? I played my part. And that is why I don’t talk much. But many years after, and with another important election coming next year; that’s why I agreed to grant this interview.
You were certainly under pressure at the time. But don’t you think Babangida, too, was part of that pressure?
My opinion is that he himself was also under pressure. The military was divided. In the forward of my book, Col. Umar said Babangida was intimidated. Kola Abiola was here last month (March). He had read the book and started looking for me, when all the passion, emotion, and sentiment would have died down. When all the results were submitted to the Appeal Court in Kaduna, which had reprimanded the Abuja High Court and fixed a date for accelerated hearing, and my commission was dissolved, what did anybody expect me to do? Justice Okey Achike called me a courageous Nigerian. Abiola won the election, everyone knew, his lawyers knew. When all these were happening, Col. Umar, another good Nigerian, resigned his commission. When I was being summoned to Aso Rock, he gave me a word of encouragement: “stand on what you know is right.” That was what I promised myself when we were inaugurated March 7, 1990. Babangida gave us the opportunity to research and come up with what was best for the country, what would restore the confidence of Nigerians in the ballot box.
Did the Court of Appeal stay the judgement of the Abuja High Court?
I wouldn’t know the technical details. The person who would have represented me was the Attorney General. It was courageous of Bello to have gone to file the appeal. A stay of execution would have been part of it, that was why the court reprimanded the High Court and fixed a date for accelerated hearing. If the court had been allowed to decide the matter, we would have announced Abiola as president on June 25, 1993. But the military preempted what Justice Okay Achike would have done and dissolved us June 23. Remember that many of the governors then were young officers; they did not want to leave office. How many journalists have investigated or written about what happened between June 16 and June 25, between the chief judge of Abuja, who said don’t announce, and Okay Achike, who agreed on accelerated hearing for June 25, and why I was suspended? Was I suspended because I did any wrong? We were following a legitimate procedure so that when we announce the result, it will be a legitimate result by a commission appointed by government. We didn’t appoint ourselves. Government appointed us and when we disagreed with government they said we were on our own and the Attorney General didn’t go to court on our behalf, we went to court on our own. The Attorney General didn’t appear for us. It was the director of legal services, Buhari Bello, that went to court, with Ojukwu. And the court process was working before we were disbanded. Did any person challenge the government on why the commission was disbanded? Why did people not ask why those in possession of the result did not release it? Even though NEC was disbanded, if those results were published by those who had them, that would have had an impact on the government.
With the kind of pressure you felt then from the military and the government, would you subscribe to the view that the appointment of the chairman of the electoral body should be taken away from the president, who is an interested party in elections, and put in the hands of a more neutral body, like the National Judicial Council, as suggested by the Justice Mohammed Uwais commission?
Considering what happened to me and my commission that seems to be something worthwhile, provided that whoever is doing the appointment is unbiased, and would take the interest of the whole country as paramount. And provided that the chairman of the election management body will not be cornered by any of the parties. In a country that is not yet integrated and unified, and where the main trust of loyalty to the nation is still doubtful, the president still has a responsibility to safeguard the unity of the nation by doing the right thing. Part of the solution to what happened to me could be found in the appointment of the head of the agency, but with a polarised state like ours, with the intrusion of ethnicity here and there, national integration becomes a major task, a problem no one can solve except ourselves. I have been thinking, personally, as things are, if we have an alternative Nigeria. I don’t think we have, considering that major players on the world scene are major powers with large populations, integrated nations with technology, unified. Small nations don’t have too much of a role on the global scene. See what is happening in Ukraine. So if Nigeria wants to – and it should remain – a major player in Africa, Nigeria needs all its people. And if it needs all its people, every group has something to sacrifice for Nigeria to be one. Destroying any part of Nigeria makes us weaker.
In what other ways do you think the independence of the electoral body can be enhanced?
One, there is a lot of political consideration in the appointment of the resident electoral commissioners. That should not be. People who should be there should be people whose integrity, loyalty, and service to the nation are not in doubt. And there are people who have served this country with distinction. From the chairman, to national commissioners, to resident electoral commissioners that manage elections at the state level should be men of honour, the highest the country could provide. There is a major tinge of political consideration in appointing resident electoral commissioners. Sometimes, some might even be card-carrying members of political parties. Election is for Nigerians to choose whomever they like. Political consideration should not be the major factor in arriving at who should serve at the national or state electoral body. It should not be seen as a place where people acquire millions. If we don’t get elections right, the foundation of our unity is shaken. We should think less of politics. We used to do better in the past. I was in Enugu in the 1950s when a Fulani was mayor of Enugu – Altine Umoru. They voted for him, no one considered that he was Fulani. Respected, he saw himself as part and parcel of Enugu. Mbonu Ojike used to be mayor of Lagos, 1956. Zik won election to be head of government business in 1951 in the West. Sixty years after, we are still arguing citizenship. The U.S. is made up of people from different parts of the world. Yet, if you are born in a state and you migrate to another state, after one year, you acquire citizenship of that state. You can stand for election. See the Rockefellers, some in Western Virginia, some in other places. See the Kennedys, you can migrate. Here we distrust and restrict ourselves.
Your book concluded on a note of advice, that Nigeria should look at things that worked for it in the past and try to adopt them. Ahead of 2015, what are some of the things from Nigeria’s past electoral experience you think can be applied again?
First, the modified open ballot system. We first came up with the open ballot system, and it was criticised, as some people thought voters should not be exposed, that voting should be something between you and your conscience. They still adopt it, I don’t know to what extent. You shouldn’t have more than 500 voters in a polling station. Voters’ register is very important, that is where election rigging starts. From what we heard some time ago in Anambra, you doubt whether there is a legitimate voters’ register. The voters’ register must be given to the parties. You can rig election with fake voters’ register. Now they have put in a lot of money and technology so that you can get valid, credible voters’ register. Two, accreditation should be taken seriously. Three, you should allow for secrecy so that you vote whomever you like. Then, every voter should put their ballot in the same box. Another factor that is very important – I don’t know whether we would ever get to it – we have no business, in a multiethnic society, with fragile unity, religious and primordial sentiments, having 50 or 60 political parties. This is with due respect to those who argue for multiparty democracy. You must have an integrated nation first before you think of political parties. What people cannot do for themselves and the government helps them to do it, this is statesmanship. The number of parties we have today only encourages ethnic, religious parties, parties that only collect funds from government, parties that cause disunity. That is why the two-party structure that we tried to nurture remains the best for us. Each of the two parties started from the ward. At the time I was in office, we had 6,927 wards. SDP was a little bit to the left, NRC was a little bit to the right. The members were all co-founders and co-owners. With this, you limit the influence of moneybags. But that is not the case today. They grew from the ward, to local government, state, and national structures. They had almost equal strength in all the states of the federation and that was why Nigerians didn’t mind a Muslim-Muslim ticket at the time, because people knew what the parties stood for. Now, people change political parties as they change clothes, but there is no real choice. In the Third Republic, government helped to create the environment where parties grew naturally. So I advocate the two-party system.
Don’t you think Nigeria is tending towards the two-party system with the emergence of two dominant parties?
They are dominant but they didn’t grow from the people. The members are not co-owners and co-founders. There are still very powerful individuals in these parties. That was why government in my time even tried to build offices for the parties so that you don’t allow anyone to wield too much influence. We allowed all these things to collapse under Abacha. If we had retained these structures, some of our problems would have been resolved.
Do you think the Option A4 is workable in the country today?
It is workable. They are using most of it. In my view, for now, Nigeria is not a place where you can use electronic voting. It is not a place where you give time for people to come and vote and come back to hear the result. People would tamper with the ballot boxes. It’s still a place where people need to watch the counting and declaration of results. During my era, we said people should not go after voting until they hear the result. Then the agents, guided by the police, would monitor the collation at every level. It could be done. But in a situation where you have parties that are dominant in particular regions, it is dangerous. You can have appearance of a two-party structure but one is so dominant that it can chase away the others.
With the array of challenges the country is facing, what would you tell the political elite ahead of 2015?
My candid advice to the leadership of both parties is that they must realise we have no other country. We should intertwine in terms of economic and social activities. The people who cause confusion are not ordinary Nigerians who struggle daily to keep body and soul together. It is the political elite that use religion and ethnicity as instruments of mobilising political power. We can see the consequences in the ravaging that is going on in parts of this country. It might have started as a small effort to chase away those who contend for political power, but see where we are, especially where external factors who don’t mean well for Nigeria, have taken over. We are facing a national crisis that the Nigerian leadership of all persuasions must come together to address. And we should not extend it to election, if we do, it will be too dangerous to manage. We need one another in this country. Your best friend may not be from your ethnic group. I’ve been mentioning Bello, he is from Kebbi State. Akpamgbo is from the same state with me, but we disagreed fundamentally.
With your experience as former head of the election management body, what do you think went wrong during the last governorship election in Anambra State?
I will be reluctant to comment on what a sitting chief electoral officer of Nigeria is doing. The environment of work may be slightly different from my own environment. But that notwithstanding, there could be no compromise on the voters’ register because what was at stake was the voters’ register. It is very important that whoever manages election from the national to state and local government level must ensure that a credible voters’ register is available. They even said names of some candidates were missing in the register, I don’t know how true. But from my point of view as chief electoral officer from 1989 to 1993, we paid attention to having a credible voters’ register. Before the election, you should distribute the register that should be the same to all the parties in the election. Point two is logistics. In fact, election is logistics at national, state and local government level. The preparation before the election, to carry sensitive electoral materials to the places they are needed at the correct time, that is election. Stories have been told of some officers doing this or that. That’s why I said loyalty is important. The welfare of those who have to carry out this sensitive assignment must be taken care of. Then, we even set up inter-ministerial committees on logistics because no government alone can fund the logistics needed for election. You must go and get the loyalty of the people from the ward level, because it is their election. You must know the peculiar problems of different areas and make adequate logistic arrangements. You must have the loyalty of those who would conduct the election and reward them adequately.
Election monitoring was one of the innovations introduced in the 1993 presidential election. What were some of the unique benefits the country got from the monitoring exercise?
It is very important, it makes it credible. Even when you say an election is free and fair, how do you arrive at that? Independent monitors who have free access to areas where elections are conducted are critical in reaching the conclusion of an election being free. That’s why I still recommend that we stay back and hear the results. We have not reached the stage where you can dump your ballot and go away. Hear the result and monitor collation at all levels. Sometimes when people want to manipulate election they don’t want monitors to be around. That is important for the 2015 election. Will independent monitors have free access to anywhere election will be conducted? This is important, as it helps to make the election transparent, free and fair.
How can Nigeria demystify the concept of election and take it from the current garrison affair, where the whole country is shut down on election day, to the civil affair that it really should be, where people can go about their normal businesses on the day of polling?
We need to grow into it. As at now, many Nigerians who contest elections want to win at all cost. They wouldn’t mind carrying voters from one end to another. No one will do this in India, even with their large population. No one will do it in the US. But in Nigeria, people have seen politics as a career where money is made rather than service to the people. So, to limit some of the electoral crimes, if we have one day to get it right, it is okay, until we mature to the stage where we understand election is not something we manipulate and make the wrong person win. People want to win because of many benefits that appear to accrue to people who serve in elective offices.
Since you left office, have you been consulted by any of your successors, at least in the spirit of continuity, and to build synergy among past and present electoral umpires and avail the country of your wealth of experience?
To be fair, Jega consulted me once when he was appointed. I spoke with him for over four hours. I gave him what I felt could help him. This point is very important because there is need for continuity. Everywhere in the world, government is continuity. This is unlike sometimes in our own situation, when someone leaves office, whoever is taking over may stop all his programmes. No. That’s why we often run into difficulty. It was in my era that the election management body in this country was institutionalised. They used to have part-time staff, some federal civil servants and all that. I went to the president and requested we must make the electoral body have its own core staff, whose work is pensionable. The present INEC headquarters was built in my tenure with N54 million. We started it in 1992 and it was completed before I left office. I put all the pictures of past electoral commission heads, all for continuity. I tried to be in touch with Eme Awa while I was in office because I needed his experience. I invited Ovie Whisky. To be fair, Guobadia tried to reach me; we discussed a number of times. The present man, when we met I told him what it takes, that Nigeria comes first. Whatever you do, it is the people that will tell you if you are doing well or not, not the president. Then you must carry the entire staff along – national commissioners, resident electoral commissioners, junior staff, etc.
What is your advice to Nigerians ahead of 2015?
My advice is that we are one country; nothing should be done to dismember this country. PDP and APC should know there is a limit to politicking. The 2015 election requires statesmanship. Ending this civil disorder in parts of the country is not something the president alone can do. I was in this country during the civil war, many of my classmates died fighting. There will be no need for a second civil war. The end result of politicking and statesmanship is national integration. We can solve our problems with less politics. There are areas we shouldn’t play politics, like security. The elite must come together to tackle insecurity, and remove external factors, watch our borders, who is coming in and who is going out, relate with countries like Chad, Cameroon, Niger, etc., to be able to solve this problem. No one should bank on manipulation at the 2015 election. Election should be based on issues. The election should not be played too hard; there will be other elections in the future

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