Scandals of the INEC Umpire: In his bid to enjoy immunity after office to shield himself from questioning in respect of his numerous atrocities that attended his tenure as INEC Chairman, Prof. Maurice Iwu became desperate to become the Governor of Imo state, South East Nigeria – a future in Imo State Government House if his scheming for second term as INEC chairman fails. To achieve this, he has to crush all hindrances to acquire wealth and power to bankroll the ambition even if it will entail suppressing innocent citizen’s right.
By Bimbo Philips – Scroll
Maurice Iwu, chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, is a desperate man. He is frantically seeking for a second term as INEC chairman. To realise his ambition, Iwu is said to be throwing money around bureaucrats, legislators and powers that be. Scroll Nigeria learnt that Iwu has a plan, if his second term bid fails, to contest for Imo State governorship election in 2011. Sources close to him said one of the reasons he wants to be governor is to get immunity after office.
Sources said Iwu needs the immunity to protect himself from prosecution for alleged fraudulent activities that attended his tenure as INEC boss. One of them is the patented rights of Sylvester Odigie, chairman and chief executive of Bedding Holdings, over industrial design rights in transparent ballot boxes by virtue of certificate of patent registration number 5946 dated January 21, 1998, duly issued to him by the Ministry of Commerce and Certificate of Extension of Copyright in design for a period that would be on till five years, starting from January 12, 2008.
Odigie is at war with INEC, beseeching the court to declare that it is only he that is entitled to issue licences to any person, and or company for the production, manufacture, importation, sales, supply, utilisation or repair of transparent ballot boxes or any obvious imitation thereof to the exclusion of all others. Odigie is also seeking a declaration that the importation sale, utilisation supply and or by any person including INEC, Iwu and Emchai Nigeria Limited, defendants, without obtaining his written consent, licence or agreement is an infringement of the plaintiff’s patent and industrial design rights as protected by the Patent and Design Act LFN 1990 and therefore illegal, null and void and of no effect whatsoever. There are two legal actions, one in respect of the Transparent Ballot Boxes and the other, Voting Cubicles, otherwise described as collapsible polling Booths. These two case have been suffering several adjournments to the detriment of the plaintiff. Several reliefs and declarations were sought by the plaintiff. However, the defendants have brought legal technicalities to truncate the hearing of the case. This is in line with Iwu’s boastful confrontation to Odigie.
Despite the two suits against INEC and Iwu, the INEC Chairman in his resolve, vowed to perpetually disregard judicial institutions and authorities against all odds, has even gone ahead to place advertisements in national journals and dailies inviting qualified companies to come and bid for the supply of transparent ballot boxes and collapsible polling booths to INEC in utter defiance of the existing suits before the courts. This magazine learned that Iwu’s aggressive tempo was actually precipitated against Odigie when the Bedding Holdings chairman honoured summon by the Senate to appear and testify before the Adhoc Committee on INEC on the disbursement and administration of funds allocated to INEC by the National Assembly for the purposes of conducting the April 2007 General Elections. Odigie testified at the behest of the National Assembly. Sources said Iwu is hell bent on frustrating Justice Husseini Baba Yusuf’s of FCT High court mere judgment of N5.8m debt because of Odigie’s oral testimony against him at the Senate hearing on May 24, 2007. This judgement debt arose from a contract obligation that was fully executed by one of Odigie’s sister company. Quick Transfer Services Ltd, see box, of court levied execution inventory and notice of sale.
In a desperate bid to attack Odigie, Iwu wrote a petition dated May 22, 2007, to the Inspector-General of Police wherein he made what H. O. Akintola, the lawyer to Odigie, described as spurious allegations against the Bedding CEO.
Scroll Nigeria learnt that Odigie made a statement of 20 hand-written pages with supporting document to the police giving graphic and detailed account of the oppressive nature of Iwu towards him and his company. After going through Odigie’s statement, the police discovered to their chagrin that Iwu’s petition against Odigie had no substance, was baseless and unfounded of which no further action was taken. Akintola expressed worries over the safety of the life of Odigie, given the unwarranted and high sense of desperation with which Iwu is fighting the businessman and those who work with him. Judicial observers note that President Musa Yar’Adua’s administration believes in absolute rule of law. But it passeth all understanding that Iwu, who is controlling a sensitive organ of the Nigerian government can be so recalcitrant to judicial pronouncements, judgments and proceedings and indulge in acts capable of causing the breakdown of law and order.
Many Nigerians are increasingly becoming concerned about Iwu’s impunity. Speaking with newsmen September this year, Dim Emeka Ojukwu, Ikemba Nnewi, said Iwu’s penchant for disregarding court orders portended great danger for the nation’s democracy.
The INEC chairman’s recalcitrance forced immediate past chairman of INEC, Abel Guobadia, to take on Iwu, his successor, just as contractors accused the INEC chairman of impropriety in the award of contracts for the 2007 elections. The drama took place at the Senate Ad-Hoc Committee probing the disbursement of funds to INEC. The committee at the time threatened to issue a bench warrant against Iwu over his failure to honour the committee’s summons.
The consensus across the country is that Iwu is falling down on the job of INEC chairmanship. Even the International Foundation of Election Systems have technically stopped operations in Nigeria after 2007 elections.
The organisation funded the printing of INEC election manuals in 2007 as they have always been funding INEC. They have now vowed that they would not give a dime to INEC as long as Iwu remains chairman.
Iwu has even shown his pettiness and unseriousness as INEC chairman by petitioning the former Inspector General of Police, Sir Mike Okiro, asking the police to intervene in respect of patents, an issue already before the court. Observers said that Iwu’s move at this time was designed to divert attention from INEC to enable him spend the N3 billion appropriated for voting cubicles otherwise known as Collapsible Polling Booths, one of the subject matters of the patent and copyright design litigations in court. Despite the court action, Iwu still went ahead to re-award the contract for the Voting Cubicles in 2009. See box for the 2009 appropriation budget of the Federal government of Nigeria and an advert published in the Federal Tenders journal of May 4th 2009 despite pending case in court. The INEC chairman’s insincerity is currently a cause for worry by politicians especially the Coalition of Political Parties, CNPP. They took Iwu to court over indiscriminate contract awards on the grounds that most of the contracts have been awarded under Guobadia’s leadership of INEC. See box of the list of infrastructure and equipment put in place during Guobadia’s administration at a submission made to the investigative public hearing conducted by the Senate Adhoc Committee by INEC in 2007 on the disbursement and administration of fund to INEC.
As it is now, the INEC chairman has become a loose cannon with a president that is sick in hospital and working with about three electoral commissioners contrary to the constitutional provision. The commission comprises the chairman and 13 other members. See paragraph 14 (1A) and B of the part one to the 3rd schedule of the 1999 Constitution. The quorum is at least one third the number of members of the commission at any date of the meeting. See S. 159 of the 1999 Constitution. One third by implication are four members and the chairman. But at present three members and the chairman are running the commission. This is one person short of one commissioner of the commission.
Meanwhile, they are conducting bye elections and awarding monumental contracts, which by implication are illegal and could be prone to litigation even after Iwu’s term ends in June 2010.
But with the revelation to stakeholders of INEC’s illegality under Iwu as it pertains to the credibility of INEC as a body, and the proposed future of Anambra State election, many observers are wondering how far INEC can survive under Iwu.
Observers are referring to his partisanship on one hand towards Andy Uba, former special adviser to former President Olusegun Obasanjo and Professor Chukwuma Soludo, former governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN. Sources said his grouse with Soludo springs from contractual relationship arising from Soludo’s involvement in the manufacture and supply of ballot papers for the 2007 elections.
It was alleged that there was a misunderstanding over the sharing of the booty from the contract of which it was further alleged that Iwu felt short-changed. Sources said that Iwu believes this is his time to get his own pound of flesh by using the instrumentality of office to thwart Soludo’s governorship ambition.
Even then, Iwu is having his own internal battles with one of the three electoral commissioners still working with him. The INEC boss is actually working with only two commissioners as against three at present on ground.
Philip Umeadi, INEC commissioner, is currently at war with Iwu because he told the INEC chairman at one of their meetings that even if PDP must win, they must not win 100 per cent because this would ridicule INEC. Umeadi did not realise that his advice was recorded by Iwu and played back to President Obasanjo. And since then, he and Iwu became sworn enemies and there were reportedly several attempts to assassinate him.
Iwu’s corruption, according to close observers, knows no bounds. Scroll Nigeria learnt that he allegedly collected gratifications from two opponents in Kogi State governorship election recently. One of the candidates who was trying to reclaim the governorship but lost, stormed INEC office in Abuja with his retinue of staff and SUV vehicles and demanded for a refund from Iwu of the hundreds of millions which he had allegedly given to Iwu to guarantee his return. It was said Iwu obliged out of fear of the exposure and scandal it would generate.
The INEC’s chairman’s scssandals at family and the commission’s levels stinks to heavens. A disgruntled family member told Scroll Nigeria that Iwu’s first son was engaged to an Igbo girl whose humble family refused that their daughter should be married into Iwu’s family. The INEC chairman was deeply hurt by the rejection and swore that he would revenge in his lifetime. As fate would have it, Iwu became INEC’s chairman and the girl needed his help. The girl subsequently approached Iwu’s son on her desire to obtain contracts from INEC. Sources said Iwu’s son approached the father who encouraged the girl to see him in this respect.
What followed, according to sources, was that Iwu was said to have asked the girl to always meet him at his guest house at odd times which infuriated the girl. That was when the bubble burst and she invariably rejected the advances from a man who could have been her father-in-law. The son, now married to a white girl, was saddened by what some observers described as “this manner of revenge”.
The INEC chairman is increasingly becoming desperate. Observers said he hopes to appease critics, gather credibility to himself by constituting a “board of election monitors” for next year’s governorship election in Anambra State. Members of the board include former chairman, Wale Fapohunde, Electoral Reform Network; Farouk Umar of Transparency in Nigeria; Festus Okoye of Human Rights Monitor; Chinelo Iriele, president, Global Association of Female Attorneys, Belo Fadile of Justice and Peace Consultants; Olufemi Aduwo of Rights Monitoring Group; and Anselm Okolo of Election Monitors.com, an online media outfit.
Observers question the credibility of some members of the board. For instance, Aduwo is said to be on the payroll of Iwu as he is being frequently given contracts to fund his hatchet jobs for Iwu. For instance, Iwu based his desperate petition on Odigie in 2008 on a letter purportedly written by Aduwo on unfounded allegations.