– Humphrey Nwosu at 80THISDAYLIVE – THISDAY Newspapers
Erudite Professor of Political Science and erstwhile Chairman of Nigeria’s electoral umpire during the administration of Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, Prof Humphrey Nwosu is 80 today, writes Alex Enumah
Although, Prof Humphrey Nwosu may have withdrawn into a private and quiet life since his audacious but patriotic outing during the controversial June 12, 1993 presidential election, his name will continue to resonate for years whenever Nigeria’s democracy and election is discussed. Nwosu, is not only celebrated because he presided over the freest, most credible, most transparent and most acceptable election in the history of Nigeria, but for conducting the election against all odds.
Prof, as he is fondly called, dared his boss, Gen Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida and the military junta when he stuck to his gun insisting that the election he conducted was not tainted and should not be annulled even at the expense of his life.
Little wonder Nigerians, both home and abroad, and the international communities could not help but roll out the drums in celebration of this unique Nigerian as he turns 80. Like the President and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), Dr Benjamin Chavis in his tribute noted, the achievement of this newest octogenarian remains unparalleled and worthy of celebration on this auspicious occasion of his 80th birthday.
“The World Democracy celebrates and recognizes you as a Professor of Political Science and fellow graduate of the University of California, Berkley. We salute you as a trailblazer who tirelessly and unselfishly created and executed an election strategy for Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria. We applaud your effort and bravery as a statesman as you demonstrated the democratic values in a practical, measurable, doable, free, and fair elections,” Chavis said.
The story of Nwosu and elections started sometime in 1989 when a frantic search for a credible and patriotic Nigerian to head the nation’s electoral umpire, the National Electoral Commission (NEC) as it was then called ensued.
The search party eventually zeroed in on the erudite, cerebral and firm Professor of Political Science at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, (UNN). The search for his kind of person was predicated on the fact that the military junta led by Gen Ibrahim Babangida that toppled the Gen Muhammadu Buhari’s government, promised speedy return to civilian rule. It therefore needed a-buy-in into its policies and programmes which would be accentuated by getting credible people into his government.
Besides, IBB also needed a credible and firm Nigerian that could head the electoral umpire saddled with the critical responsibility of organizing and conducting elections that would gradually return the country to full blown democracy. Thus, on February 28,1989, the erudite professor of political science was appointed the chief electoral officer. He was forty-five then.
In his book titled, “Laying the foundation for Nigeria’s Democracy: My account of June 12, 1993 presidential election and its annulment”, the former electoral umpire described his appointment thus: “One major characteristic of some demanding appointments made by various military regimes in Nigeria was the sudden announcements over the electronic media of such appointments. Announcements were often made before the appointees were reached formally. In this same manner, removals were carried out through the electronic media without informing those concerned. Usually, the military leaders assume that those so appointed would accept as they regarded this as an ‘’urgent call’’ to serve the fatherland.”
Nwosu however, explained that he accepted the appointment despite his trepidations arising from how distinguished Nigerians who held that position had often ended up because of his desire and determination to make a difference.
He said, ‘’I saw my appointment as an opportunity to participate in carrying out major electoral reforms that would restore the confidence of generality of Nigerians in the electoral process. In accepting the appointment, I felt in my inner –most heart that I owed accountability to three levels of authorities. The first authority was the Nigerian state. I strongly believe in the Nigerian state and the Nigerian nation. The two are more enduring than individuals and societal historic groups as well as regions. I was, therefore, determined that in doing my job at the National Electoral Commission (NEC), the interest of Nigeria and Nigerians would be uppermost in my mind.’’
Undoubtedly, with this mindset, Prof Nwosu hit the ground running. Initiating reforms and programmes that would help him achieve his desired objective for a better Nigeria. He admitted that himself and his team worked very hard and conscientiously to bequeath the best to the nation especially so, as he was promised a national honour should they conduct a credible, free and fair election.
Speaking on the June 12, 1993 presidential election between Bashir Tofa of the National Republican Convention (NRC) and Moshood Kashimowo Abiola popularly called MKO, of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) that was eventually annulled by the military government that organized it, Nwosu said. ‘’Undoubtedly, the June 12, 1993 presidential election was adjudged by both national and international observers as the freest, fairest, and most peaceful election in Nigerian history. For the conduct of this election, its result as well as its annulment had forever changed the political landscape of Nigeria.
”It is, therefore, futile for anybody no matter how highly placed to ignore or erase the importance of the event of this date in laying the foundation for democracy in Nigeria. The more efforts are made to wish away and blot out the importance of this event as well as its aftermath, the greater its impact on the Nigerian national psyche and the direction for its better future. Furthermore, it was on June 12, 1993 that the degree of our social mobilization and national consciousness reached its highest level, as Nigerians acted as one nation. All the national divides-regional, religious, primordial and ethnic were set aside. Nigerians made their sacred choices under peaceful and congenial atmosphere’’, he said.
Speaking for the first time on the matter in public some years ago, Nwosu explained how he put his life on the line, first to ensure that the election held after the earlier injunction to stop it and, later, to push through the court to ensure the final result was announced by NEC.
‘’Halfway, as the results were being collated, 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 and we mounted a big board at the headquarters of the commission where the results were recorded and announced.
It is public knowledge that the struggle continued until the result of the election was annulled on June and the commission dissolved.
Twenty-five years after that unfortunate incident, President Muhammadu Buhari honoured Abiola with the nation’s highest award of Grand Commander of the Federal Republic, (GCFR), with his then running mate, Babagana Kingibe getting Grand Commander of Order of the Niger (GCON). The late human rights activist, Gani Fawehinmi was similarly honoured with GCON.
The recognition of Abiola and few others, have however opened a plethora of requests from well-meaning Nigerians who urged the president to honour the man behind the making of June 12. The man who dared the odds and stuck out his neck to insist that the right thing be done.
Since then, so many Nigerians have argued that for federal government’s action to be encompassing, Nwosu and many others should have to be also awarded for the action of the federal government to be fully appreciated and lay to rest the June 12, ghost.
The presidential election of June 12, 1993, defines him and his place in our national history. The election remains so far, the only national election universally accepted as fair, free and credible. Its annulment turned the world upside down and became Babangida’s albatross, a blight that threatens to rubbish his place in our national history.
Nwosu along with his principal, took steps to clean up our political system and free it from money and the control of the moneybags. He came up with the two-party system in line with our historical inclination to gravitate towards it since independence. He thus sought to build a new political system and ethos with room for everyone, including those with a good heart and a good brain but with holes in their pockets.
Prof is well known for his steadfastness, loyalty and patriotism. Happy birthday, the pathfinder and originator of Options A4; that unassailable option that defiles manipulation.