Humphrey Nwosu – The Nation

  • he unsung hero of that watershed election should share in its glory

Before the magical June 12 election and its confounding annulment, Prof Humphrey Nwosu, chairman of the Babangida-era National Electoral Commission (NEC), risked going down, in infamy, with self-named “Military President”, General Ibrahim Babangida.

After the rather dramatic ouster of Nwosu’s teacher, Prof. Eme Awa as electoral chief, Nwosu appeared the swashbuckling head of the Babangida shifty laboratory for eternal transition to civil rule.  All strut, Nwosu thumbed down all 23 political associations “begging” to be registered as political parties; sustained the difference between “aspirant” and “candidate” (a distinction never known before then), and all-triumph, midwifed the imposition of the two political parties, National Republican Convention (NRC) and Social Democratic Party (SDP), on the rather craven political players.

Nwosu, bobbing up on national television, was a zealot’s delight: a permanent grin; laced with ultra-demonstrative arms, somewhat reminiscent of the great Muhammad Ali and his rope-a-dope boxing tricks — the professor of Political Science-turned-electoral chief was at his zesty best, unleashing his latest electoral experiment on a bemused, and increasingly wary people!

From the initial Open Ballot System (OBS), to Option A4 and the Modified Open Ballot System (MOBS) that eventually delivered the epochal election of June 12, 1993, Nwosu never slacked in his enthusiasm. As it turned out, Nwosu was giving his all, thinking up a robust electoral system to vault Nigeria into sustainable democracy. But his military patrons were dreaming of a puppet to put professorial veneer on their eternal plotting and deceit. The tragic clash came with the annulment of the election, hailed to have been the best: the freest, the cleanest and the most transparent in Nigeria’s history.

Nwosu deserves praise for coming up with a near fool-proof electoral system. Had MOBS been less fool-proof, the annulment would not have sounded so absurd, even to those who annuled the elections; in those days of halcyon evil, fired by the most execrable strain of military impunity. If June 12 stood the test of time – 26 years after the original rape; and now the beatification of its prime symbol, Bashorun Moshood Kasimawo Olawale Abiola (MKO), 21 years after his martyrdom in detention – it is because Nwosu wrought a voting formula that could not easily be compromised.

Nothing compares to Abiola’s martyrdom. For the sanctity of the vote, he gave his life. With June 12 as new Democracy Day, away from May 29, the brazen tool of noxious forces that wanted to bury his sacrifice, MKO’s heroism is at the core of Nigeria’s renewed democracy.

But Nwosu’s humiliation should also not go unappreciated. By using the Babangida junta’s own laws, Nwosu played by the rule of law. Strictly following Decree 52 of 1993, which outlawed any court injunction stopping the election, Nwosu shunned the Arthur Nzeribe Association for Better Nigeria (ABN)-contrived injunction, in Justice Bassey Ikpeme’s Abuja court, on the night of June 11. Though many could say that enjoyed the approval of Nwosu’s military patrons, a dithering Nwosu could have given them the excuse to scuttle the election and blame it on the electoral chief. History would thank Nwosu for not leaving such lacuna.

Even with the mid-way pause of election results, Nwosu’s NEC challenged the court order, presenting the entire result as evidence to discharge that order; and formally declare the winner, who everyone already knew was Abiola. But the junta panicked, and hurriedly dissolved the Nwosu NEC, and the transition to civil rule enabling law. Unconfirmed but apocryphal reports claimed the NEC chief was physically assaulted, with a report claiming one junta member slapped him. If that was true, it is another proof of Nwosu’s courage in the face of gruff adversity; and the umpteenth evidence never to have military bandits rule any civilised country again.

As we remember MKO and rehabilitate June 12, we should also remember Humphrey Nwosu, and confer him his due honour. This June 12 hero has stayed unsung for too long. It is high time the republic brought that to a close – and he should get his earned honour while still alive.

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