Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has said that not even Ã¢â‚¬Å“Jesus ChristÃ¢â‚¬Â can conduct an acceptable election in Nigeria and that the nation would continue to have
disputed election results except politicians are reformed.
Also yesterday, Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission confirmed in a statement that Barrister Philip Umeadi, the most senior electoral commissioner at the commission, has taken over as acting chairman.
Obasanjo who spoke on Thursday night at the Leon H. Sullivan Dialogue on Nigeria held at the National Press Center, Washington DC, USA, was reacting to the removal of Professor Maurice Iwu as chairman of INEC.
The former president who appointed the outgoing INEC boss said, Ã¢â‚¬Å“with all due respect, if Jesus Christ could come to the world and be the chairman of INEC, any election he would conduct will be disputed.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Obasanjo said what was required was the urgent need to reform Nigerian politicians for the nation to have acceptable elections in 2011.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Since I got here three days ago, I understand that the chairman of INEC has been asked to go on leave. People have also talked about electoral reform.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Quite honestly, I have said that I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t understand in detail what this electoral reform is. One thing that we need to reform in our own society is the politician. We need to reform politicians,Ã¢â‚¬Â Obasanjo stressed.
He said he first participated in elections in Nigeria in 1959 and since then, there has been no election conducted that has not been disputed.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“It will be difficult to have a perfect election. What is important is that the result of an election should reflect the will of the people,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said. The former president also said he was optimistic about the role of the Nigerian youth in the future of the nation.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“One thing that is very bright and makes me happy in Nigeria is that the generation that is coming behind is very bright.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“The other day, I was saying that the generation before my generation gave us independence. Whatever may be their inadequacies, at least they gave us independence.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Somebody asked me what can be credited to our generation and I said our generation fought for the unity of Nigeria and our generation laid the foundation of democracy in Nigeria.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“There is this up and coming generation, I will not be mentioning names, but they are good and I have seen them,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said.
At the event held as part of activities marking NigeriaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s 50th independence anniversary, Obasanjo, who took a dispassionate review of Nigeria since independence, observed that there have been positive changes in the nationÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s political landscape Ã¢â‚¬Å“because what was politically impossible about 30 years ago has now been achieved.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Buttressing this point, the former president said: Ã¢â‚¬Å“With our president not being so well, we have an acting president from the minority area. That would not have happened 30 years ago.Ã¢â‚¬Â
In her own remarks at the event, the managing director of the World Bank, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, said reform could only come if he (Obasanjo) and other Nigerian leaders have the political will to reform politicians.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“If they fail to be reformed, then they should be put aside and fresh blood should take charge. It is wrong to think that Nigeria cannot change,Ã¢â‚¬Â she said.
On the issue of corruption, she said political will was required and that the Obasanjo regime did much in this respect.
She cited the example of revenue allocation from the federation account which was published monthly on the approval of Obasanjo. Okonjo-Iweala said Obasanjo gave the backing for Ã¢â‚¬Å“my colleague (Nuhu Ribadu) and one of our heroes to do the work that he was able to do.Ã¢â‚¬Â
She added that when the Obasanjo regime came on board, the economy was growing by about 2.5 to 3 per cent but rose to 6 per cent.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“This is an indication that Nigeria can do things right. What is missing in the nationÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s bid to get things right are policy consistency, leadership, better governance, the anti-corruption crusade, and an eye on the ball,Ã¢â‚¬Â said the World Bank MD.
Warning the nation about an impending demographic disaster, she said: Ã¢â‚¬Å“70 per cent of our population is 30 years and younger. We just got some figures on unemployment. Under-employment has not even been measured.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“If we can turn these people into productive citizens, we will reap what is called demographic dividends for the country, just as the East-Asian countries did.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“If we do not, we will have a demographic disaster. So we donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t really have a choice.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Other speakers at the event included US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Johnie Carson; former US Ambassador to Nigeria, Princeton Lyman; Ambassador Andrew Young; and former EFCC Chairman, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu.
Meanwhile, Umeadi, the most senior officer in INEC, took over as acting chairman of the commission on Thursday following the removal of Iwu.
A statement yesterday, signed by Umenger Emmanuel, INECÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s director of Public Affairs, said “this development should naturally put an end to insinuations from some segment of the media that there is a vacuum in the leadership of INEC.”
However, the statement did not state if Iwu had handed over to the acting chairman as directed by Acting President Goodluck Jonathan.
Umeadi’s assumption of office followed last WednesdayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s directive by the acting president to Iwu, to proceed on disengagement leave with effect from April 28, 2010.
Before his current position, Umeadi was the national commissioner in charge of the information and publicity committee of INEC.
Following the announcement of his removal Wednesday, Iwu failed to hand over because he did not get a formal letter to that effect from the presidency.
The oversight compelled the former INEC chairman to go straight to the State House for clarification on Thursday where he met with Mike Oghiadome, the Principal Secretary to the acting president.
It was gathered that Oghiadome at the State House eventually gave him his disengagement letter.