By Emma Okere
On Saturday, October 2nd, 2021, the erudite professor of political science and erstwhile chairman of Nigeria’s electoral umpire during the IBB days, Prof Humprey Nwosu joins the octogenarian club when he clocks 80.
This courageous, patriotic and bold Nigerian has withdrawn to private and quiet life since his audacious but patriotic outing during the popular but controversial June 12, 1993 presidential election. Yes, he midwifed that unifying baby; that election which several years after, remains a watershed in the political history of Nigeria. It is adjudged and still remains, the freest, most credible, transparent and most acceptable election in the history of Nigeria. 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. We hear he escaped by the whiskers but not without a kick at the buttocks.
Over the years, however, the torrent of history has moved him downstream as an authentic elder statesman as he grabbed the four scores in these perilous times. It is gratifying and something to be grateful to God for
Little wonder congratulatory messages have been pouring in from across the world by global players, some of whom include Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr., the iconic and dearly beloved civil rights leader, the international television host, the movie actor, the global political and business leader, the former national Executive Director and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the former Director for The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and now the President and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) who with more than 230 other African American owned newspapers across the United States with circulation in Nigeria. He proudly salutes on behalf of the entire continent of Africa, the United States of America and the World, Professor Humphrey N. Nwosu on his 80th birthday.
Another person is Dr. Rev. George E. Holmes, who served and assisted five United States Presidents and Recipient of the Presidential Lifetime Achievement by President Barack Obama Award 2021. The list also includes Andrew Young as well as Dr & Dr (Mrs) Emmanuel Ossy Iruno and Engr &Mrs Emeka Nwosu for the Nwosu family.
Indeed, the eagle has landed. Since that unfortunate annulment, Prof Nwosu has withdrawn from the public glare but quietly continues to contribute meaningfully to his fatherland, especially in defending democracy. In his book ‘Laying the Foundation for Nigeria’s Democracy’ from Page Publishing, he urges students of political science, political leaders, democrats, all public office- holders as well as independent readers having the interest of Nigeria’s development at heart to grab the stimulating book. In the book, he examines how the Nigeria leadership tends to attract legitimacy and its acceptance from the generality of Nigerians. He documents the centrifugal and centripetal forces that combined in various ways to shape as well as influence IBB’s transition programme. The programme is analysed and compared with the previous transition programme and the process, and its special features like its inbuilt learning process are identified. He concludes by stating unequivocally that “Nigerians found a great deal of opportunity for real and genuine democracy during the June 12 presidential election and they grabbed it. ‘’
The outcome of the election and its annulment has whetted the appetite of both the majority and the minority ethnic groups of Nigeria. There is therefore, a burning desire for equality, fairness and freedom for all Nigerians.” Suggesting how Nigerians can solve their present political problems, the political colossus reiterates that the June 12 presidential election lays a strong foundation for democracy in Nigeria. He also maintained that June 12, 1993 election was indeed the real Democracy Day in Nigeria while May 29, 1999 was its offshoot.
The story of how Prof Humphrey Nwosu shot into the limelight of national discourse started sometime in 1999 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 a 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 28 February1989, the erudite professor of political science was appointed the chief electoral officer. He was 45 then. Nwosu however, hazarded a guess on why he was the choice. 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.
“With the removal of Professor Eme Awa, a respectable and experienced political scientist from the Igbo speaking area of the country, the advisers of President Babangida perhaps might have advised that he should be replaced with an accomplished Igbo scholar who is also a political scientist with practical background and experience in federal/state government service. This, when done, would not only help in maintaining regional balance with Nigeria’s fragile federal structure, but appease the Igbos who are one of the three largest ethnic groups in the country. If that was his brief from his advisers, my appointment seemed to fit the mood. While there were older political scientists with some bouts of experience in public service, certainly my intellect as well as my public service experiences were quite strong’,” he asserted.
He equally gave reasons why he also accepted the offer despite his trepidations arising from how distinguished Nigerians who held that position had often ended up. In his own words, “I saw my appointment as an opportunity to participate in carrying out major electoral reforms that would restore the confidence of the generality of Nigerians in the electoral process. In accepting the appointment, I felt in my innermost 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,” he submitted.
Undoubtedly, with this mind-set, 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 Kashimawo Abiola popularly called MKO, of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) that was eventually annulled by the military government that organised 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.”
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, an 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 and the commission dissolved.” Twenty-five years after that unfortunate incident however, 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 investiture took place on June 12, 2018. Before the event of that day, the courageous Humphrey Nwosu was invited to witness the investiture but he was regrettably outside the country and he diligently informed the Federal Government of his inability to attend.
Nwosu was elated at the news of the Federal Government’s declaration of June 12 as Democracy Day and for honouring the memory of Moshood Abiola, the presumed winner of the 1993 election. In a letter to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, Nwosu, who presided over the polls and the brain behind Options A4, later annulled by the military junta, said the conferment of national honours on Abiola and his running mate, Babagana Kingibe, “will rekindle the national consciousness of all Nigerians for a better nation.”
The letter reads: “I thank His Excellency, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari and the Federal Government of Nigeria for recognising June 12 as Democracy Day and also honouring the winner of June 12, 1993 presidential election, Chief M.K.O. Abiola.
“Indeed, June 12, 1993 marked a turning point in Nigeria’s tortuous journey towards a democratic polity. It is an honour to the very hardworking men and women of the defunct National Electoral Commission under my leadership at this long awaited recognition. I humbly commend this action by the President.
“Undoubtedly, the democratic system of governance is the best, especially for a multi-ethnic nation like ours. I thank you for building on the foundation that my team and I laboured strenuously to establish and actualise on June 12, 1993. It is our hope that expanding the frontiers of democracy of which all the people of Nigeria, regardless of ethnic group, will provide economic, social and developmental benefits that will certainly make Nigeria a great nation, not only in Africa but across the world.
“Certainly, the scheduled event on Tuesday, June 12, 2018 will rekindle the national consciousness of all Nigerians for a better nation. Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond my control, I will not be present at the investiture ceremony as I am outside the country,” he wrote.
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. Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha promised that the FG would give more honours to the deserving citizens. Maybe, Professor Humphrey Nwosu, that erudite Professor of Political Science, that patriotic and courageous Nigerian that called the bluff of the military and discharged his duty without fear or favour, may be part of that batch. When that is done, Nigerians will begin to appreciate that honesty and hard work pays.
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 its 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 defies manipulation. Happy birthday sir as you join the Octogenarian Club.