Nwosu and Option A4 legacy

Nigerians agree that June 12, 1993 Presidential Election remains the country’s freest and fairest though it was annulled by General Ibrahim Babangida-led military government. Following President Muhammadu Buhari’s decision to honour Chief MKO Abiola, the acclaimed winner of the election, Associate Editor, Sam Egburonu, recalls the roles played by the chief electoral umpire, Professor Humphrey Nwosu, and the innovative system he employed that distinguished the election

MOST of the informed monitors of June 12, 1993 Presidential Election, which has officially been adjudged Nigeria’s freest and fairest, agree that the outcome of the poll was made possible by some unique factors like Option A4, the radical voting strategy employed by the then National Electoral Commission of Nigeria and the character of the chief umpire, Professor Humphrey Nwosu.

It was the first time independent Nigeria would opt to use open ballot system in a general election, though the system itself was largely described as African traditional process of election at town unions and villages. Records available show that in Nigeria, open balloting was in use until 1923 when the British colonial administrators first introduced secret ballot system. Some other countries of the world also had traditional open ballot system until modern legislations adopted secret ballot system.

In Australia for example, open ballot system was in use until 1856, when the country adopted the secret ballot system.

It was the Ballot Act of 1872 that officially introduced secret ballot to the British parliamentary politics. Switzerland and Canada also adopted the system in 1872 and 1874 respectively, while Belgium had it in 1877.

So, when, in 1993, Nigeria’s electoral body suddenly said the presidential election would be conducted through open ballot, tagged Option A4, it elicited mixed reactions from observers and stakeholders. While some said it will eliminate rigging through double voting, others said by eradicating confidentiality which secret voting imbues, Option A4 will only serve as a tool of intimidation of voters in the hands of ruthless politicians, whose agents will watch and identify voters that voted for them and the ones that voted against them.

The sharp criticisms and fears notwithstanding, Nwosu and his team went ahead and conducted the June 12, 1993 election using Option A4. The outcome, according Dr. Adedeji Olarenwaju, was “a novel election whose result any keen observer could easily see even before the official announcement by the electoral umpire.” Explaining further, Olarenwaju told The Nation, “I participated in that election as a voter in Iju area of Lagos. We did not need any electoral officer to tell us the result of the election in our ward. We all lined up and the counting was made audibly. Everybody saw it. The result was that both Abiola and Tofa’s supporters could not really contest the result of the election in the ward. It was the same in all the wards in the federation. Given the complexity of our country, where all manner of petty interests are advanced, it is only this kind of easy and practical election that can give the people the required boldness to say, really, my candidate won in that election. This explains why we all continued to say it was Abiola that won and since then, the opposition had nothing to say against that claim, except the technical argument that only NEC has the right to formally announce the winner,” he said.

This has remained the position of defenders of Option A4, even as they claim that Nwosu’s commission actually set a standard that should be retained and improved upon in Nigeria in order to achieve free, fair and credible election. For example, in 2016, after a governorship election in Edo State, the Lagos State Chapter of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) called on the Federal Government to reintroduce the Open Ballot voting system.

Chief Ola Apena, the state’s Deputy Chairman of the party then, while reacting to an allegation that the September 28, 2016 Edo State Governorship Election was rigged in All Progressives Congress’ favour, said Option A4 would eliminate election malpractices.

“I think we should go back to Option A4 because Option A4 does not allow for this kind of manipulation.

“Once a line is formed at the appointed time, if you have been accredited, they will give you something to show that you have been accredited, you come back, you line up and they count you.

“I think, our level of tolerance, our level of honesty, our level of transparency in this country does not accommodate this balloting system that we are using because we will always find desperadoes not necessarily within APC, but even with the PDP,” he said.

As the country prepares for 2019 General Elections, most commentators are of the view that given Nigeria’s peculiarity, a return to open ballot system may indeed be the credible option Nigeria has been looking for in order to get free and fair elections in the future. This is because the country’s elections have been marred repeatedly by all manner of electoral frauds.

General Ibrahim Babangida acknowledged this problem in the speech with which he formally annulled the June 12, 1993 Election, though he failed to allow the only election he later acknowledged to be free and fair to stand.

The man Nwosu

Born on October 2, 1941, Professor Humphrey Nwosu, had the singular honour of being the chief umpire of what the world has acknowledged as Nigeria’s freest and fairest election. But his supervision of the June 12 Presidential Election was not his first political assignment, though it was arguably the first that really brought him to national and international limelight.

A professor of Political Science at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, his first known political assignments were his appointments as Commissioner of Local Government and Chieftaincy Matters and Commissioner of Agriculture in the government of Samson Omeruah’s government in Anambra State. During this period, some analysts said his major contributions included the roles he played in settling intra and inter community land disputes. He was also cited as playing critical roles in ensuring that traditional rulers in the state received salaries. Assessors said he was so effective in the management of local government affairs in the state that he was singled out to serve as the Chairman of a Federal Technical Committee on the application of Civil Service Reforms in the local government service. That could possibly be his first celebrated national political assignment.

So, when Babangida, in 1989, chose this ‘little known’ academic, who studied political science at the University of California, Berkeley, to replace his mentor, Prof. Eme Awah, as the country’s chief electoral umpire, it was only the few who knew him in UNN, where he had made a name as a practical lecturer in politics, and those who encountered him during his brief stint as a cabinet member of the government of Anambra State, that stood up to the majority that dismissed him as ‘little known academic who may not have what it takes to do the tasking job of Chairman of the federal electoral body.’

Today, however, it seems true to say that the radical steps Nwosu introduced at the country’s electoral body between 1989 and 1993 and the presidential election he held, have not only catapulted his image to an international stature in election management, but have also placed him in a pedestal where both academics and political analysts in Nigeria and abroad have continued to discuss the strength of his character.

Until last week, when President Muhammadu Buhari, suddenly decided to honour the winner and heroes of the June 12 Presidential Election, not much was heard of Nwosu who has since retired. But in a letter he wrote to the Presidency, Nwosu commended Buhari for honouring Abiola, who he described as the winner of the June 12 election.

Considering the importance of his role in the exercise, as the man, who stood firm and resisted all pressure to compromise, many Nigerians argue that Prof. Nwosu should be honoured as one of the heroes of June 12.

Until that honour is formally pronounced in the near future, it is not arguable that Nigerian democracy and indeed, the world democracy, have gained one or two critical lessons from Nwosu’s use of traditional voting system and from his tenacity and simplicity.

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