The month of October is significant. Taken from the Latin word octo, which means ‘eight,’ a number said to be a symbol of wealth, prosperity, peace and fertility and October being the time of the year when farmers harvest their crops, the month, metaphorically, represents creation – the major force from which all other numbers come.
Professor Nwosu radiates that force. Unfortunately, Nigeria represents the opposite.
Nwosu tried helping to redirect the country’s democratic trajectory in 1993 as the chairman of the electoral umpire, the then National Electoral Commission (NEC), but a country with a leadership that reveled in the self-defeating act of shooting itself on the foot failed him.
Since then, the erudite Professor of Political Science has stayed out of limelight even as he continued to serve humanity.
But no-matter how hard he tries to stay away from the glare of publicity, the events of the annulled June 12, 1993 presidential election which he superintended with remarkable integrity, makes him the axiomatic goldfish with no hiding place.
As Professor Nwosu marks his 80th birthday, surpassing the biblical three scores and ten years with a decade, definitely, a celestial blessing, and as Nigeria continues to wobble democratically with each election worse than the previous one, many still remember the heroic feat of the man who dared a vengeful military junta in the service of fatherland.
Twenty eight years after that patriotic outing, Nwosu’s name still resonates loudly whenever Nigeria’s democracy is discussed. Even when the military did all it could to dim his otherwise glowing fire of excellence, he is still remembered as the man who conducted the country’s freest, fairest and most credible election.
When the self-styled military president, General Ibrahim Babangida, went head hunting for the man who would midwife his transition programme four years after he overthrew the military junta led by Major-General Muhammadu which sacked the democratically elected government of President Shehu Shagari on December 31, 1983, the lot fell on the then 45-year-old erudite academic and Professor of Political Science at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
Thus, on February 28, 1989, Babangida tapped Prof. Nwosu to head the NEC. If Babangida, from the onset, disingenuously wanted a transition to nowhere, then he backed the wrong horse by appointing Nwosu as events proved later.
In his book, “Laying the foundation for Nigeria’s Democracy: My account of June 12, 1993 presidential election and its annulment,” Prof. Nwosu saw his 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.”
Though he was wary of the political temperament of the military overlords, particularly with the way his predecessor, Prof. Eme Awa, a highly respected and experienced political scientist, was removed, Nwosu, as a disciplined academic working in an environment with a well-defined etiquette and code of behavior, nevertheless, accepted the job with the sole goal of making a difference.
‘’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.’’ That is patriotism at a premium.
Besides, Nwosu was supremely confident in his capacity to deliver on the job. As he noted in his book, “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.”
Anyone who acquired a Bachelors Degree in Political Science from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka with First Class Honors, graduated Magna Cum Laude with Masters and Doctorate degrees in Political Science from the University of California, and capped it with a professorship at the age of 35 years as Nwosu did earned his stripes.
But, apparently, he didn’t reckon with the guile of his military employers. But come to think of it, how could he have imagined that a leader would embark on a merry-go-round in the name of a transition programme, spending billions of tax payers’ money, with the goal of transiting to nowhere?
It is even more absurd when the same Babangida promised him a national honour should he and his colleagues conduct a credible, free and fair election.
Nwosu delivered. But like the lizard in Igbo forklore that spoilt its mother’s funeral, Babangida pulled the rug from under his feet. Fortunately for him and unfortunately for his tormentors, he had ensured that the genie was already out of the electoral bottle.
Reminiscing years later on the outcome of the poll which pitted Bashir Tofa of the National Republican Convention (NRC) against Moshood Abiola of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), 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.”
That is true. But it also did one more thing. It cemented his legacy and secured him a place as a member of the country’s pantheon of the all-time greats, because it is futile for anybody, no matter how highly placed, to ignore or erase the importance of the June 12 event in laying the foundation for democracy in Nigeria.
The more efforts are made to wish away and blot out the importance of June 12 as well as its aftermath, the greater its impact on the Nigerian national psyche and the direction for its better future, as Nwosu once noted, because people realize that he put his life on the line, literally, challenging the shenanigans of the military oligarchs.
It was an unsurpassed act of pluck, tantamount to standing in front of a moving train. But Nwosu considered no price, not even the ultimate price, too much to pay for the sake of Nigeria’s democracy.
Though the cataclysmic events that followed led to the death of the ill-fated Third Republic, it is a testimony to Nwosu’s courage that like a phoenix, Nigerians hunger for democracy still rose from the ashes with renewed vigour after it was incinerated on the funeral pyre of Babangida’s transition mendacity.
Because of his dramatic actions, by the time Babangida’s treacherous hammer fatally fell on the process, Nigerians were already aware of the outcome of the election.
Abiola, the SDP candidate not only won but also defeated Tofa, the NRC candidate, in his home state of Kano, a fact which was acknowledged 25 years later by President Muhammadu Buhari when he honoured him and his running-mate, Babagana Kingibe, with the nation’s highest award of Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR), and Grand Commander of Order of the Niger (GCON) respectively.
That Buhari left out Nwosu in the awards is true to character. But he was not bothered. It is not about self. He was happy for the country. As he noted in a letter to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, on the investiture of Abiola on June 12, 2018, declaring June 12 Democracy Day and honouring Abiola “will rekindle the national consciousness of all Nigerians for a better nation.”
Though one of the darkest episodes in the country’s chequered peregrination to nationhood, June 12 defined Prof Nwosu and cemented his place in the nation’s history, even as Babangida struggles to explain, in vain, what really happened.
Twenty eight years after, the self-acclaimed evil genius – a double-speak prodigy – has not been able to offer a coherent explanation on what happened, not even with his latest outing on Arise Television to mark his own 80th birthday.
But for Prof. Humphrey Nwosu, the global community acknowledges his huge contributions not only to Nigeria’s democracy but humanity.
As Dr. Benjamin Chavis, Jr., the iconic American civil rights leader, noted in his tribute, Prof. Humphrey Nwosu is a “trailblazer who tirelessly and unselfishly created and executed an election strategy for Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria,” a brave statesman who “demonstrated democratic values in a practical, measurable, doable, free, and fair elections.”