COMRADE EMMA EZEAZU: Foremost Apostle For Electoral Reform

Comrade Emma Ezeazu.

Comrade Emma Ezeazu.

Difficult Transition to Civilian Rule and Consolidation of Democracy: WHEN the General Abdulsalaami Abubakar initiated the transition to civilian rule in 1998, the focus of the civil society community was on monitoring the process to ensure a successful discharge of military dictatorship.

With the berthing of civilian rule, Nigerians were rudely awakened to the fact that it was not yet destination point as most of the traits symptomatic with military rule became replete in the emerging democratic order.

The mirroring of authoritarian rule within the civilian setting found no better expression than the way the business of governance was executed and periodic elections conducted. Despite the 1999 general elections with some level of credibility, the post 1999 General Elections Report of the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG) recognized the prevalence of electoral malpractices in different voting centres across the country.

While members of the civil society community expected some significant improvement in the conduct of subsequent elections post 1999, the outcome of the 2003 and 2007 general polls left a bitter gall in the mouth.

Arrival of Alliance for Credible Elections: A Popular Movement for the Restoration of Nigerian People Sovereignty through Electoral Integrity The Alliance for Credible Elections (ACE-Nigeria), founded in August 8, 2006, became a radical departure from then prevailing pacifist engagement for electoral reform. At the helms of the vision and leadership for this novel approach to the struggle for electoral clean up in Nigeria was Comrade Emma Ezeazu.

Given his experience in the student union movement where he served the longest term as the President of National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), Comrade Ezeazu, beyond routine media releases, deployed a more robust engagement with managers of Nigeria’s electoral space.

The Nigerian people were at the heart of Comrade Ezeazu’s push for electoral reform. In its early days, ACE-Nigeria released media adverts calling for free subscription by Nigerians to the movement for electoral sanctity. Comrade Ezeazu’s desire for popular ownership of the struggle for electoral reform was echoed by the quality of mass based groups that provided the core partnership for the recovery of electoral rectitude.

In order to realize the mandate that it set for itself, ACE-Nigeria forged a robust partnership with the following mass based organizations: Nigeria Labour Congress, Christians Association of Nigeria (CAN), Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs of Nigeria (SCIAN), United Action for Democracy, Women Unity Forum, Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Women for Representative National Conference (WONACO), Justice Development and Peace Commission (JDPC Ijebu-Ode), Federation of Muslim Women Associations of Nigeria (FOMWAN), Electoral Reform Network (ERN), Organized Private Sector (MAN, NACIMA and NASSI), Practicing Musicians Association of Nigeria (PMAN) Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), Association of Professional Bodies of Nigeria (APBN) and Joint National Association of People Living with Disabilities (JONAPWD) to form one of the biggest civil society coalition against electoral impunity.

Charting the Course for Sustainable Electoral Reform In the aftermath of the rape of Nigeria’s democratic process during the 2007 general elections by criminal minded politicians and with the active cooperation of INEC under the leadership of Professor Maurice Iwu, a new agenda was needed for engagement with the electoral space.

Comrade Emma Ezeazu in collaboration with the then General Secretary of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Comrade John Odah, Innocent Chukwuma, Y.Z. Yau, Emma Ugboaja and a few other activists spearheaded the persuasion for a more active role by citizen groups in the campaign for electoral reform. A major fruit of that collaboration was the Nigeria Labour Congress – Civil Society Summit on Reform of Nigeria’s Electoral Process held on 4-5 April, 2008 in Bauchi.

The summit, first of its kind, was a follow up to the public disowning of the 2007 elections by its biggest beneficiary; late President Umaru Musa Yar Adua, and his call for very fundamental reform of Nigeria’s electoral process. The public disclaimer on the elections that produced his presidency was not a cherry pick for late President Yar Adua.

It was as a result of consistent pressure by mass based organizations especially NLC and civil society groups like ACE-Nigeria. As part of the struggle for electoral reform within the civil society, Comrade Ezeazu played key roles in the convening of two national strategy meeting for electoral reform.

The meeting were held to receive input for the development of the proposal for engagement with the Justice Uwais led Electoral Reform Committee (ERC).

The first strategy meeting basically analyzed the 2007 elections and identified areas of the electoral system that needed to be overhauled. The second strategy meeting streamlined areas of focus and set up a civil society coordinating committee to drive the process of engagement with the Electoral Reform Committee.

Over a hundred civil society organizations participated in the two strategy meetings respectively and elected the following seven apex organizations to constitute the Civil Society Coordinating Committee on Electoral Reform CSCC. They include Nigeria Labour Congress, Alliance for Credible Elections ACE NIGERIA, Electoral Reform Network ERN, Transition Monitoring Group TMG, Citizens Forum for Constitutional Reform CFCR, National Coalition on Affirmative Action NCAA and GECORN. ACE-Nigeria was made the Secretariat of the CSCC.

At the end of its work, the CSCC made very astute input to the ERC Report by way of three fundamental recommendations; the independence of INEC; a level playing field in the resolution of electoral disputes particularly through the judicial process, and proportional representation.

It was unfortunate that the federal cabinet of late President Musa Yar Adua reneged on its promise to fully commit itself to the reform of the electoral space based on the wishes of the Nigerian people as most of the fundamental recommendations contained in the Justice Uwais ERC report were thrown out.

This necessitated another round of pressure building for the full implementation of the Justice Uwais Report and the penalizing of state actors who orchestrated electoral crime and impunity against the Nigerian people. Comrade Emma Ezeazu was actively involved in the NLC nationwide mass mobilization for electoral reform.

The NLC-Civil Society rallies sent a strong signal that elections in Nigeria would no longer be business as usual. The high point of the struggle for the reclamation of the electoral space in Nigeria was the push by Comrade Emma Ezeazu and the then General Secretary of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Comrade John Odah for the removal of Professor Maurice Iwu as the Chairman of INEC.

The move was highly significant given the moves being made by the anti-democratic forces that designed the 2007 general elections charade to retain Maurice Iwu at the helms of INEC. ACE-Nigeria was the rallying point for popular penalizing of Iwu.

Leading a mammoth crowd of Nigerian labour and civil society, Comrade Emma Ezeazu and other leaders in Nigeria’s citizen’s sector stormed the INEC headquarters.

In his speech at the premises of INEC, then President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Comrade Abdulwaheed Omar warned that any attempt by former President Goodluck Jonathan to renew Professor Maurice Iwu’s term of office would lead to a total shut down of the country. That was the level of momentum that the quest for electoral reform had garnered.

Like they say, the rest is now history as Professor Maurice Iwu did not last up to one week in office after that epochal protest by the Nigerian people. Building on the Legacy: The demise of Comrade Emma Ezeazu in the early evening of May 18, 2015 was to a lot of people a heart breaking dusk on a phase of electoral activism in Nigeria. Comrade Emma Ezeazu was an activist’s activist par excellence. He was among the best of his generation.

He devoted all his life to the advancement of the common good and betterment of the standard of living of the downtrodden masses of Nigeria. Emma Ezeazu’s unrepentant commitment to the struggle for a better Nigeria saw him in and out of military cum police detentions severally.

His academic and personal life took a lot of hit on this account. Comrade Ezeazu was a true patriot. Emma viewed the ballot box as the beginning of the rescue mission to emancipate the long suffering people of Nigeria from the slave manacles of a misruling elite.

When it became clear that the ruling elite would rather hijack the ballot box than allow the sovereignty of the Nigerian people to prevail, the crusade for electoral reform became not only the prime vocation of Comrade Emma Ezeazu but a life cause for which he was ready to pay the supreme price.

Comrade Ezeazu’s stand for good governance was unmatched. This was proved by his willingness to help build a virile opposition to then ruling Peoples Democratic Party. The civil society community in Nigeria cannot afford to wail Comrade Emma Ezeazu as people without hope.

This is the best time to seize the moment and push for a comprehensive reform of the electoral space through a diligent implementation of the Justice Uwais Electoral Reform Committee’s Report. There is no better way to immortalize Comrade Emma Ezeazu. Emma Ezeazu’s struggle for Electoral Reform has become the footprints that he has left behind as a worthy legacy. Those have become the burden of the successor generation! Asuzu is Deputy General Secretary, Alliance for Credible Elections.

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