The five-year reign of Maurice Iwu as the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission came to a sudden end yesterday when the Acting president, Goodluck Jonathan, ordered him to proceed on a pre-disengagement leave, with immediate effect.

Mr Jonathan’s directive was given in a terse statement signed by his spokesman, Ima Niboro and released to journalists in Abuja. “The Acting President’s directive is in consonance with Section 155(1) (c), which stipulates that the Chairman and members of the Independent Electoral Commission shall hold office for a period of five years,” the statement said.

“He has also been directed to hand over to the most senior National Commissioner, who shall oversee the activities of the commission pending the appointment of a substantive chairman”.

Mr Iwu’s tenure expires on 13th June, 2010 and he had actively lobbied for an extension of his service. But most Nigerians blame him for the controversial general election held in 2007 which produced the incumbent administration, and one of the early promises of the Yar’Adua administration was that it would reform the electoral process.

Many local and international agencies and governments have specifically asked Mr Jonathan to sack Mr Iwu if he desired a credible election next year. The acting president demurred from making any categorical statement regarding the fate of Mr Iwu until yesterday.

Wishing him success

Three weeks ago, Mr Jonathan was pointedly asked by Christianne Amanpour on a CNN programme if he was going to retain Mr Iwu. He said recent elections in Anambra and Abuja have shown that the man could organise credible polls if given the right tools.

Some civil society groups, including the Save Nigeria Group, have also organized rallies to press for the removal of Mr Iwu, although counter rallies were also organized in his favour -including a well reported one led by maverick artiste, Charles Oputa, also known as Charley Boy.

A number of senior positions will soon be vacant at the electoral commission and this gives Mr Jonathan the opportunity to nominate a new crop of Nigerians into the commission, as he told an audience in the US during his last trip.

The Acting President, in the letter announcing Mr Iwu’s disengagement, thanked the outgoing chairman for his service to the nation and wished him success in his future endeavours.