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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 April 2007, 13:10 GMT 14:10 UK
Keeping Nigeria in poll position
The BBC's Senan Murray profiles Maurice Iwu, the man tasked with policing Nigeria's landmark 2007 elections.

Maurice Iwu
The father of four exudes energy and loves to talk

Stern-faced, blunt and short-tempered, Maurice Iwu is perhaps the most famous person in Nigeria right now after the president.

Mr Iwu has come a long way from his days as a herbal medicine research scientist and university teacher.

He once announced that he had found a remedy for the deadly Ebola virus - now he is tasked with curing Nigeria's troubled democracy.

If he succeeds, it would be Nigeria's first successful transfer of power from one civilian regime to another since independence from Britain in 1960.

But with the recent discovery of babies' names on the voter register, many analysts believe that Mr Iwu's Independent National Electoral Commission (Inec) is still searching.

His cure for Ebola has certainly disappeared without a trace.

I think he is a bit too confrontational for his position as an umpire
Journalist Habeeb Idris Pindiga

Yet, his fearlessness and confidence are perhaps the qualities needed to successfully conduct elections in Nigeria.

Habeeb Idris Pindiga, an Abuja-based journalist who has covered Inec for several years, is not convinced by these somewhat overbearing traits.

"I think he is a bit too confrontational for his position as an umpire," he says.

"Some of his recent pronouncements and decisions suggest that he may not be an impartial umpire and impartiality is very necessary for success in his position."

His permanent frown suggests an impatient personality and his choice of the suit and neck tie emphasise his business-like nature.

And when it comes to criticism, Mr Iwu, from south-eastern Imo State, certainly does not have a lot of patience.

One of his favourite responses to media critics is to dismiss them as "sponsored by opposition politicians".

But the 57-year-old father of four exudes energy and he loves to talk. In fact he spoke non-stop for more than three hours when he recently addressed the country's Senate - without one humorous aside.

'Puppet'

The choice of Mr Iwu as Abel Guobadia's successor in 2005 came to many Nigerians as a surprise as he was not among the favoured candidates.

MAURICE IWU
Born 21 April 1950, Imo State
Received an early missionary education
Travelled to the UK for university in the 1970s
Graduated with a Master of Pharmacy from University of Bradford in 1976
Received his PhD in 1978, University of Bradford
Professor of pharmacognosy at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka from 1984-1993
Announced a cure for Ebola in 1999 at the International Botanical Congress in St Louis
Became Inec chairman in 2005

But his background as an academic and a devout Catholic - he never misses Mass at the Holy Trinity Parish, Abuja - endeared him to many.

Two years later, they are now wondering whether Mr Iwu is his own man.

Shortly after his appointment, Mr Iwu told Nigeria's political leaders that foreign monitors would not be allowed into the country during the elections.

This elicited sharp condemnation from politicians and civil society groups and when the heat became too much, Mr Iwu issued a statement explaining that only foreign election observers, rather than foreign election monitors would be allowed in.

Not long after that, Mr Iwu was back in the news when he announced that Inec would be using an electronic voting system for the elections.

Despite the public outcry that followed, he stuck to his guns and insisted that Nigerians must "shed off their fear of technology and move with the times", like India was doing.

It took a parliamentary amendment to the country's electoral law for him to abandon it.

Last November when Nigeria's embattled Vice-President Atiku Abubakar observed that Nigerians had lost confidence in Inec's ability to conduct a free and fair poll, Mr Iwu responded by calling him a "frustrated politician".

Mr Abubakar had become an opposition presidential candidate when he failed to get the ruling party's ticket after falling out with former ally President Olusegun Obasanjo.

A few months later, when Mr Iwu announced the names of candidates cleared to run in the April polls, the vice-president's name was not on the list: an indictment for alleged corruption prevented his qualification.

Fame

For some Nigerians this just reinforced their belief that Mr Iwu is a puppet jerking to the pulls of his puppet-master, the president, who they say is bent on influencing the outcome of the elections even though his tenure is ending.

President Olusegun Obasanjo
Mr Obasanjo is accused of influencing Mr Iwu

Since then, the polls have been dominated by accusations and counter-accusations of corruption between Mr Abubakar and his associates on the one hand and Inec and Mr Obasanjo's supporters on the other.

The UK university-educated professor of pharmacognosy (medicinal plant research) also hit the headlines before joining the turbulent turf of Nigeria politics.

As head of his own research organisation, Bioresources Development and Conservation Programme, he announced at the 1999 International Botanical Congress that he had found a cure for the deadly Ebola virus.

However, this fame was short-lived as it was the last that was ever heard of the revelation.

The next two weeks will decide how his name will be remembered in the history of Nigerian democracy.


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