The Independent National Election Commission (INEC) Chairman, Maurice Iwu, has faced widespread criticism at home and abroad since overseeing flawed polls in 2007 which brought President Umaru Yar’Adua to power.
“The acting president … has directed the chairman of INEC, Maurice Iwu, to proceed on pre-disengagement leave with immediate effect,” said Ima Niboro, Jonathan’s spokesman.
Jonathan, who has assumed executive powers in the absence of the ailing Yar’Adua, has made overhauling the electoral system a top priority and reform legislation is before parliament.
INEC’s critics believe the reforms would be toothless unless Iwu himself was replaced by someone more credible who can better organise the next polls, due by April 2011.
Jonathan ordered Iwu, whose five-year term as chairman would have expired on June 13, to hand over his responsibilities to his deputy until a replacement could be found.
Hundreds of protesters demonstrated outside the headquarters of INEC last month to demand Iwu’s removal. The United States, by far Nigeria’s biggest trade partner, had also urged the elections chief be replaced.
OPEC member Nigeria is hoping to prevent a repeat of the 2007 elections, which were so marred by ballot-stuffing and voter intimidation that local and international observers said they were not credible.
An election bill currently before parliament would implement dozens of reforms including independent funding for INEC, breaking the commission up so it can focus better on electoral conduct, and prosecution for election riggers.
But analysts believe time is quickly running out for these reforms to be implemented for next year’s elections in Africa’s most populous country. Reuters