The race for the Deputy Secretary General of the ITU was seen as a straight fight between the United Kingdom and Canada. Poland also featured a lady flaunting some intimidating credentials. Nigeria didn’t feature so much in the expectations of the delegates who under- estimated the fighting spirit of the country in whatever she is determined to do.
By the time a winner emerged in the person of Malcom Johnson of the United Kingdom after two days of balloting, even the Secretary General, Dr. Hamadoun Toure who is due out in December, praised Nigeria for setting the record of taking the voting process to a fourth round. Nigeria lost but was hailed as the hero of the contest.
The Nigerian team led by the Honourable Minster of Communication Technology, Dr. Omobola Johnson; others being the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry, Dr Olaopa; Dr Eugene Juwah, Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission; Ms Josephine Amua, Director, Policy Competition and Economic Analysis, NCC; Nigerian Acting Ambassador to South Korea, Mr. S. Momoh; Mr Peter Emuze, a Director from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and some other Directors from the Ministry and some of its parastatals had done so much of shuttle diplomacy that an outright win was not impossible. By this time, the adrenalin was pumping so hard.
Expectations and tension were so thick that a butcher’s knife could hardly go through. Ab initio, five candidates began the journey with two dropping out after the first ballot.
They are Magdalena Gaj (Poland), representing Eastern Europe and Northern Asia; Bruce Gracie (Canada), representing The Americas; Malcom Johnson (United Kingdom), representing Western Europe; Fatimetou Mohamed-Saleck (Mauritania), representing Africa; and Shola Taylor (Nigeria) also representing Africa.
From the foregoing, only Africa presented two candidates as neither of them agreed to step down for the other. But after the first round of votes, Canada and Mauritania had dropped having scored the least votes. Nigeria was in the third place after Britain and Poland. Climax in a big show can be something very difficult to achieve.
The candidates had worked very hard; flying across the continents to persuade countries to align with their viewpoint to help vote them to that exalted position. The permutation can very interesting to work out.
After eight years as the Secretary General of the ITU, Toure, a great son of Africa has contributed his best to elevate the ITU to an unprecedented height and he is leaving at the very point ovation is loudest. It is quite possible for the incoming Deputy Secretary General to think that after the term of Houlier Zhao of China who is assuming office in December as the new Secretary General it would be his or her turn.
So, the battle was fierce with ideas and international diplomacy and no country was prepared for an easy, pin-fall. After the second round of ballot Nigeria had climbed to the second position behind the United Kingdom. It was now a straight fight between Nigeria and the United Kingdom.
This wasn’t projected by most people in the hall. Both the British and the Canadian candidates had been favoured for obvious reasons: Johnson was the Director for Standards at the ITU for two terms and it was expected that within the period he should build a large following that would make his election easy. While Gracie was a long time Chairman of Financial Human Resource Committee of the ITU.
He too was an insider trying to swing an important election. Instead it was the Nigerian team that made the process very exciting and heightened expectations for two days.
Two factors were responsible for this. The first which had been mentioned is the solid Nigerian team led by the Minister and the credentials of Dr Taylor that could hardly be faulted. Dr Taylor had held so many international positions in various organisations, including RASCOM, INMARSAT, and ITU among others. In terms of the campaign he had been very focused, clearly enunciating the value proposition he was placing on the table for one of the most important agencies of the United Nations.
He was actually hailed for running the best issue-based campaign. In the final vote last Friday Johnson had 104 vote against Taylor’s 64 votes. But the margin of defeat belied the efforts of the Nigerians whose heads remained unbowed. It is pertinent to point out here that the Nigerian efforts were weakened by the two candidates featured by Africa, although most of the African countries would later fight for Nigeria to get elected after the withdrawal of Mohamed, Saleck from Mauritania.
Her refusal to withdraw even when it was very obvious that she was the weakest link had proved a major damage, and quite a few African countries did not feel very comfortable with it. Johnson had enjoyed some swing votes from both the Canadian and Polish candidates to help overwhelm the very strong efforts of Nigeria. Europe remained together and most parts of the world decided to go with it while Africa exhibited a soft underbelly too fragile to accommodate a major diplomatic punch.
But we are no bad losers. While praising the election of Malcom Johnson, Nigeria’s Communication Technology Minister, Mrs Omobola Johnson declared that the best out of the team of quality candidates had won, pledging the readiness of the country to work with the new Secretary General. She also hailed the qualities of Shola Taylor who ran a wonderful campaign and has done Nigeria proud.
While thanking the delegates for voting Johnson, the British Ambassador was full of praises for Taylor’s campaign vision which she prayed the ITU would help bring on board in the days ahead. One dispassionate delegate summarized the proceedings thus: “Nigeria had the best candidate. That is why the election went to the fourth round. But geo-politics took over.”
Recounting his experience, Taylor said: “It was an unprecedented election because for the first time, the election went to the fourth round. There were strong candidates. I have to be appreciative of the Minister, the Permanent Secretary, the EVC and the entire NCC for being very supportive. There is need for African coordination programmes like this. We missed some votes,” he advised.