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There’s no mode of primary politicians can’t manipulate – Igini, Akwa Ibom REC


Mike Igini, a lawyer and Resident Electoral Commissioner of Akwa Ibom State speaks with CHUKWUDI AKASIKE on challenges during the Anambra election, Nigeria’s democracy and the compulsory direct primaries provision in the new amendment to the Electoral Act

Some say elections in Nigeria are like war situations. How can elections be conducted in the country without guns blazing from political thugs?

The tragedy of our politics is that many people who ordinarily have no business being in politics; people who have little or no philosophical insight to what leadership and service are all about regrettably are the ones engaged in politics and in position of leadership. That is why election in Nigeria is now synonymous with war that must be won through the use and deployment of force. Our democracy is gradually acquiring authoritarian features given the behaviour of some of our elected political elites. Whenever a democratic system gets to a point where politicians reject the rules of democratic contest by rejecting the norms on which democracy is practiced by using violence to curtail citizens participation during election or deny their fellow party members or opponents of other parties their legitimate right of participation, democracy will be at risk. In fact, Levisky and Ziblat say democracy will die as contained in their recent work titled, ‘How democracy dies’.

The only hope is that when democracy gets to a point of consolidation through the kind of innovations that the commission is so committed to utilize for insulating the process from rigging and manipulation as evident from recent elections of Edo, Ondo and the just conducted Anambra election, there will be a decrease and reduction in electoral volatility. But in terms of consequences to dissuade aberrant behaviours during elections, we still have very low statistics of convictions of people who breach election laws. We bear in mind that without the rule of law and its strict adherence in a democracy, electoral contest becomes a crude contest in the deployment of force. It therefore will lose that advantage which the philosopher, Karl Popper, says it has over other systems, and that is a peaceful and orderly process of leadership selection and transition.

Do you think INEC conducted credible election in Anambra State?

Absolutely, the commission delivered on its mandate; the outcome has been widely adjudged as a true reflection of the will of the people as consistently assured by the Chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, throughout his engagements with stakeholders, in response to so many issues raised and fears expressed over the possibility of even conducting the election. The fact that the election was held at all is a cheerful development whereas the opposite situation would have sent wrong signals for future elections given such kind of bad precedent.  He maintained that the election would hold and that the outcome will be determined by the people of Anambra State. Interestingly, the people pleasantly surprised all Nigerians by their commitment and resilience to make November 6, 2021 a day to be remembered, against the background of the insecurity that preceded the conduct of the election. That the election took place is a commendable evidence of the resilience and unwavering determination of the commission that suffered terrible attacks and destruction of valuable electoral assets, yet forged on and was able to conduct the election. A huge credit also goes to security agencies and other stakeholders. The outcome of this election should be an assurance and guarantee to all Nigerians that it is only their votes that will determine who becomes a leader. The electoral processes and procedures that have been introduced and many more to come are intended to put power in the hands of the electorate and not those who are candidates irrespective of the party they belong. Politicians should brace up to this and pay attention to the people on whom election victory and salvation lie and not INEC officials.

But what would you say about the glaring challenges that affected the smooth commencement of the election?

True, there were some initial technical issues with the accreditation process but not polling unit results upload or transmission of result. This should be made clear.  Those initial accreditation issues were eventually resolved and we must commend the people for their patience and resilience; they were not deterred by the avoidable but unintended technical difficulties. One important thing that Nigerians should note from the Anambra election is that there was no issue about polling units result upload or transimission of the result which confirms the Commission’s capacity. Even if there had been issues during the election there was none on result transmission.

We all must acknowledge the very difficult circumstances under which INEC prepared and conducted this election. Those vehicle owners who had been engaged failed to show up on election day when it will be difficult, if not impossible, for the commissions to hire new vehicles, yet election must go on. We must also commend the people for their patience by waiting and eventually casting their votes and for making their votes count. But we mustn’t forget INEC showed up, even where many expressed great and profound concerns that it may be mission impossible, yet INEC and the people of Anambra ensured that the key indicators of democratic elections which are competition, participation and legitimate outcome were made possible. Election observers and voters have generally affirmed that the outcome is clearly and undoubtedly a reflectionof the ballots as cast at the polls and uploaded to result view portals from polling units.

With the way the BVAS malfunctioned, why didn’t INEC use the card reader as a back-up in the Anambra election?

We appreciate and understand the outrage of voters that will normally follow challenges at even just a polling unit on election day, not been able to be attended to as quickly as possible. But you will realise that there was so much heat on the BVAS and little light on its huge performance from preliminary data of success that shows at the end of that day a total of 4,987 polling units results uploaded to the portal out of 5,634 polling units minus 86 polling units without voters from the overall total of 5,720 polling units of the state publicly announced by the commission before the election. We should not conflate the use of BVAS with SCR because the BVAS is a far more superior device to the smartcard readers despite the initial unintended glitches experienced.

Everyone can attest to the fact that in the supplementary election at lhiala LGA, there were no issue with the BVAS. This shows the embrace of technology on incremental basis to secure the sanctity of the ballot as the best means of expression of the will of the people in democracy. Rather than dwell on the initial challenges that were resolved, we should acknowledge the impact of this technology in acting as a barrier against rigging of elections and a barrier of entry for many who had acculturated to election malpractices. With the deployment of technology to the accreditation process, the three key objectives of access control namely, identification, authentication and authorisation to participate in a one-person-one-vote process, filtered for credibility is made more robust.

Through your recommendations, a returning officer was arrested, prosecuted and jailed for election infraction. Do you have any regret about this?

Look, in order to hold, maintain and sustain the confidence of the Nigerian people on the integrity of our election, those whose actions tend to undermine the integrity of our system because of pecuniary or other kind of interests must be made to face the full consequences of the law. What kind of society are we that a university professor will get himself involved in a grievous criminal act of falsifying election results during collation? A professor receiving from politicians already collated results that did not emanate from due process of election and you think that such personality who disdained the sovereign rights of voters should be allowed to go free? Still in Akwa lbom, in the coming weeks, one more professor, who connived with a politician, will have his day in court and face the music for receiving fraudulent election result that became a subject of tribunal up to the Appeal Court. If anyone should be remorseful, it should be those who sought to make nonsense of the votes of the Akwa Ibom people.

The APC once accused you of planning to rig the last Edo election. How did you feel about that allegation before reacting publicly?

It is not APC as a party but two individuals; members separate from the party that embarked on that reckless path. I have slammed a N5bn suit each on them for damages and we are in court. They have to prove to the world how someone, who was in Lagos with his family on a particular day and night, could be in Benin the same day and night holding meetings in Edo. You may choose to be reckless but you cannot aviod consequences of your recklessnes.

What is your opinion about an average Nigerian politician that makes you to always be on your guard?

My key concerns have to do with lack of principles and ethical commitment to values and progress. No sense of shame in the conduct and behaviour of very many of our elites who occupy high offices who should be role models to the younger generation. Our value pyramid seems upside down and dishonesty now on the top. Many have failed to realise that the highest standards of ethical value is expected of those charged with the administration of public affairs. Total disregard for truth and individual right has been a very discouraging factor why upright people don’t want to go into government, a mistake though and the reason why those who are in the system are struggling daily to maintain their sanity. The society in which we live will have no value if we do not re-commit to values that will make it better, because whatever we own or have attained are worthless in a society that has no commitment to values that are good and worthy of emulation.

How soon do you think Nigeria can develop to the point where qualified citizens living outside the country can also vote during elections?

Electoral development can be incremental or revolutionary depending on how serious we are committed to progress as a people. Time as we all know is neutral; it can be used positively or negatively. But with advances in technology, it is not impossible to bridge spatial barriers to surmount the hindrances to diaspora or out of country voting. A number of countries in Africa are already doing it; so, it is not impossible. But l think that we should perfect some of the innovations that have been introduced and to see that those in Nigeria that do not vote at the moment in our elections, like men of the Nigeria Police, members of the armed forces and all other security agencies personnel are allowed to vote during general election on Wednesday preceding the Saturday usually fixed as election day. That is the practice in Ghana and in other countries where these categories of citizens who are on the register are made to vote before the D-day when they will be on duty for the election. The ballot boxes containing the votes are counted only after the main election day. At the moment, over a million ad hoc staff members engaged for election do not vote as well as people like us in the commission. So, it’s not only our citizens abroad who are making huge contribution to our economy through diaspora remittances in billions, even those of us presently at home as umpires should vote during presidential elections.

Local government elections in Nigeria have always been won by the state governors’ political parties. Many have always faulted the conduct of such elections by State Electoral Commissions. What do you think is the way forward?

My position and views on local government elections are sufficiently well known since SIECs took over the conduct of LGA elections according to the constitution. One of the characteristics of electoral outcomes is their uncertainty. So, any electoral process where you are certain to predict the results even before ballots are cast, not because of the electoral influence of the voters, but the influence of those who fund and organise the elections, such elections are nothing but defective elections and at worst coronation events. Unfortunately, the State Electoral Commissions though composed in many instances of some individuals of proven integrity in their respective careers, many of whom can perform, perhaps, far better  than what our Commission is doing because of our independence and autonomy, those in SIECS are working under very difficult governance terrains, lacking independence in both funding and administration. In many instances, governors determine when election should be conducted and not the statute and even after these coronation events called elections had taken place, the so-called elected chairmen and councillors can be removed from office by governors at will before the end of their tenure.

If I may ask, can the President of Nigeria by mere pronouncement remove elected governors of any state in this country? We are all responsible for this unfortunate development; it is the acquiescence of the people of this country to these kind of shenanigans that has made any state controlled by any of the political parties a conquered territory that no other party can win a chairmanship seat until the recent event in Kaduna, which was a remarkable difference. It’s a tragedy that there is no practice of even a semblance of democracy at the grass roots tier of government in the entire 774 LGAs in Nigeria. Both SIECS and LGAs in Nigeria are not yet free to perform their constitutional duties. That is why local government elections are mere façades for undemocratic behaviour.

Politicians are in the habit of piling pressure on INEC officials. Have you been under such pressure as REC? How were you able to manage the situation?

From my experience since 2010, that l have been an umpire, l will say that but for the total absence of trust created by the kind of elections we had in 2003, particularly the 2007 election that ought to have been cancelled by the Supreme Court, a good number of politicians are willing to do what is right if they are certain that the umpire will ensure a level playing field. That is not to say that many would not prefer if the thumbs were placed on the scales in their favour. There will always be the tendency to pile pressure and such pressure will only have effect on those who are ethically and morally challenged. From the last few elections that the Commission has conducted across the country from Edo to Ondo and the Anambra election, it should be clear to our political elite that only the  votes of the electorate will determine the winner of elections and not a REC, E.O or any ad hoc staff. We must accept the fact that elections are the principal instrument in a democracy that makes elected individuals pay attention to the people.

Under you, some INEC employees, who were involved in one infraction or the other, were dismissed. Some of them may have seen their dismissal as harsh and unnecessary. What is your take on this?

This is not harshness; it is the reason that some societies are better than others. If we want a better society, we should be firm in dealing with those who are making efforts to destroy the system we are building otherwise there will be no country for our children to inherit. I told you earlier that conducts that undermine the integrity of public institution must not be overlooked from the standpoint of confidence in our electoral system.The paramount issue is the instrument of the law and its intents. I cannot on my own determine the fate of anyone. Whoever breaches the law will answer to the law either through administrative due process or the legal process. Two Assistant Directors who were also within the radar of undermining the election in Akwa Ibom are under investigation and must explain their mission on the eve of that election in the state. I encourage staff and people around me to be committed to desirable societal values so that we have a better society where the law which is the building brick of an ordered society is respected and supreme.Those who are not ready to abide by the law or are willing to be used to break the law or undermine the electoral process will not find an accomplice in me.

The Federal Government funds INEC, and the same Federal Government belongs to the ruling party. Don’t you think these offer it an undue advantage during election periods?

The funding of INEC is from the Federation Account through the Federal Government that also disburses money to the states from the same account. In any case, the Federal Government is not the party. When a party wins elections, its members who are in government administer. Different political parties will win election at different times but that should not have anything do with the neutrality expected of the umpire. That is why different political parties win or lose elections conducted by INEC irrespective of the political party at the centre. So, where is the undue advantage you are talking about because of funding that is even from the consolidated account of the federation? In any case, even in a community where an individual owns a cock, its early morning crow is usually for the entire neighbourhood. The Commission’s work of periodic election is for the entire country.

Some ad hoc staff also failed to show up on that day. What do you think INEC should do about such persons because it was another level of sabotage?

Having regard to the scary security situation in the East and Anambra in particular, we must appreciate the courage of the young men and women corps members who participated in the election and special thanks to the indefatigable DG of the NYSC, Brig. Gen. (Shuaibu) Ibrahim, who not only mobilised them for the exercise but was there in person throughout the period of the election. I think that we should understand why some of the corps members failed to turn up and look forward to a better future when there will be no insecurity of the kind we have witnessed, so that we dont have this kind of challenges.

The delay in the arrival of election staff and materials to polling units has been an issue for a long time. Is there a time that would be a thing of the past?

These are recurrent challenges created by transporters duly engaged for election activities; we shall find lasting solutions to this election day logistic problem. It doesn’t make economic sense as some folks have glibly suggested that the Commission should buy its own vehicles for the purpose of conveying poll officials and materials in order to be in full control on election day. How many buses will the commission purchase and where are the funds for that, apart from maintenance issues for another four years before election? We should also acknowledge that in a state or community that already suffers transport and other logistical issues, the election day will not cure that problem; it will also reflect in the conduct of elections in such communities. Nevertheless, Nigerians should be hopeful that all these issues will be addressed.

INEC doesn’t seem comfortable with the compulsory direct primaries provision in the new amendment to the Electoral Act. What are your main reservations and do you think it’s best if it’s left open?

That is wholly incorrect; how can it be said or suggested that the umpire is uncomfortable with whatever mode legislated for the conduct of primary elections. We can only point out the issues that we should take into account for a successful conduct of whatever mode of primary legislated such as the need for a credible register of members which is key and the fact that as a body that will monitor these primaries, we may have to engage more personnel with budgetary implications.  We all look forward to political parties committed to the principles of internal party democracy. We should support rules and procedures that will make party primaries a reflection of the popular choice of members of political parties. Let there be clear guidelines that every party member knows and have them applied without cutting corners to favour anyone. Let the parties be legally compelled to publish the guiding law within a time frame prior to electoral events. Let me say this; there is no mode of party primary that cannot be subverted by our elites since rules are observed more in breach during the conduct of party primaries. That was why Alexander Pope timeless statement of “what is best administered is best” easily comes to mind on this issue of direct or indirect primary.

Currently, people can only vote in the polling units where they registered, which necessitates travelling sometimes. Given the mobile nature of man, can’t the commission work towards a system where you can vote anywhere you are, say ahead of 2023?

It is not impossible particularly with technology, but in seeking mobility of constituents, you should also be mindful that it has significance for election outcomes if voters are allowed to move freely during elections and be able to determine electoral outcome in different constituencies. As a matter of fact, some types of election fraud like gerrymandering are facilitated by deliberately moving voters to populate or depopulate some constituencies; this is why one needs to establish the voters in each constituency by publishing the voter registers and calling for objections and claims on it prior to elections. So, if we are talking about mobility and we mean the ability to vote from anywhere in the constituency that you are established as a voting constituent in the voter register for that area, yes, we can work towards electoral processes that can overcome the spatial barriers to enable the franchise of all constituents irrespective of their location, but given our current state of trying to fully give franchise to those in the normal situation, it will be a good idea for the future.


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