By Sunday Ani
The Akwa-Ibom State Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), Mike Igini has described as unnecessary distraction the argument that it would cost the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) huge financial resources to monitor political parties if direct primary election mode as contained in the amended electoral act finally becomes operational.
Igini, who lamented that some individuals are busy dishing out mischievous and outrageous figures there in the social media to conflate the conversation, noted that whether it is a direct or indirect primary, the electoral body would still spend money.
Stressing that there is no more objective engagement and understanding of the subject matter, he warned against the repeat of the third term scenario, where just one item considered to be obnoxious in a single bill truncated the entire bill.
In this interview, he spoke on the INEC’s position about the direct primaries as contained in the amended electoral bill waiting for presidential assent, the impact of the amended bill on INEC, and factors that aided INEC’s successful outing in Anambra State among others.
Making direct primaries compulsory for political parties in the amended electoral bill waiting for the President’s assent has been generating a lot of controversies among politicians, with some strongly opposed to it. What is INEC’s position on direct and indirect primaries by political parties?
INEC’s position as the impartial umpire is the position of the directives of the extant legal framework. As managers of the electoral process, the Commission has institutional memories and knowledge of the advantages and pitfalls of the different methods of conducting party primaries. But, as Alexander Pope said, for forms, modes or methods, it’s scarcely necessary to contend because what is best administered is best. In other words, there is nothing inherently so good or bad about direct or indirect primary to warrant the ongoing acrimony that may affect other profound provisions of the current bill given that this issue of direct primary is just one item in the entire bill. We must avoid a repeat of the third term situation, where just one obnoxious item in a single bill truncated the entire bill.
Are saying that the arguments are unnecessary and that what matters is how direct or indirect mode is used by political parties?
Absolutely, there is nothing really new here. Both methods, unfortunately, have been used in primary elections as a facade for undemocratic behaviour. We should always bear in mind that one common formula for success in any approach chosen depends on the sincerity of those who lead and manage the political parties, as well as those who participate in those primaries conducted by political parties. Unless political party members from top to bottom sincerely submit themselves to the due process they subscribe to, any hope for success of whatever method they subscribe to will be a futile hope.
From our political experience in this country, one of the biggest political challenges has been the inability of political parties to organise primaries without squabbles. Whenever they manage to do so, it has always been seen as a remarkable achievement, whereas it should be something of a routine. Looking beyond the problems to solution, our take is that whatever mode that we subscribe to, political parties should do the following – a mandatory submission within a reasonable time prior to any primary election, certified true copies of verifiable party register of members of each ward or delegate list for the election and certified true copies of party guidelines for the same election submitted to the INEC and published on party website, as well as two newspapers displayed in all local government area offices of the party within the constituency of the election.
There is also this argument of huge financial burden on INEC monitoring the process associated with direct primary; what are your thoughts about that?
Look, there is no mode of primary that is cost-free. The Commission had always spent money to mobilise personnel, who are deployed to monitor either direct or indirect primaries in the past. There is absolutely nothing new about this issue of financial burden argument. In fact, what the political parties have done in the past because the Commission bore the burden alone was that after giving notice to the Commission of a date, time and venue, and after the commission’s staff have all been mobilised, even some staff from the Headquarters in Abuja, the party officials would suddenly send notice to the states, few hours to the time that the exercise was suspended, and sometimes it might even be a message of outright cancellation received at the venue of the scheduled primaries, while the mobilised INEC staff and their members were waiting for the party officials that will conduct the primary. As a result, funds and time committed would all be wasted to be repeated again. We are just monitors of compliance to guidelines set out by political parties to regulate their own affairs; it is not the Commission that conducts the primary. Why so much noise and concerns about the cost of monitoring by INEC and a loud silence over the cost of the exercise itself by political parties? Why are people not talking about the cost to be incurred by the political parties but INEC’s cost of monitoring, and by implication, dragging the Commission into the arena of a subject matter that has now assumed partisan dimensions? We have been conducting elections in 119,973 polling units, deploying staff and in the 2023 election, the Commission will conduct elections in a total of 176,846 polling units. So what is this hue and cry about monitoring primary exercises in just 8,809 Registration Areas (RAs) or wards compared to the number of polling units in general elections? We should simply make up our minds on what we want to do with the greatest promise and hope of democracy, which is participation, whether it should be given meaning and purpose in our practised democracy.
So, don’t you think that monitoring cost is a serious issue that should be given serious consideration?
I have not said so. I am saying that all cost elements should be considered, and not just that of monitoring by lNEC that has not mentioned any figure yet. Monitoring cost has suddenly become the main issue with some mischievous and outrageous figures put out there in the social media to conflate the conversation. This is unnecessary and unhelpful at this time that we all should ensure we have a new Electoral Act in preparing for the 2023 elections. As I pointed out earlier, the most important factor is willingness and sincerity for the process to succeed by all. I’m warning against a relapse to cognitive cherry picking, with emphasis on one and maintaining loud silence on other elements in the mix. What is currently going on is nothing but an echo chamber, individuals seeking to share the views on those areas of the bill they agree with to reinforce their held position; there is no more objective engagement and understanding of the subject matter.
Will the Electoral Act as amended, in any way, affect INEC’s effectiveness as we approach another election year?
While the constitution provides a broad general framework on matters of elections, particularly with respect to tenure and time frame within which election should be conducted, well as qualifications and other matters, the Electoral Act is the principal legal directive framework for organising, conducting and supervising elections, in addition to the Commission’s guidelines and manuals made pursuant to the powers donated exclusively to the Commission by the constitution. Therefore, changes and proposals in the expected new Act will affect the conduct of elections, marginally or profoundly, depending on the significance. It is our hope that this bill comes out as we enjoin all stakeholders to make it happen for the improvement of our elections and for the sustenance of our democracy.
The Anambra State governorship election has come and gone successfully; what factors do you think accounted for its success?
One will attribute it principally to the commitment of all stakeholders to see that competition, participation and legitimate outcome of the election occurs to the joy of the overwhelming majority of the voters. We must commend the people of Anambra State, the Security agents, and indeed, the leadership of the Commission under whom there is a steady progressive consolidation of innovations, and the entire staff of the Commission for a job well done. The media have remained our dependable ally, helping to educate the public in keeping to its credo which is the people’s right to know. All these factors came together in a good mix that led to the acceptable outcome of that election.
How do political parties’ actions and inactions impact INEC’s performance?
Modern representative democracy is inconceivable without political parties. They are the main actors in the electoral process and governance prior to and after elections. Their impact is, therefore, significant. The values that political parties subscribe to, promote and convey in their actions, shape political behaviour and make a difference in the impact on electoral performance.
If the values they subscribe to and act upon adversely affect key indicators of electoral performance, that is free participation and unfettered competition, it will affect how the outcome of the election will be accepted by stakeholders.