By Sunday Ani
The immediate past Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) in Akwa Ibom, Mike Igini, in this interview, bared his mind on various issues including the preparedness of the Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC) ahead of the 2023 general elections.
Having just retired or completed your tenure as a Resident Electoral Commissioner(INEC) at a time that Nigerians need the institutional memory of people like you as the nation prepares for the 2023 elections. What role should Nigerians expect from you?
Well, l think I should first correct this erroneous use of the term retirement for someone who was or is a political appointee whose tenure in office elapsed being referred to as retired. It is career civil servants that have spent either 35 years or attained the age of 60 whichever one comes first that are appropriately referred to as retirees with benefits and pension. As a Commissioner in INEC, a political appointee, l have only spent ten years in the service of the country and have not attained the age of 60 but far below that age.
With respect to the forthcoming 2023 elections and having been an umpire in the last ten years, l will stick to that disposition and maintain neutrality in all my engagements on issues and matters pertaining to the 2023 elections. But surely, the office of the citizen will be active in partnership but not-partisanship with well-meaning Nigerians, to educating voters on why they must vote in 2023 election. l will in the days and weeks ahead through various public lectures invite, educate and guide Nigerian citizens on the various provisions of the 2022 Act and more importantly what they should know about the various innovations that will secure their votes. Just last Thursday, on 22nd Of September, the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies Organized a Roundtable civic public lecture; l participated as one of the speakers on the topic: Electoral Democracy In Nigeria: Challenges And Opportunities in the new 2022 Electoral Act . In this regard, we join in the efforts to clear some of the fears and doubts that are deliberately being created to dissuade or discourage people from participating in elections in the country.
Again as a former REC with vast experience on election matters, what are the laws that guide political campaigns under the new 2022 Act that must be adhered to by politicians as political campaigns kick off on September 28?
Thematically, the laws that regulate and guide political campaigns are very clear and unambiguous and should be adhered strictly during the campaign periods. In fact, the entire provisions of sections 91,92,93,94,95 and 96 are intended to deal with the recurrent issues denial of access to public facilities and media platforms, hence they are mandates for unhindered access to the use of state-owned or publicly owned venues and event centres like stadia, civic centers that may be used as venues for rallies or other such political events, as well as access to publicly owned media platforms and also provisions for equal airtime parity for candidates at prime time news slots. Hence, no candidates should be denied access to state owned facilities for use in the forthcoming political campaigns leading to the 2023 elections because these facilities belong to all Nigerians whether as members of any ruling party or as members of opposition parties. The laws also restrain hate speeches that we are already being treated with gradually given some volatile comments from supporters of political interest groups trending in the social media.
But reports from different parts of the country show that candidates of political parties are being denied access to some of these facilities and police men are preventing the holding of political rallies. What is your advice on these disturbing reports?
I have read some of these reports and its quite unfortunate that political intolerance is already being exhibited, and more disturbing if not worrisome, is the report concerning the action of policemen that are statutorily mandated under the new Act to always provide adequate security for political rallies and processions for political parties and their candidates upon notice of such rallies. In fact, section 91 emphatically says the Commissioner of Police in each state shall provide adequate protection for political rallies and shall be supported by personnel of the Nigerian Civil Defence Corp. In fact, I’m shocked to read some of these reports that you have referenced because subsection (4) of this section itself says and l quote “No registered political party in Nigeria , its aspirants or candidate shall be prevented from holding rallies, procession or meeting at any time for their constitutional political purposes and the police shall resolve any conflict of time and venue between and amongst parties where such arises in a consultative manner and not imposition. Barring whatever l may have omitted, those are words of the 2022 Electoral Act that must be adhered to.
Are you saying that police permit is not needed to organise political rallies or procession?
Look , its not what I’m saying but what the 2022 Electoral Act has declared emphatically and unequivocally that political parties and their candidates do no need police permit to organize political rallies. This provision is consistent with a plethora of decisions of superior courts of the land that citizens do not need police permit to organize rallies; in fact, subsection (3) made it abundantly clearly that notwithstanding any provision of the Police Act, the Public Order Act or any other law, the role of the Police and Civil Defence Corp that has been statutorily mandated to work with police on matters of political rallies is limited to the provision of adequate security only. Therefore, notification to police to provide security does not mean seeking permission from police authorities.
What are your expectations of the judiciary in the light of the novel provisions of the 2022 Act with respect to ongoing pre-election party primaries litigations and post 2023 election petition adjudication?
On the role of the judiciary, it is scarcely necessary to emphasize that the judiciary remains the bedrock of any democracy. If it fails to demonstrate courage by interpreting the provisions of the Electoral Act strictly in order to give meaning and purpose to the ballot as the best means of the expression of the will of the people and thus hold both the political parties and the Election Management Body (EMB) accountable where there are violations and breach of the laws, it will have failed the Nigerian people. The starting point of demonstrating judicial courage and commitment to electoral justice would be the ongoing pre-election cases that emanated from the party primaries in the various federal High courts across the country. We are all witnesses to the impunity of political leaders imposition of individuals that didn’t participate and emerged from party primaries monitored by INEC in line with section 84 of the 2022 Act and the shocking decisions coming from the courts at the moment. Let me be clear, the way and manner our colleagues in the bench handle these matters will give Nigerians insight to how the judiciary will deal with the outcome of 2023 election petitions. The question on the lips of Nigerians now is, will our judges pander to vested political interests or stand on the side of strict interpretation of the provisions of the 2022 Act, Regulations & Guidelines of INEC and uphold the rule of law for the growth and sustenance of our democracy ?
You have bemoaned the problem of Nigeria as rooted in the greed of leadership. Why do you hold that view?
The undeniable truth is that everything rises and falls with leadership. We started on a very hopeful and promising note at the beginning in 1960. But painfully after 62 years, what have we achieved for ourselves and what do we see around us? A country of missed opportunities, littered with the debris of squandered opportunities . We have people with pedigree who are not greedy that can turn around the fortune of this country but Nigeria appears to be a country that is cursed with a refrain of having the best individuals never allowed to be on the saddle. Great countries are not built on the greed of its leaders but on their sacrifices for their people and the thoughtfulness for the future. We need people who really care for the ordinary people of Nigeria and the country’s future. We cannot continue to make misfortune the heirloom of the Nigerian people.
How can INEC innovations birth the emergence of credible leaders?
Credibility is about trustworthiness and confidence that make constituents or people follow or accept the leadership of others. All the innovations are designed to give meaning and purpose to the ballot as the best means of the expression of the will of the people in a democracy. They are intended to compel those who seek to govern them pay attention to their needs because leadership is about relationship and service.
One of the problems that has retarded Nigeria’s progress is the issue of our inability to manage our diversities. What is your view?
The truth is that diversities can be a source of blessings to any society if well managed. But where leaders are unable to integrate diverse viewpoints and affirm unifying themes, diversity can lead to a breakdown of law and order. We have to acknowledge and respect our diversities in appreciation of the fact that the broad outline of the 21st century offers opportunities for those who can live together and develop new ties that bind them together. Shared values is a key to peaceful coexistence because it reduces opportunistic behavior amongst diverse people and promote harmony of interest of constituents.
Given the dire situation in the country, with every group kicking and the elite in disarray. What should leaders across all strata of our society do at the moment?
Leaders must find common grounds to build a peaceful community by resolving problems on the basis of principles, not positions. There is a pervasive air of arrogance in the land, total disregard for truth and anger everywhere. At great moments of challenge, frustration and hopelessness, leaders must lift people’s spirits and restore belief in the future. We all as leaders must sustain hope by taking charge and demonstrate the courage of our conviction, by arousing positive thoughts and images by doing the right thing and putting the country on the party of social harmony. Credible and committed true leaders must keep hope alive for the citizens; this is a task because at the end, only people with hope will achieve greatness.
But people seem to have lost hope in leaders and our public institutions. How can these same people give hope?
Its true that around the world, people have lost faith in their institutions and the individuals who lead them. But is it leaders we have lost faith in or ourselves ? One hallmark of an optimistic people is a belief that one or a few committed individuals can make a difference by turning around the misfortune of a society. That is why the 2023 election provides yet another opportunity for the renewal of the choices of leaders we want to recruit given the array of some of the people we see going round the country. Even though we are going through difficult times and somehow we don’t seem as convinced as we once were that we can each become whatever we hope to be and overcome, l still believe that we will overcome.
On the flip side of leaders/people relationship is the issue of bad followers responsible for the emergence of leaders we complain about. What’s your view?
The people have a role to play but unfortunately, poverty and the level of understanding of what their role should be is a problem, that is why they sell their votes during election. Otherwise leadership is a web of mutual responsibility and collaboration, a seamless partnership and a mutual commitment for common good. People or citizens should not be treated by politicians as people to be brought on Election Day or as mere followers of the vision and values of leaders but as participants in creating them.
What do you make of the growing culture of sycophancy in the country as a result of leaders demanding loyalty for themselves and not loyalty to the country?
Its unfortunate and its a clear indication of lack of understanding of what they are demanding from those appointed to serve public interest. Loyalty is not something that should be demanded by leaders or bosses but granted by constituents to leaders who have earned it. The fact that you are in a position to make appointments by virtue of a constitutional provision that requires to do so does not mean that the appointee should be loyal to you as a person instead of the country. However, all appointees should be sincere and committed to the overall success of their leaders for the good of the country.
Nigerians are not satisfied with leaders and public service delivery institutions like INEC and others. What’s your reaction?
What you said cannot be wholly correct about INEC because the commission is the most innovative and improved public service delivery agency in Nigeria even though we are still not where we want to be in delivery of credible elections. We are aware that various books on quality service prescribed that the first step in quality-planning process is identifying customers and finding out what their needs are and satisfy them. This is what the commission has been doing and if elected, political office holders that made promises on the basis of which they were elected fulfill their commitment; the people will be happy. Elected and appointed public office holders must commit to what the Nigerian people want and treat them as customers that must be satisfied.
But how best really can the people experience and feel the impact of leaders in their lives?
Leadership is intangible and a performing art that can be felt by the people; its an encounter in an interaction with another human being. It is about performances and experiences and not objects. Service is intangible but it can be measured through the expressed satisfaction of the people. That is why we must elect credible and competent people based on merit to position of leadership. Credibility is the foundation of leadership, based on trust and confidence that leaders themselves are personally excited and enthusiastic about the direction in which we are headed. This to me in a large measure should be a triumph of competence and character over deceptive image and substance over empty rhetorics .
So far in this interview, you have repeatedly used the words integrity, credibility, merit and trust etc. But which will you consider most important in relation to leadership?
Well, they all mean the same thing, the attributes of trustworthiness of a leader and so can be used interchangeably or used mutatis mutandis as we lawyers will always say. What I’m saying basically is that credibility is the foundation on which leaders and the people build grand dreams of the future; without credibility, vision will fade and relationship between the people and leaders will wither. That is why an American writer and businessman, Max De Pree, Chairman of Herman Miller, said that “the first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between the two, the leader must become a servant and a debtor. That sums up the progress of a successful leader”. Perhaps, l should add that of all the attributes of credibility, one that is unquestionably of greatest importance is the dimension of honesty. It accounts for more of the variance for believability of all other attributes such as competence, skills, character combined. Being seen as someone who can be trusted, high integrity, honest and truthful is essential.
There is a general concern about the quality and character of people with questionable background of violence, thuggery now seeking elective public office in Nigeria. What is your view?
Whenever and every time we eulogize, sing praises or elevate untrustworthy people of your characterization to positions of responsibility and honour, we lose our self-esteem; whenever we promote thugs and street fighters to public office, we are diminished in our own and in others’ eyes and become less valuable to ourselves and society. The dangers of bringing people of road-side values like ‘agberos’ to public office is that when they get there, they will only bring people of their orientation and the culture of violence to governance and society will continue to regress. We have more ‘agberos’ in just five states than the entire B.sc, Ph.D holders and professors in the entire country. So sooner or later, these kind of people that even those who are highly educated are promoting will take over both elective and appointive positions across the country. The mistake of allowing in 1999 those who were in bed with the military that didn’t lift a finger to fight for democracy to takeover this country, is what we are still grappling with today. They have amassed so much of public patrimony for themselves and have become so entrenched that they even constitute a serious threat to the sustenance of this hard won democracy.
Why is it that people no longer care about reputation and do you think that reputation doesn’t really matter for those in position of leadership?
Our society is under moral and ethical recession; no sense of shame anymore and there is a dearth of role models. That is why people in public office don’t care about reputation. Make no mistake about this, reputation is a human collateral; the security that we pledge against the performance of obligations as leaders to followers, friends, colleagues and constituents. Reputation is what supports human instinct to want to trust. It should be cherished and cared for. A damaged reputation lowers people’s estimation of a leader’s worth and the motivation to follow. Reputation is earned not conferred and it comes over time not by virtue of good conduct. We don’t just like people for who they are but for how we feel when we see them.
How do we get out of the crisis of trust and confidence that is so pervasive across all strata of our country?
To deal with crisis of cynicism and confidence, we must first and foremost find out the root cause of declining confidence by the public on our leaders and institutions.
We need to recalibrate on how we can recover from integrity and credibility recession. A society where there is no sense of shame over wrongdoing and where impunity appears to have been accepted as a norm instead of exception is not a viable one and may not endure for long.
As with all political campaigns as we prepare for 2023 election, there is always a gap between promises and fulfillment which border on integrity and credibility of leaders. What is your view on this?
Whenever leadership actions fall behind promises, credibility gap widens, this is a message that enlightened leaders must heed. Collective optimism and ever rising expectations is natural to human beings, even where and when more may have been done as we have accomplished in INEC; it is not enough, people still ask for more and there are evidences to support the clamour. Good is not enough when you dream of being great.
It has been argued that nepotism instead of a merit based system is what has accounted for our lack of good public service delivery. How true?
To succeed as a people and a country in public service delivery, we need to attract and retain the most competent and qualified citizens. We must build a society in which everyone can contribute his or her best, a society in which everyone is valued by competences regardless of differences in ethnicity and religion. Competence and a merit based system remain our unbeatable formula for success.
Leaders must realise and appreciate that by their positions, they are at the centre of a vast web of relationships that is characterised more by variety, diversity than uniformity. To be a credible leader worthy of trust, you must be broad minded.
Do you agree with the views of so many Nigerians that at the heart of our problems is inability of leaders to manage our diversity?
In a society of diversity and in a world that is increasingly more democratic, to succeed, leaders cannot be responsive only to the world defined by the interest and agenda of a few. The 21st century demands leaders to appreciate and value diversity, tolerate it and manage it in order to create a melting pot. Diversity is not a threat but asset, its good and requires tolerance and empathy because more compassion and understanding are demanded by diverse groups. We must show the capacity to recognise that competing values and interest are legitimate and important. They offer wide range of options and possibilities.
In effect, you are advocating for unity in diversity
Absolutely, a country that values diversity has greater capacity to adapt and renew itself in a fast changing world. This is the challenge and indeed the overwhelming responsibility that we must take on urgently. In a multicultural society like ours, differences must be recognised and acknowledged. Over-looking real and relevant differences as if they don’t exist can hurt individuals, groups and their commitment and loyalty to that society.
In the absence of collaboration amongst groups across the different geopolitical zones, do you see any hope of progress?
No country can make real progress without social capital, the capacity of a people to work together for common good. The underlining philosophy that I’m advocating here is that of collaboration without structural gridlock that have made developmentally healthy competition difficult if not impossible. Every part of the country has certain endowments that can be tapped for the well-being of the people just as each person has certain strengths that can be leveraged on and known weaknesses that should be taken into account. We should value and affirm each other, we should be one another’s supporters and admirers.
Why is it that many people in position of leadership are insensitive to criticism and would rather encourage people who will tell them what they want to hear?
Criticism is good but should be constructive and offers a pathway. Many people get to public office and abandon close childhood friends or schoolmates that can and will always tell them honestly what they should hear in embrace of new found friends that will always tell them what they want to hear and they get derailed. Leaders must by wary of the dangers of what is called “pitfalls of institutional unanimity”. When you have around you those who will always agree with your viewpoints however wrong they may be; leaders should sometimes deliberately build as l do sometimes dissent and controversy into decision-making process so that people will be willing to speak openly and offer ideas contrary to that of the leader. We must learn to encourage thoughtful dissent.
You are saying that leaders can and should encourage subordinates to disagree with the position of their bosses?
When a leader does that, he or she will have a larger and perhaps far more objective view of any subject matter. Many books written on Leadership have established that no matter the discomfort that leaders may experience being told from time to time, they are wrong; it offsets the fact that reflective backtalk increases a leader’s ability to make good decision. We read how Reagan suffered so much from this at the hands of his so-called friends who failed to tell him the unattractive truth than from his so-called ostensible enemies.