By Sunday Ani
The Akwa-Ibom State Resident Electoral Commissioner, Mike Igini was the Director, Centre for Leadership Values and Policy before his appointment by former President Goodluck Jonathan as the Resident Electoral Commissioner to Edo State. He was later moved to Cross River State, where he served out his five-year term before he was re-appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari. In this exclusive chat, he bares his mind on restructuring and the proposed amendment to electoral laws among other national issues.
You have consistently insisted that restructuring is not a break-up of Nigeria but a development argument. What do you mean?
Restructuring is not about the break-up of Nigeria as some have tried to insinuate. If after over 100 years of amalgamation and 57 years of independence, we are still shamefully grappling with the intricacies of even how to live together, which has completely undermined our progress, common sense dictates that we should tell ourselves the inconvenient truths, no matter how far we have gone on the wrong route.
We also need to know why we fared better, in terms of development in the first republic, before the military intervention derailed us from the path of steady growth and development under a political arrangement that our key liberating fathers bequeathed to us. There is urgent need to get ourselves out of the structural gridlock that the military put Nigeria, by restructuring our political economy. This will help to unlock the potentials that abound in this country, in a way that would make the 36 states centres of production, generate wealth and create job, instead of being idle and unproductive centres of monthly collection of rents from Abuja; the chief rent collector that took over the wealth of the states and dwells only in collecting rent from only one out of the 68 items in the Exclusive list.
This is unlike the United States where the central government controls only 18 items and all other activities that generate wealth from which taxes are paid to the centre are left for the 50 states, which is why it is the foremost one of the great nations today. The current debate on restructuring should be seen mainly from a development point of view and the consequent benefits to Nigeria.
So restructuring is about Nigeria’s development and not a break-up?
Precisely; it’s essentially about Nigeria’s development and how to stimulate economic activities to improve the wellbeing of Nigerians. It is about making every part of the country to get involve in productive economic activities and generate wealth that would enhance the welfare of our people. That is why scholars like Mahbub Ul Haq used the premise of capabilities of the citizens initiated by Sen to develop a composite measurement that can access human development, using several key factors, like Human Development Index, which is a composite index that uses life expectancy, education, and per capita income to measure the development of nations.
But some people argue that an effective presidency that controls decision making effectively can provide needed solutions to these concerns, meaning that leadership ineffectiveness is the problem. Do you agree with them?
That is a very pedestrian unitary mentality of command and control; totally antithetical to democratic principles. Structure determines function and effectiveness, and the inconvenient truth is that the political and economic structure of Nigeria altered since 1966 has had debilitating effect on our orientation and thinking. That is why nothing fundamentally would occur in development except we get out of this gridlock that makes supposed centres of wealth generation mere appendages of rent collector-in-chief, which is the government at the centre. Yes, of course you will always need a leader to steer all collective endeavours properly, but look at it like this; if you are going to America by sea from Lagos, and you put 50 men and a good leader in a wooden boat and you also put another 50 men in a modern ship with an average leader, which party do you think will likely get to America safely? Scholars of leadership have all agreed that context is very important to the effectiveness of leadership because leadership is about contextual effectiveness to influence or direct people towards collective goals. That is why a religious leader may not be a good sports leader, and neither of these too may be useful in leading a battalion out of an ambush.
Restructuring is about the context of regimes, which enables our economic and political development; no matter how good the intentions of our leaders currently, you cannot power our industrial and other needs by the amount of power generated by federal endeavour. If the economic and political regimes are devolved so that states, individually or in geopolitical collectives, could license investors to generate and distribute power according to their needs, and re-sell the excess to federal strategic development needs as is the case in some countries, what will be lost from our federal system? Nothing; instead, we will gain more centres of development and more economic activities for useful engagement of our people.
If leadership, as majority of Nigerians say, is responsible for the failure of the country to fulfil the dreams of independence; how do we solve this through election as an umpire?
Elections are meant to create a level playing field for the people to select leaders they perceive can represent them in making collective decisions in the best interest of their welfare and wellbeing. That is what would happen here in Akwa-Ibom State under my watch. So, those who seek to contest elective leadership positions should not only offer policy choices but also competencies and character attributes that will serve the goal of the voters to meet their best interests.
Leadership is the ability to influence or direct others towards meeting corporate goals, and since selecting people who help actualize the corporate interests is the goal of elections, elections are about selecting people who can best influence policy options for corporate welfare and who have the best character attributes to do so. So, the first thing is to determine the goals of our corporate welfare. What are the things that will enhance the corporate or collective welfare of all Nigerians? What are our collective welfare needs? If you define that very well, then you can easily pick those who can meet these needs and the goals from their policy preferences, capacity and their character attributes. The work of INEC is then to create fair ambiance for voters to pick such leaders by ensuring that the votes are counted honestly and taken into account in determining, who become leaders that would preside over public affairs.
There is a pending bill in the National Assembly for a compulsory policy issue debate by all who seek elective public offices. What impact would it make on leadership selection process in the country?
A great impact indeed if we get such law in place because the strength of democracy and the opportunities it create depend on the vigour of multi-party politics, in terms of policy issues, moral arguments and value formation. As I have noted, the electoral contest ideally is meant to pick people based on the voters’ perception of their competencies, policy preferences, and the attributes of their character. Voters can’t make these judgments clearly if they have no elaborate platform for judging people who stand for elections. Even if we say only parties as entities contest elections in Nigeria, practically, those parties will still be represented by people. Those who present themselves for elections must be able to convince the public about what policy preferences they and their parties stand for. And they should by their presence in debates convey to the voters how such policy options can be actualized. Those debates will also allow the voters to see those around the party and judge them by their public records, their moral and professional attributes. This may even act as a self-censoring social sieve for those who know they fall short even before the actual ballots are cast.
You were reported to have said that the proposed amendments to the Electoral Act would impact on the 2019 and future electoral outcomes. Could you give insight to these provisions?
I have no doubt that some of the proposed amendments would impact profoundly on the electoral outcomes, if fully implemented by us. For example, in the proposed new amendments, there are now sections that allow all political party agents to verify all documents to be used for an election in writing, and if necessary, by video recording. The amendment further invalidates any election conducted without following this provision and further prescribes imprisonment of one year or N1 million fine for any electoral official who fails to comply with it. This amendment, like several others, to my mind, shows that the legislators have taken into account some of the observed challenges of 2015 elections, when there were reports of absence of original copies of form EC8A at polling units. Now, the law is aimed at ensuring accountability of such critical electoral documents, thus making future elections more transparent. But, as we have always known, the devil is in the implementation and enforcement.
The card reader that people like you advocated for in the 2015 election was not given legal recognition by the courts. What is the legal status of the card reader now as 2019 gets closer?
Again that is another important and commendable lesson learnt with improvement by the legislators. They have not only gone ahead to legitimize the card reader, but have empowered INEC as the election mangers, to also be able to freely adapt to newer technologies, by indicating that a presiding officer may use a smart card reader or any other technological device that may be prescribed by the Commission from time to time for the accreditation of voters, to verify, confirm or authenticate. This is brilliant and elegant policy drafting. It conforms to the reality of the hierarchy of policies. Now the card readers’ usage has been fully secured in the proposed Act.
Would the proposed provisions promote speedy determination and doing substantive electoral justice by tribunals?
Yes, some new amendments in sections 140 made distinction between irregularities by a party in the qualification of its candidates from irregularities of a general election. So, if a party candidate fails, state resources will not be wasted on a new election, but rather, the contestant or party with the next highest vote would be returned as the winner. This will promote diligence on the part of parties, knowing that their tardiness or refusal to settle within can have external political cost. Also in Section 142, the Act has been amended to ensure that the determination of election petitions is based on the merit and not on mere technicalities.