Akwa Ibom State Resident Electoral Commissioner, Mike Igini has given reasons why the Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC) is getting it right in conducting elections in Nigeria. In this interview, he spoke on a lot of issues.
INEC recently dismissed some staff and is set to arraign some University Lecturers including Professors for Electoral offences, and many Nigerians have commended this initiative, will it be sustained and what is the thrust behind the new impetus by the Commission to bring election offenders to book?
If you recall very well, the Chairman of the Commission, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu has often called for the implementation of the recommendations of the Uwais Election Reforms Committee regarding the need for an effective mechanism to ensure enforcement of consequences for electoral offenders. We have always advocated that as a Commission. In respect of our dismissed staff and those to be arraigned in Court, let me say this, if the ballot must remain the best means of expression of the will of the people in a democracy, the electoral process must be safeguarded from manipulation and the only sure pathway to do this is to enforce deterent measures and punishment for those who commit electoral offences. We all must appreciate the central role of election as a means by which the elected or those seeking elective office give account to the people. It is an end that evaluates and justifies why political power is exercised and sustains the organizing principle and values that underpin such exercise of power within a period. Any conduct that undermines or negates this system must be punished in order to hold, maintain and sustain the confidence of the people.
You were reported to have said that politicians should refrain from conducts that can kill democracy, what are those acts?
The moment political elites begin to exhibit authoritarian tendencies, reject the rules that govern elections such as sabotage of card readers, inducement of collation officers to alter the outcome of voters will with a stroke of a pen, denounce the principle and values on which democracy is practiced yet retains and appropriate benefit of office at the expense of the majority of the people, democracy surely is at risk according to Levitsky and Ziblatt in their work “How Democracies Die”. We must all appreciate that the choice and design of democracy is to ensure that ambition should check ambition to check the sustenance of democracy through elections. But the brazen crude deployment of violence using armed thugs endorsed by political elite during election is terrible, it persists, the risks are real and the danger to our democracy undeniable. The institution of representative democracy will die if these risks endure because democracy cannot thrive on the soil of absolutism, our political elite must know that democracy thrives on civic virtues of tolerance, inclusivity, conciliation and accommodation.
But why has your Commission not been doing this all along using high profile cases like the Professors as good examples?
We have been doing it, many have been dismissed on account of electoral misconduct but many of you are not following developments in the Commission, particularly when the high profile issues of the election cycle have reduced in intensity or may be because many of these actions are not reported in the Media. In Cross River, we proceeded against some electoral offenders one of whom was convicted and jailed for eight months. We will continue to focus on targeted deterrence measures within the framework of existing laws of our election management. In any system, to ensure minimal deviation from the organisational goal, as the Frenchman Henry Fayol propounded, you need to utilize control mechanisms namely, normative and descriptive control. For election management normative controls, there is a growing consensus on global standards of election as you will find in election observers’ checklists, as well as evolving indicators developed to examine the structures and processes for elections before, during and after the election. Normative electoral standards are accepted best practices such as credible electoral processes, right to vote, access to ballot, non-manipulation or alteration of election results contrary to the will of the people, all of which constitute free, fair and credible elections. If you flout them, whether you are a permanent or an ad hoc Staff and irrespective of your status in the society, you should be punished because it is an unacceptable behaviour. Even in countries where elections have become mere facade for undemocratic tyrants, social forces which constitute Normative controls are used to declare those who perpetrate such irregularities as pariahs or they are branded in international circles as electoral deviants, using Visa denials and other restrictions to target the elite who are often responsible.
Would you say that these measures have worked given our experience so far in Nigeria?
We will continue to try otherwise despite all these measures you still find people who consider the gains or rewards of electoral victory worthy of the risk of such social stigma. To return sanity, we have to be very strong and hard on descriptive control measures, such as fines, jail terms, and outright ban from participation in politics placed on politicians over offences such as bribery of election officials, vote buying, disruption of elections using thugs, destroying election materials in constituencies where their opponents are considered strong and so forth. The Commission has been pushing to bring offenders before the descriptive laws where fraud is established, the Commission is committed to ensure that they will be prosecuted. Unfortunately, those who these laws should control or regulate are the principal actors who make the descriptive Laws that should control such deviant actions; hence, it is not easy to get them to concede to make such laws. Still, the patriotic ones who look at what Nigeria should be like beyond their own time have been pushing for such laws as they identify the problems inherent in our poorly regulated political space. Many of the Legislators are for instance victims of poorly regulated intra-party nomination primaries and some victims of deviant behaviors during inter-party elections, so ensuring a level playing field for all is good for everyone ultimately because the perpetrators of today can become the victims of tomorrow.
Speaking of the checklist of election processes, INEC introduced a new process whereby Election results from the Polling Units could be accessed by stakeholders in real time as they are published at the polling units. what more can you tell Nigerians about this innovation?
From my field experience and the general outcry of the Nigerian people, the two most problematic aspects of conducting elections in Nigeria are in nomination of party candidates during intra-party elections and more seriously, manipulations of already announced polling units results at collation centres. To deal with the opacity around the collation process for more transparency, the commission embarked on piloting a number of innovations to evaluate their strengths and pitfalls in order to get a resilient remedy to problems associated with election results collation. That was what brought about this innovation using technology to ensure that declared polling units results are published to the whole world in real-time, hence they can no longer be changed at collation centres by Collation and Returning officers. Its an anathema for a candidate to win election at polling units but suddenly loses the election at the collation centre contrary to the will of the people. For me, upturning the verdict of the people at the collation centre constitutes a devaluation of the ballot and reduces election to a mere ritual without choosing. Furthermore, it is now difficult for a compromised official to change, alter or swap original Form EC8A result-sheets with those prepared by politicians on the way to collation centre because the Ward collation officer would have seen the already uploaded polling units result on the platform before the Presiding officer gets to the collation centre in compliance with the step-by-step manual recording of results under section 73 of the Act. The latter serves the purpose of an audit trail when required after the election. Election results at polling units hitherto accessible to only poll officials are now available to everyone, in fact in the Edo election the public result viewing portal was upgraded to accommodate up to two million viewers to follow the election results as they were published in each polling station where elections was concluded. So far, it has worked well in two off-season elections, hopefully, stakeholders will allow the innovations to improve election integrity and not find ways to scuttle it, if they are not already finding means to sabotage this innovation that Nigerians have fully embraced and are satisfied with while expecting more improvements.
How critical is the role of security agencies and how do we deal with the partisanship disposition of security agencies in election?
Election Day in other polities, is often like any other normal day; if anything at all, it is a day citizens go out without intimidation to the polling stations to exercise their residual sovereignty to hire or fire those who should be in leadership without the heavy presence of security personnel but tragically election has become a “do-or-die” endeavour for one thing, as a reflection of the faulty Electoral System we have adopted which makes political actors more desperate election fundamentalist, as well as a reflection of our backwardness in evolving a consensus in development that our elites are committed to. That is why Security has become a very critical defining factor of success or failure of elections in Nigeria. These are features that we must do away with as the Commission continues to bring in technology to reduce human manipulations, as we all observed in the Nasarawa bye election and that of Edo governorship election to secure polling units results from being tampered with at collation centres. But without the commitment of Security personnel that must shun compromises such as doing nothing when actionable infractions occur, it will be difficult. If we do not pay attention to Security in terms of Enforcement Security, you will still find places where intimidation, snatching of ballot box and election materials and other irregularities will occur. However, in moving beyond our limitations, it must be realized that elections “Process Security” is as important as “Enforcement Security”, because Process Security is more enduring.