By Levinus Nwabughiogu
Barrister Mike Igini is the Cross River State Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). In this interview, he speaks on INEC’s preparedness in the forthcoming 2015 general elections and other issues of national importance. Excerpt:
The 2015 election is just about seven months away. How is INEC preparing and what should Nigerians expect?
We are working towards a better improved 2015 election. In addition to previously established processes, the imminent elections will introduce, for the first time, the permanent voters’ card with embedded biometric data, making the transfer and use of a voting card impossible.
This will be enabled by the use of a card reader at the polling unit in subsequent elections after the Ekiti and Osun elections, The Commission is trying to use technology to ensure that every voter will account for one vote, if he or she chose to vote.
This will be a feedback back-up to corroborate the fidelity of the printed hard copy of the voters register in all P.Us. Additionally, some processes that were piloted during the election in Anambra such as the use of super RACs, a point proximal to the polling units from where materials and personnel for elections would be kept prior to Election Day and distributed to polling units on the morning of the election are expected to enhance timely commencement of election.
Also, the public must know that INEC now has the benefit of several lessons learned from many successful elections which brought many people who are peacefully in offices today from diverse parties, and so the Commission has a rich experience of elections which informs its professional conduct and assures the public that it can only get better in carrying out its mandate under the able leadership of Professor Jega, provided all other stakeholders particularly political parties and their candidates would abide by electoral rules and
regulations, especially those which guide their internal party nominations. Similarly, the security agencies would have to maintain absolute neutrality in maintaining law and order, just as the judiciary should endevour to deal with pre-elections cases in order to have a stable and peaceful electoral ambiance before the 2015 elections.
How would the permanent voter’s card being distributed across the states and the proposed card reader be of value to the 2015 elections?
That exercise is currently on-going and in phases, it is being piloted in two states from each geopolitical zones of the country. The second phase comprising of Cross River and other states would commence this month, from July 18th to 20th for the distribution of the PVC and as from 23rd to 27th for the commencement of continuous voter’s registration.
The last phase would be in August when Lagos and other remaining states would lead to the completion of the entire exercise. This registration is only for three categories of Nigerians. Distribution of PVCs (Permanent Voter registration Cards) are for (a) those who have just attained the age of 18 (b) those who could not register during 2011and (c) those whose biometric were not properly captured, whose names are not on the valid register and have no Permanent Voter Registration cards.
They are the only people eligible for this exercise nationwide. If you have relocated to another state or moved within and your have your PVC of your previous place of residence, you should not register again but rather go to any INEC LGA office in your new place of domicile and apply for transfer. You will be assigned to the nearest polling units for your convenience and your data would be deleted from your previous place of registration.
If you register again having registered before, it will be detected during the AFIS process, and that is an offence that is punishable and can earn you conviction.
Both the PVC and the Card Reader would ensure the reality of one person one vote, the Card reader must confirm the thumbprint of the PVC holder before a ballot paper will be given out, no multiple voting will be possible, given that your card is configured to only one polling unit where it can only be used at every election; mere entry of fake and bogus figures into result sheets without card reader evidence of total number of accredited voters that can be verified from the Card Reader would become useless, such that election officials who give out ballot papers and result sheets fraudulently should be prepared to go to jail.
What do you think should be the focal issues that should define political campaigns in all elections?
Campaigns are the platform for selling, first, the qualification of the candidate and his competence for the position he aspires to hold. It is also the platform for educating voters on the policies of a political party, its values and principles and how such values and principles will benefit the voters or electors. In the Nigerian constitution at Chapter 2 section 13 all elected persons are obligated to make it a duty and responsibility to conform, observe and apply the provisions especially of section 16 1 (d) that l urge you to check and reproduce for the benefit of those who read your paper.
It is an obligatory provision that directs,and not advice, it directs office holders to make the welfare of citizens the primary calling of offices”. Campaigns platform is primarily to sell to the public policy options and priorities in line with the provisions of chapter 2 of the constitution as benefits to citizens and how to safeguard all other letters and spirit of the constitution.
Going a little deeper, we must pay attention to the fact that in focusing on how to meet these goals, the policy tendencies are usually those which favour the market or private initiatives more, or those which favour public sector or social interventions more, what some would call right-leaning and left-leaning governance tendencies respectively, but if we are to learn from development history, we must remember that when developed nations have had their economies crumbling , it was mostly when they leaned too far in either direction.
You have been calling for a statutory compulsory debate for candidates of political parties in all elections. Why?
Indeed, for every position, you may have numerous aspirants, in order to assure quality, it is best to give the voters ample opportunity for assessing these aspirants. A public debate is one way of assessing how they articulate their visions.
The position they aspire to and their visions for their jurisdictions. Also it brings these aspirants into public scrutiny, allowing the public to take a closer look at their records to evaluate the character specification for the job. Also for budding leaders such debates will be a learning platform for leadership development about aspirational values.
In your estimation, do you think that the political parties and political elites address the electorates with the right messages that would create a peaceful atmosphere before, during and after elections?
They seem to concentrate on personalities and base issues such as ethnicity and religion. These are exclusionary rather than inclusional issues and are best left to the margins or completely removed from the discourse.
The principal focus should be on policy and policy deliverables. The verbal pugilism should be on policy scorecards, what did you or your opponents do to deliver public benefits, the campaigns should be a “show-me” deal, to showcase what you or your party platform have done for voters and what more you can do.
The issue of internal democracy remains a problem in Nigeria. How would this define the political atmosphere for the 2015 elections?
The lack of internal party democracy is a toxin for the development of democratic culture in our polity. Any party which does not walk the talk of internal democracy is regressive. One of my admired scholars, Dhal in proposing a framework for democratic or polyarchical advancement noted that a society becomes more democratic as it sheds the hegemonic and oligarchic culture of power transition to a more open, more inclusive power transition process that is more tolerant of political competition. Any party that shies away from open democratic nominations, true consensus and election in many instances fetters the development of its political culture.
On your return from the Kenya where your delegation went to observe their election in March, you expressed concerns over the attitude of the political class and public institutions. Any change for the better as the nation approaches 2015 election?
There isn’t much change on the part of the political elites, that is why you see many defections, without prejudice to those who have concrete reason for opting for other platforms, it must be stated that before joining a party, there must be deep reflection as to whether the principles of that platform cohere with your visions and values, otherwise people who show little commitment to party values will only see their parties as mere platforms for self empowerment rather than as platforms for adding value to society.
However, we must also admit that after just 15years of continuous democratic practices, we are still in a learning process because no one was born a democrat. it is a socializing process and we must allow the politicians room to learn from their mistakes and to acquire the best attributes of democratic culture.
15years is a very short time in the development of national parties, for those who have studied democratization globally, and who note that the major parties in the main democracies have had between 50years of continuous democratic participation for the Liberal party in Japan, to over 200 years for parties like the Republican party in the United States and the Conservative party in the United Kingdom.
As parties prepare for primaries and conventions to pick candidates, the outcomes of these activities may end up in court in addition to very contentious defection cases involving legislators and Governors pending in various courts. Are you concerned that if these matters are determined close to elections, it may heat up the polity before the elections?
Frankly, every umpire knows the importance of a peaceful and rancour free pre-election political environment. I’m not only worried but I’m also disturbed because a peaceful pre-election ambience is critical to the conduct of election. Various studies conducted in countries which witnessed extreme violence during elections were traceable to unresolved, volatile and very contentious pre-election political disputes between political parties, gladiators and key stakeholders.
A situation where high profile defection cases involving elected public office holders with large supporters or following since last year are still pending in courts because of series of adjournments, if determined too close to election could throw up serious upheaval in the polity especially if the outcome of these cases result in loss of power.
I am concerned because, as a lawyer, I have just read a profound judgement, recently delivered by the Supreme Court that has very serious bearing on these defection cases that would all terminate at this same Supreme Court . In the U.S and many other jurisdictions, these cases would have been determined since last year. That is why Alexis de Tocqueville in his book ‘’Democracy in America’’ declared that the strength of the U.S democracy lies in its Judiciary; that hardly any issue came to the courts that was not determined in time.
Most Nigerians score the judiciary very low in performance. Also, the National Judicial Council, NJC, judges and lawyers trade words over corruption. Nigerians blame the judiciary for the rising corruption in the country, what is your view of this assessment?
Nigerians should be gravely concerned about the state of the judiciary but must also not tar all judicial officers with the same brush because there are exceptional judicial officers who are committed to the oath of their offices. I often refer to the statement by Saint Augustine, on the significance of the rule of law that “what are nations but a band of rogues, without the law?”
A society cannot be at peace if it does not guarantee justice, because law and order are the building bricks of an ordered society.
Like other institutions in the same Nigerian environment, there have been established instances where judicial officers have been found wanting and associated with social morass instead of rescuing society from it. Even the commanding institutions of the Judiciary like the NJC is now been challenged frontally by its members of both the bench and the bar daily on pages of newspapers and television stations on matters of procedures that the ordinary citizens expect that as lawyers, we should know better.
A situation where judges and lawyers have taken opposing position on a matter of law and procedure with the apex regulatory body like NJC, who will now be the arbiter or a judge that will settle the on going disputes ?