BY DAPO AKINREFON
BARRISTER Mike Igini, a notable figure in the Nigeria civil rights community was last year appointed the Resident Electoral Commissioner in Cross River State. His appointment and actions have brought bewilderment to many election stakeholders who until now had cosily comforted themselves in the twisted electoral process in place.
In this online interview, Igini gives a narration on the challenges facing the commission, expectations on a free election process and how voters can best protect their votes.
What are the challenges facing the Commission in the coming elections and what are the practical procedures to be taken by a voter on the day of voting?
Its work in progress and the Commission is working had to address issues usually associated with the conduct of elections such as voters’ education on the actual procedure on the day of election, Security, electoral litigations and the resolution of electoral disputes, and more importantly, the willingness of stakeholders to abide by the rules of the electoral process.
The growing level of intolerance and the reported denial of candidates/parties from using publicly owned facilities in breach of section 100 of the electoral act amongst is not only disturbing but very worrisome. We must be careful and not put this country on the part of lawlessness and anarchy which is antithetical to the pristine idea of democracy.
As stated in the Electoral Act, voters education is a core mandate of the Commission, because in section 2(b) it is stated that the Commission should ‘promoting knowledge of sound democratic election processes’. The Commission partners with many stakeholders, such as non_governmental agencies, IFES, IRI,NDI, community leaders, the media, government agencies, voters, and observers like the E.U delegation that visited my office few days ago. This function is crucial because an informed community is difficult to manipulate.
On security, the Commission in Cross River State has adopted two basic approaches, proactive/preventative measures and reactive measures. Reactive measures include those activities that fall under the functions of security agencies, because these functions come into play when despite all preventive actions, people still go against the expectations of the electoral laws. Under such circumstances we refer the matter to law enforcement agencies who are best trained and equipped to bring offenders before the law.
On the other hand using preventive measures the Commission educates and promotes awareness on the issues which lead to a breakdown of security, namely those that can occur because of lapses on our part as election managers and those that can result from issues related to other stakeholders before, during and after elections, and how we can all take steps to avoid them.
Regarding the issues of litigation and dispute resolutions, it is a known fact that a reliable and credible election process will limit issues of litigation and dispute resolution before and after elections, nevertheless, litigations and disputes still occur irrespective of how well intended or carefully drafted the laws are.
That being said many schools of thought are in agreement that when the election is conducted impartially without feelings of perceived assistance to certain candidates or parties, disputes and litigation would be minimal. The key therefore is a credible process that can engender confidence of the electorates.
In relation to electoral logistics, most of it are operational issues that INEC has done repeatedly, but as you know what has often being problematic is the fact that the outcome has often been called to question, hence the Commission now concerns itself with the credibility and reliability of the processes and outcomes of these operational activities. So much resources and time has been expended to make the process reliable and the outcome acceptable. All these issues would impact on our success and the Commission has been up and doing to surmount these challenges and also consolidate on areas of strength.
The mode of voting is said to be Open secret. What does that mean?
The voter will be given ballot paper in the open but thumb-print in secret in a small cubicle but cast the ballot in open public glare. so casting of the ballot is open, but thumb-printing will be secret known only to the voter.
Can somebody vote with another person’s voter’s card?
No! Only persons with disabilities will be assisted to vote but even that will be with their own voter’s card. How would people really use other people’s card when the photo on the card does not reflect the bearer? Why do we also like to do the wrong thing and also recruit others to do same to subvert a common desire for a better Nigeria? Why should dishonesty and other vices celebrated and continue to be on top of our values pyramid?
Some politicians are urging their supporters to monitor their votes. In what way can voters monitor the votes without infringing on the law?
If everybody on Election Day would be law abiding, there would be no need for citizens to wait after casting their votes. But in a country where we seem to have accepted corruption and dishonesty as article of faith and where successive elections in time past have been organized crime and supervised by key stakeholders in position of trust, individuals would have no option but monitor their votes by staying back after voting to observe the processes of sorting, vote counting and declaration of the results by the Presiding officers.
What practical steps have been taken by INEC to ensure that the vote cast by a voter count?
In my description above, you will find that specific forms and envelopes have been provided that will form part of the audit trail which all have to be accounted for, in addition to the presence of party agents entitled to duplicates of form EC8A as well as reports of observers.
What happens when the total votes cast in a polling centre are more than the total number of registered voters in the center?
Its null and void as contained in our manual. Why should total numbers of votes cast exceed numbers of registered voters? That is a fraud it will mean that an anomaly exists, once an anomaly exists in a polling station, a separate step of audit kick-in and verification will be done.
Also , number of votes cast cannot exceed total number of accredited voters but can be less after count of votes and not more. For example, if the total number of accredited voters was 350 in a polling unit register that contains 500 prospective voters, that number shall be declared before voting and the 150 unaccredited shall also be announced and figures entered in prescribed forms.
Therefore, total votes count after the close of poll must, l repeat must not exceeds 350 but can be less given that some people after accreditation may not come back for voting. So, it can be less and this is expected but cannot be more.
Who are those responsible for announcing the results of elections at the various levels?
Section 27 specifies that results of elections shall be announced by the presiding officer at different levels itemized in 27(1) a_d and 27 (2) a_g. In states where gubernatorial elections will be held in accordance with section 27(2) the returning officer shall announce the result and declare the winner of the election at the “state collation centre in the case of election of a governor of a state”.
I must point out here that the sudden removal or loud silence over who would be the returning on Guber election in the just concluded amended electoral Act is curious. The 2006 Act it is the REC and presidential is chief National commissioner.
Why is it that after we came into the commission, that we are having this uncertainty? In any case, paragraph 14 of the 3rd schedule part one says, there shall be a REC in charge of each state of the federation including fct. The electoral Act is a subsidiary legislation to the constitution. For the presidential election; section 27(3) specifies that “The chief electoral commissioner who shall be the returning officer at the presidential election” will do so.
Where a ballot box is snatched from the polling officer what happens?
There can be no return from such polling station or unit for any party. No Rec, E.O or any of the ad_hoc staff such as the SPO, PO, PC and PAs involved in the coming elections vested with power to award or allocate votes to any candidate or political party.
This is the law and standard expected of us to uphold in all places where elections will be organized whether here in Cross River or Mubi in Adamawa, Zamfara , Sokoto, Akwa lbom or Brass, Nnebe, kolokuma,Yenogua in Bayelsa or Oredo, fugar, Uromi, orionwhon,orhonigbe, ugbowo in Edo. Snatching of ballot boxes/papers is like stealing the drum of a community; Where will you beat it? Why should anybody in his or her right senses expect INEC under our watch to receive, accept and announce results thumb-printed after several hours in private homes or Government house fortress? It’s an electoral abomination. All results must emanate from polling units as contained in form EC8A.
Collation centers should not be centers of manipulation of polling units result. There must be a relationship between polling units results, WARDs, LGA, SENATORIAL or STATE Collation centers. Polling officers must show original copies of election result Form EC8A before voting and not somebody telling you that such forms are coming just go ahead and vote. No. Those forms must be there before voting. Nigerians are fed up and do not want rigged elections anymore in this country. Let’s break away from this inglorious part and be on the broad way of the rule of law and democracy.