March 11, 2012

SNC: Nigeria’s problem is constitutional and human – Mike Igini, REC

Mike Igini

Cross River State Resident Electoral Commissioner Mike Igini narrows down Nigeria’s problem to the constitution and the operators. He also speaks on the just concluded gubenatorial election in Cross River State. Excerpt:

There have been calls for SNC, but some people wonder whether it is the constitution that is faulty or the operators of the constitution are the problem; especially after 51 years of nationhood?

I will say both. On the part of the constitution  per se, we need to understand that due to its origin as a product of military disengagement, its designers needed to hedge their bets on the stability of their interests upon their exit, so within the initial product, there were embedded moral hazards as a result of stakeholder interests.

Hence, the initial 1999 constitution was federal in spirit, but centrist or unitarist in letters. The designers still concentrated too much powers in the center, even surpassing the unitarist powers of the preceding constitution.

That is why, unlike the United States, which it was supposed to emulate in federal devolution, where you have only 18 items on the exclusive list, ours moved from 44 in 1960 ,45 in 1963, 66 in 1979 to 68 items in 1999, instead of shrinking and devolving we kept concentrating power at the center.

The National and state assemblies, despite their expeditious efforts in amending the constitution to accommodate electoral reforms, also lost the opportunity to impact on developmental issues which are defective in the constitution.

To give a practical insight into this problem, recall how cholera was discovered in England about 150 years ago. It was because the forensic  microbiologists could trace the morbidity of the disease to areas of London supplied by a particular water company.

This tells us that as far as 150years ago, our colonial leaders, advisers on our early constitutionalism, already saw the wisdom of devolving such developmental niches of activities to local interest, even private interest for efficiency and effectiveness,  so how come we still burden the federal government with such responsibilities?

We can say the same for the day-to-day running of rail lines, and, until recently, when the current administration saw the wisdom in greater devolution, in regard to electricity; the Federal Government would have been overreaching itself with that sector, doing too much and achieving very little.

Mike Igini

There are other issues, but let me just stay on the ones which affect speedy development, where the people nearest to the locality will best attain the goals of development; such things require review or a complete makeover in our constitution. Where the Federal Government will be more effective such as issues requiring cross regional or interstate development, let it remain within its purview, but where local action will be best, let it devolve.

On the other hand, we must also admit that the operators have not helped matters. I have earlier mentioned the moral hazards, embedded in the letters of the constitution. We saw it again when the legislators, in amending the constitution to accommodate electoral reforms, brought in section 31, which gave parties  ex cathedra power to undermine internal democracy in their parties, while emasculating INEC which was supposed to regulate such excesses.

Another problem attributable to the operators is  a ‘vision deficit’. Leaders from different  parts of Nigeria do not share a common vision of Nigeria; whereas the constitution is meant to be a uniting vision, leaders come to the table with different visions, hence our disparate strategies for Nigeria.

The final operator problem is psychosocial. This relates to the leadership behaviour which motivates many operators of the constitution. Many operators often do not come to serve Nigeria but come to serve themselves. A classic example was during the November political impasse in 2009.

The provisions of the constitution regarding what should be done when the president was indisposed due to illness were clear, but the operators were unwilling to execute sections 145 and later 146,until they were pushed by the general public, the constitution directs them to serve the people in a particular manner, but they execute this defectively, thus we have institutions that are driven by the wrong human agency, the only cure is to strengthen the behavioural controls through social, legal and institutional structures.

Unfortunately that requires a strong judiciary which interprets the law not as a Trachymasian tool of the legislature and executive, but as an autonomous institution. To achieve a national consensus on all of these, we need the coming together of all for a national dialogue so that our rich texture of diversity would be a blessing and a source of strength in a Nigeria where there will be opportunity for all and responsibility from all.

How do you assess the conduct and outcome of the guber election you just conducted in Cross River State?
We cannot judge ourselves, it is best that we leave the judgment of our performance to other stakeholders most especially the electorate, contestants, local and international observers. The best criterion for judging the outcome of an election is the acceptability of the election results by the electorate as a true reflection of their votes and the perception of such acceptance by objective observers.

Nonetheless, what we are keen about is the process, improving it constantly in accord with our oath of office and oath of allegiance. For this latter reason, we have introduced some new approaches to improve on the process, such as improved training of election purpose staff and increasing the internal capacity of our full time staff, through needs analysis and purpose specific training and deployment.

By this, I mean that we assess our staff and from this assessment we deploy them according to areas of strengths and weaknesses depending on the goal the commission wants to achieve and that is a credible and acceptable election.

What would you say accounted for the orderly and peaceful conduct of the election?
First there has been some measure of increased confidence in INEC following the outcome of the 2011 elections. It is on record here in Cross River that unlike previous years, it was the first time that INEC property was not vandalized or people killed. We still have no record of death or properties destroyed on account of the 25th governorship election.

In addition, one of the underlying causes of crises and conflicts stem from party primaries. In this connection, the parties here had embarked on fairly free and rancour free primaries. Also, the promptitude with which we dealt with offenders in the previous elections may have dissuaded potential offenders, showing that when people know that violations will be strongly sanctioned, they will obey rules.

It was insinuated at the time of announcement of your appointment that you had doubts over the independence of INEC and whether you should accept to serve?

Yes indeed, l had my worries given the long history of  very respected people who accepted to serve but came out with little or no reputation left because of lack of independence of the system then. Infact, INEC job is a graveyard of ruined reputation if you don’t have certain core values and principles that you stand for as a person and should defend on behalf of the people.

But the president sounded very reassuring publicly that INEC would do its job without interference and that was why l accepted and, all through, he kept faith with the promise. We urge him to maintain this attitude in order to deepen our democracy through improved periodic elections.

You were quoted to have said that an electoral umpire cannot do favours or should be seen to give assistance. why?
It is a travesty of public trust and indeed an anathema for an umpire to been seen to help or assist a contestant and worst still for pecuniary reason. The reason why an umpire should not do favours to any candidate, even if it is his father or mother, is that the process is meant to determine the verdict of the people and not the whims of the umpire.

In retrospect, l will say that much damage has been done to the democratization project in Nigeria by people who see and have taken their appointment as election managers as avenues to acquire wealth and for dispensing patronage and favours, for personal ends.

While this may have helped to empower their friends and enriched them materially outside the legal expectation of the system, it has resulted in leadership aloofness, because the so-called ‘elected’ office holders who used such route do not feel responsible, accountable or obligated to the people, resulting in the regression of our country in many developmental spheres.

Why was election not conducted in Bakassi?
The guiding principle for conducting election anywhere is that elections are conducted where people were registered, and registration is done where people reside and vote using a legitimate voter register for the place in context. For the general elections of 2011, INEC conducted  registration in three ward settlements of Ikang in Akpabuyo local government the upland settlement of some Bakassi people, Dayspring I,II and Qua Island.

These areas are the unceded part of Bakassi local government where people live, and, as a follow up, elections , namely the state House of Assembly, National Assembly and Presidential elections of 2011, were conducted in those places, but the people at Ikang, where the upland settlement of Bakassi is located, have continued to insist that the people in these islands be compelled to come to the settlement an existing local government of Akpabuyo to conduct elections.

By implication; they are compelling INEC to recognize the 3 wards of Ikang in Akpabuyo local government area as the only part of Bakassi LGA in line with the state law no 7, which is not the reality on the ground and in law, because the extant INEC delineation of polling units, a compendium of all the constitutionally recognized constituencies in Nigeria does not recognise this law.

Unfortunately, local politics and multifarious motivations are so impelled by interests that they are unwilling to abide by existing template and they keep coming up with all forms of subterranean machinations to undermine these realities. For INEC, the law is sacrosanct. After the last general election there was a strange related court judgement, in June 2011 which did not take into account these constitutional realities that INEC has appealed against.

In any case, the vaunted law no 7 and the boundary adjustment made to the Ikang area remains inchoate with regard to section 115 which states; ‘’where the boundary of any state constituency established under….this constitution are altered…that alteration shall come into effect after it has been approved by the National Assembly…” Until the National Assembly receives a return on the state boundary constituencies altered and a consequential order made, law no.7 and alteration remains inchoate until it meets the constitutional proviso.

What would you say about corruption of INEC officials like RECs and E.Os who are accused of manipulation of elections for millions?

Just as it is often said that a corrupt judge is the greatest danger to the society, so also are corrupt election managers the greatest danger to democracy, because an election umpire is like a judge; he performs a quasi judicial function, he presides over those who compete for power, who in turn preside over the values of society, therefore such people should not be involved in corruption; in fact the mere perception that such persons are corrupt is damaging to public confidence on the electoral process.