By Simon Ebegbulem, Benin-City
Mr Mike Igini is the Resident Electoral Commissioner in Edo State. The INEC chief spoke to Sunday Vanguard in Benin-City on Friday, in reaction to the postponed general elections and the integrity of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) ahead the rescheduled elections. He insisted that the Prof. Attahiru Jega-led Commission was determined to supervise the “best elections in the history of the nation”, assuring that electoral body remained independent and cannot be controlled by any political party. Excerpts:
You are one public officer who many Nigerians believe is forthright and honest. Could you explain why, despite four years window, there is sudden postponement after INEC assurances that elections would go on, to the disappointment of Nigerians ?
Firstly, l want to join the Commission to apologise to all stakeholders for the slight changes in the election time-table till 28th of next month and 11th of April respectively. We know how we all look forward to getting out of our way on this issue of elections with all the attendant time, resources, emotional investment and all the expectations. Truly and understandably, Nigerians are justified over their displeasure on this slight change in the time-table, but we are assuring that, ultimately this development would also bring about an electoral outcome that would keep our democracy ever young and for the good of our country. We should always bear in mind that the political environment in which we operate is a dynamic one; that is why we plan and for the rational and adapted our plans to the emergent within the constitutional time frame. Emergent issues are things that are either outside your planning control, or emerge outside projected expectations or emerge from the field where expectations must conform with realities.
The emergent issues currently include the huge number of people who were registered during the continuous voters registration exercise, popularly called CVR, conducted last year at different times, many of whom have not collected their PVC and still doing so now. Here we have two scenarios: Where INEC has produced the PVC of those who registered in 2011 as we have done and commenced distribution since May last year but some people failed to collect, there is nothing INEC would do. But, on the other hand, where we are still getting the PVC of those who recently registered available for collection or partly as is the situation here in Edo and possibly in other states, we have a duty to make the PVCs available and we are doing so to avoid denial and disenfrancisement which is unacceptable unlike the first scenario which is a result of failure of individuals to collect available PVC. Now we have some time to tidy up and ensure that as many people that are willing to collect should be able to do so now.
Unlike issues which were known to us and which we had a strategic and operational plan for in 2015, all the emerging issues such as the imminent Africa multi-national military operation in the North-East of our country to combat Boko Haram insurgency are issues to which we adapt our robust contingencies to within our allowable time in the Constitution as done.
The jury is out there that INEC buckled to orchestrated and unnecessary public pressure over poor collection of PVC even though not everyone would vote . Why?
It is wrong to say that Nigerians, particularly those who registered during the CVR, who want to collect their PVCs orchestrated unnecessary pressure on us because it is a matter of right in the first place. Where we have produced and they fail to collect, it becomes a matter of choice for which INEC should not be held responsible, afterall, under our law unlike in some countries like Australia where voting is compulsory, it is not in Nigeria. We have not done badly really on the issue of PVC distribution because that exercise has been on since May 2014 till date except the PVC for the last continuous registration exercise. As I said in many other platforms, most states have distributed quite a huge number of PVCs that surpasses historical voters average participation and outcome in most jurisdictions. In fact, if 60% of those who currently have PVCs should present themselves to vote, it will be a milestone in terms of participation in elections in Nigeria. Even though we still continue to strive to ensure that all those who registered to collect PVC should do so, it must be noted that the threshold for significant voter turnout has been surpassed by the Commission in almost all jurisdictions. Nevertheless, distribution is ongoing. As I mentioned above, there are a range of emergent issues that have impacted the decisional process. Nigeria would appear to the world as an unserious nation when an African military force, drawn from Chad, Niger and Cameroon our immediate neigbhours that we have been accusing of not giving us the needed co-operation to fight Boko Haram now ready to join forces as we have seen in long convoy of military troops on TV and as reported in the papers , if we gave excuses of elections not to participate in the operation, this is a dilemma because military operation cannot be on side by side with electoral operations with INEC ad hoc civilian personnel mostly NYSC young men and women that would work in those places. And not to conduct election in the affected states at the same time to maintain 14th February would certainly spark off controversies and non conduct of elections in those places may also affect the requirements of 2/3 and majority of valid votes. We all know that even in peace time, INEC had never carried out electoral operations without security services. In fact, l’m one of the contributors to a book titled “Election Security” by Prof. Lai Olurode where various aspects of security components were interrogated and their significance in the conduct of elections was critically examined as an important component at this fledging state of our democracy given the “do or die mentality”. Given that we are still within our allowable time frame when this operation would be carried out, the regional African military forces should work hard, as we pray, for a major success given that security is a binary subject.
How would the card reader change the electoral process having regard to the capacity of politicians to bite every system to acquire power ?
The card-reader is the “game changer” for these election but the attitude of members of the political class shows that they don’t know what is ahead of them judging by their actions and the type of things they are trying to do when there is a procedural change. The card reader process will blindside anyone who hopes to undermine the elections in the fashion of all previous election riggers. The card-reader will isolate the identity of each voter on the voter’s register making him/her unique such that unless the individual present at the polling unit is authenticated, there will be no ballot returned for such a voter. Any which way a ballot is returned for a voter, that voter must be at the polling unit. This means that the voter is the center of these elections and cannot be dispensed with. Every calculation for these elections must involve the voter and his/her vote. Therefore, rather then run after INEC officials or trying to smuggle in names into our ad hoc personnel training program that would be of no help even if they are contestants brothers. My advice is that they should do everything possible to woo the voters where electoral victory cometh.
But INEC had four years to prepare for these elections. Why can’t your commission put everything in place to avoid a repeat of 2011?
As I stated above, we had rational plans encapsulated in our time-table made known to all stakeholders on the 24th of January 2014, but as anyone knows with policy implementation, projections must conform with reality and where new issues emerge that are not avoidable, particularly where they are dictated by national statutes such as the right to vote and be voted for that could be affected one way or the other. We must adapt to them for a win-win situation for all, most especially the Nigerian people that we must continue to be at their service at all times.
Why did INEC fix an early time-table for elections when it was not sure of meeting targets?
This is an interesting question and at the same time, paradoxical in the sense that when this time-table was announced after the INEC meeting in Kaduna on the 24th of January 2014, there was a huge debate or should l call it controversy on why the time-table should be released a year to elections and the order of the elections even though no provision of the Constitution or the Electoral Act was violated in anyway in relation to any political party as the adjustment of the time-table is still within the provisions of Sections 76, 132, 178 of the Constitution and Section 25 of the Electoral Act. We recognised as l did at the beginning of this interview that the time, resources and so on that parties, candidates have put in and the desire even of all of us to pull it through but for this slight shift till next month. I have almost come to the conclusion, after almost five years in this brief public office, that there is nothing done that would be free of some measure of sharp diverse views and opinions. Therefore, as to why the early release of time-table, it is always best to plan with ample room for the dynamism of operational environment that could accommodate what has been done now within the ambit of the law than to create a schedule that will not be amenable to new development. I appeal to Nigerians to continue to co-operate with their institution called INEC in order to succeed together in enthroning an enduring electoral system as a people.
This decision to postpone has further polarized the polity. How do you see the reaction of those opposed to this decision and the accusation of bias against INEC ?
Again, l will call for understanding of all stakeholders on this matter even though l know that, in every policy or decision, there are proponents and opponents, who have different degree of resources they can deploy in promoting or opposing such policy. This is why INEC always carries out stakeholder mapping to be able to ensure a by-in or co-optation of proponents and opponents on what we do to reach a win-win for all stakeholders. For INEC the most important goal is the outcome of an acceptable election. Even though INEC will always be on the hot seat and understandably so, are the parties prepared because as the umpire, we have objective indicators of the preparedness of parties for elections, one of which is the submission of the list of party agents which all parties participating in the elections were supposed to submit by the 29th of January according to the time-table. As at the 29th of last month, no party submitted list of party agents and only one party just submitted few hours ago. So we must address objective realities.
Again, some people are of the view that the opposition is irrational and criticizes everything done by INEC. What is your view?
I think the word irrational is rather too strong because it also connotes in a sense lack of tolerance and accommodation of those you may not agree with on any matter. You know, l’m of the background of constructive alternative view if any on all issues of public interest for public good. As I said before, every decision has proponents and opponents determined by interests in the political arena. It is improbable that all INEC decisions are opposed to the interest of any one party. So let us leave the matter and see it as the normal crest and ebb of the political arena, afterall, politics is a class contest for power, advantage of interest and access to resources. By its very nature, it is adversarial and not served ala carte.
Unlike the state electoral bodies, Nigerians are just beginning to have confidence in INEC because of your Chairman and well known people like you. Can Nigerians still trust the INEC leadership and its independence?
I can assure you that the autonomy of INEC is unblemished. If you recall correctly, after the Council of State meeting and even though all the attendees who spoke after the meeting to the media characterized the meeting in the subjective light of their political interests, they were all unanimous about the fact that only INEC, as an independent body, could take a final decision on whether elections could be shifted . As former and current leaders, they are all acutely aware that only INEC, by virtue of its status as an independent election management body, can schedule elections, that issue is undisputed.