By Simon Ebegbulem, Benin City
Thursday, June 11, 2015 will be a memorable day in the life of the Resident Electoral Commissioner in Edo State, Mr. Mike Igini, as politicians, members of the civil society, friends and well-wishers poured encomium on the INEC chief, who is leaving Edo, after spending five months and four days. It was at a farewell meeting with stakeholders at the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, office, in Benin City, where majority stakeholders, who took time to point out the positive impact Igini had made in INEC used the opportunity to recommend to President Muhammadu Buhari that Igini could replace the out-going Chairman of the INEC, Prof Attahiru Jega.
The state Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Barr.Anslem Ojezua, noted that the uprightness of Igini during the general elections was the reason a few candidates are going to Election Petition Tribunals in Edo to contest the outcome of the elections. His words:
“There is no doubt that Edo people have seen the difference since you came as the Resident Electoral Commissioner. In previous elections, all our party craved for was a level playing ground while the PDP always brought people who come here to rig elections for them. It happened in 2007, before the Appeal Court returned the mandate given to Governor Adams Oshiomhole by Edo people. But since you came, things have changed. You have provided leadership in Edo INEC that is very obvious. The outcome of the elections in Edo is the reason you have few persons going to the tribunal. If you look at some other states, the RECs connived with the PDP to manufacture results both in the presidential and National Assembly elections. That you did not connive with people to rig the polls shows the kind of person you are and let me say that you are going to leave a very big shoe behind. I pray that whoever will succeed you will be able to carry on from where you stopped”.
Speaking also, the state Chairman of the PDP, Chief Dan Orbih, said “To a large extent, he came and played the role of an unbiased umpire. Of course, by the nature of his job, those who the outcome of the elections favours will speak very highly of him, those who probably did not do well will put a lot of blame on him. But from my own perspective, he did the best within the short period of his arrival; there was more interaction between the supervising body and the political parties and, through that, people knew what was happening in INEC. And that explains why there was less violence during and after the elections because a lot of the issues were explained to various political parties and it reduced tension. Political parties were made to have a better understanding of the issues so they were not worried.
“But I want to advise that those charged with the responsibility of conducting elections should do all within their powers to retain some of these experienced hands within the commission because my first reaction was that he just came, why is he being transferred? But I was told that he has served his tenure and that is why he is leaving. But, to me, quite frankly, a lot has been spent training some of these commissioners and, with their experience, you cannot discard them and start recruiting fresh people. If the Commission must improve on its goal of attaining a situation where we can conduct credible elections in this country and consolidate on the achievements of the past, INEC must retain these credible hands who are experienced based on the past elections which they conducted. It was nice working with him and I wish him well in his future endeavours”.
On his part, Mr Omobude Agho, the Chairman of Edo State Civil Society Organization, noted that the REC was able to carry the civil society along during the elections, particularly in voter education which helped to the success of the elections in Edo. “We will continue to remember you for your good deeds and administrative prowess, integrity. And it is our strong belief that President Buhari should look for people like you who have the integrity to carry INEC to the next level. Prof.Jega has done his best for Nigeria and we need people with credibility like Igini to move our electoral system to the next level,’’ Agho said. Others who spoke at the event included the Benin Chairman of the Nigeria Bar Association, members of the UNIBEN Alumni Association and the staff of INEC.
Igini, who almost betrayed and the emotions, while responding, said he was overwhelmed by the comments made about him, assuring that he will not relent on his efforts to sanitise the nation’s electoral process. He expressed gratitude to the staff of the INEC for their cooperation, just as he commended his wife, “for being there always for all the periods that we were not at home, helping to assist our children to do their school home work”. “Since we came on board, there have been tremendous efforts to change the attitudinal dispositions and values of the staff/stakeholders in order to sustain our democracy. The outgoing leadership of Prof.Jega promised integrity-driven electoral process to restore the confidence of the people in the electoral system. We pledged and committed ourselves to ensuring that INEC remains a national institution committed to the conduct of free, fair, credible and acceptable elections in our fatherland,’’ the REC said.
“Looking back at the last few months here in Edo, and the totality of the last few years of our stewardship in the Commission as we take a bow from INEC, we can say, with every sense of modesty, that the Independent National Electoral Commission, under Professor Attahiru Jega and indeed INEC in Edo has worked so hard to bring meaning, trust and purpose to the electoral process. We have striven to ensure that there are no more pre-written election results, no more incidents of assisted ballot box snatching and stuffing of thumb-printed ballot papers and same announced as results by the Commission.
“The use of the PVC and the Card Reader to verify voters’ biometrics in the 2015 elections, despite a few challenges, no doubt, remains a watershed, a paradigm shift that brought about a tremendous energy of hope, credibility and integrity unequalled in our electoral history.
At all times in the last four years, we strove to do what is right, to put INEC at the service of the electorate, so that their reality becomes our reality at great risk to ourselves and loved ones. On the question of due process, we never compromised or surrendered our values, but rather we showed the courage of our conviction to be true to them. All that every citizen needs to contribute is to be given a chance; we were given a chance and opportunity in the past five years, we devoted our time and served with all our hearts to rebuild our electoral process to meet the aspirations of the Nigerian people.
“As l bid you all farewell, the staff and the people of Edo, be assured that wherever l am, whatever l do, l’m with you. Whenever you do the right thing by adhering to the template of electoral integrity that we built together, l am head and heart with you. In the past five years of the leadership of our Hon. Chairman and under my watch in this state in the past few months, it has been a continuing effort to ensure leadership by example and not by pretext. You have all seen that, indeed, it is possible to do the right thing, if we defer immediate personal gains for the common good. You have given me all that we achieved together in Edo”.