By Tonnie Iredia
On Thursday October 14, 2018, the 14th All Nigeria Editors’ Conference opened in Asaba, Delta State. Professor Mahmood Yakubu, Chairman Independent National Electoral Commission INEC, who was billed to deliver the key note address, was represented by Mike Igini, the Commission’s Resident Electoral Commission (REC) for Akwa Ibom State.
Mike’s presentation was superb which explains why he got a standing ovation at the end of his address. For this writer, who chaired the opening session and who had severally watched Igini making value-laden contributions to television programmes on elections, Mike Igini is simply INEC’s encyclopedia of electoral information.
The Commission should not shy away from making efforts at raising the capacity of other Electoral Commissioners to Igini’s standard concerning knowledge of subject matter, dedication to duty and most importantly, ability to be firm and impartial as an umpire.
As Resident Electoral Commissioner Igini does not spend time dishing out fake assurances to voters about elections or pretending that poor conduct can be excused. What he does is to educate people on arrangements made by INEC spending considerable time on the essence of everyone keeping to the rules of the game.
Igini was a delight to watch a few months back at a press conference he addressed on why INEC had to cancel the Phalga Port-Harcourt 111 state constituency bye election which was marred by disruptions and violence. What happened was that Mike Igini in the absence of any National Commissioner had been drafted from Uyo to Port Harcourt to oversee the election.
At the end of the ill-fated event he explained to the Press why those of them on the spot initiated the cancellation of the election which was endorsed by the electoral body. Igini relied on the powers of INEC provided for in Section 26 of the Electoral Act to halt a bad election. Are other election managers unaware of such a provision in the said Section of the Electoral Act? If so, why do some of them often abdicate from such weighty responsibility?
In today’s world of technology, elections are a media affair as people are enabled by the media to see happenings at all event centres. It is therefore not the role of any official to seek to manage the image of his agency by covering-up events that people had witnessed or seen or heard from eyewitnesses.
Each time that is done, the actor deals a heavier blow on the same image he purports to protect. This in our humble view was what Olusegun Agbaje, Resident Commissioner for Osun state achieved by his posture on the recent re-run governorship election in the state where different election monitors and observer groups drew ample attention to the incurably bad conduct of the election.
Indeed, INEC as a body had to issue a statement via twitter to condemn the molestation of voters including accredited observers and journalists. Yet, Agbaje could not stop the event thereby empowering those who planned to win at all costs.
At the presentation of certificates to those declared winners of the election, Agbaje reportedly said: “if, at the end of litigation at the Supreme Court of Nigeria, the Commission is found culpable of not discharging its responsibility faithfully and diligently, I will take full responsibility for any such laxity, publicly apologise to all Nigerians and thereafter resign my appointment with the commission.”
So does Agbaje honestly believe that all went well with the election? Again, how did he know that the case would get up to the Supreme Court?
And who says the winner at the court is necessarily the real winner in a country where some people often get their way with any societal institution? Besides, it is not only the performance of INEC that can mar an election. Other election institutions can disrupt the process as Igini saw in Port Harcourt and we saw on television and read in the newspapers concerning the Osun election where Solomon Soyebi, National Electoral Commissioner in charge of Oyo, Osun and Ekiti states was reportedly on ground.
The role of INEC is to, all at times; serve as impartial umpires which must include NOT overlooking the bad conduct of some politicians aided by security agencies in any election. Although it is unfair for INEC to deceive Nigerians about a faulty process, they often do, only to urge the aggrieved to go to court.
On the eve of the Edo governorship election of 2016, Nigerians were shocked when suddenly; the election was postponed without the knowledge of INEC. Indeed, when news of the postponement was first released through the media, the INEC chairman disowned it as he was not briefed; yet it is only INEC that is empowered by law to postpone an election.
Interestingly, the Edo State Resident Electoral Commissioner, Sam Olumekun who spoke later at a stakeholders meeting in Benin City, insisted that the electoral body postponed the election because there was no security cover for electoral officials.
If it was INEC that postponed the election, how come Olumekun knew and his overall boss, Mahmood Yakubu who himself was in Benin at the time and had earlier assured the media that his commission would make a good outing not know? Olumekun like Agbaje was to later threaten to resign if there was any proof that he compromised the election.
Someone needs to tell INEC officials who have no guts to be firm and impartial not to wait till the end of judicial proceedings before they resign. In any case, resignation of appointment by a public officer should not be premised only where such officers were personally found wanting in the discharge of their duties.
In other parts of the world there are several cases where officers honourably resign simply because there was public dissatisfaction with how an event under their charge was handled. The point being made is that on the basis of vicarious liability officers are expected to resign as a sign of taking responsibility for what others working with them did to earn event failure or public disapproval.
This is why we support the redeployment of Commissioner Amina Zakari from election operations which the public are unhappy about.
The lady may not have done anything wrong whatsoever; what is important is the growing public apprehension that she cannot be trusted to handle that aspect of elections. It is for the same reason that judicial officers are enjoined to hands-off any case where any of the parties are uncomfortable with their involvement.
So INEC should look for more Iginis whose performance, countenance and disposition can add value to our elections because the Commission like Caesar’s wife must always be seen to be above board.