Mr Mike Igini recently got reappointed as the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) for Akwa Ibom State. He speaks on reform of voting processes in Nigeria, the challenges and how credible poll can be attained in the country through the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and other bodies in charge of the exercise. BOLA BADMUS brings excerpts:
You have just been reappointed into office. What should be the expectations of Nigerians, given that the country is still having problems with its electoral system?
Many thanks indeed to the President and Commander-in-Chief for the trust and confidence reposed in some of us in this endeavour. On the expectations of Nigerians from me, first, election management is not a one-man show but a team work that requires the commitment of all citizens. This is because election is one of the largest, administratively and logistically delicate, complex and all-involving activities that nations embark on in peace time. So, it requires a total national effort, particularly the commitment of key national institutions and their personnel like the umpire itself and security agencies that must not and should not abuse their positions to favour one group against the other to secure dubious electoral victory.
As for me, Nigerians should not expect less but more until we are able to entrench a robust electoral process that can throw up only competent and credible people who understand the nuances and praxis of development and are able to run the affairs of state at all levels. My commitment in this regard is unwavering; I will be fair to all who seek to participate in elections under my supervision by ensuring that established electoral laws, rules and guidelines are enforced fully, fairly and impartially to all. As part of a team, we shall ensure that INEC remains an independent and effective national institution for the recruitment of competent and committed leaders through the conduct of periodic, credible elections and not a tool for electoral manipulation for victory. We must ensure that hardworking and trusting Nigerian people are able to periodically express their desires for individual and collective development, by freely going to polling units to choose those that should lead them.
What, in your view, are the competencies required to be a successful election manager, given the stakes involved and the extent politicians could go to buy their way to win election at all cost?
l can tell you that beyond the competencies required to carry out the mandate prescribed by the constitution to plan, organise, undertake, supervise elections, conduct voter education, adopt best practices of democracy and to conduct oversight on political party activities, it may interest you to know that the overriding attribute of all is the strength of character of individuals entrusted with this sensitive public assignment. If you are morally and ethically challenged, having not been able to deal with the crisis of human insatiable wants and able to separate wants from need, you may not be able to keep public trust and uphold higher values of probity and accountability required of the office of an umpire. As a matter of fact, this job requires absolute impartiality from people called to do this kind of assignment. There is no question of blood relation, my father, mother, sister or brother, anyone. You may have other requisite skills but to succeed in this job, you must have character because competencies without strength of character is a great deal of disability.
In an effort to enhance internal democracy, the Senate appears determined to sanitise party primaries and convention processes in the selection of party candidates given the proposed new amendments to the Act. Can this be achieved given the kind of politicians we have in Nigeria?
The Senate should be commended for the profound amendments it has proposed to the existing Electoral Act. And as I have told a few people, it is revolutionary in terms of the context of electoral reforms because of the broad scope of changes proposed as we await the concurrence of the House of Representatives. I hope they sustain it, because if they carry it through, several of the amendments will greatly impact the quality of our elections. Political party primaries outcomes remain one of the greatest threats to our democracy in Nigeria. These reforms will help to sanitise the process so that parties respect their members’ choices and preferences and have defined and enforceable laws guiding their conducts not subject to multiple subjective interpretations. It will greatly advance the course of democracy in Nigeria.
From what we have come to know, politicians do not like unequivocal definitive rules, they want to leave loopholes making it possible to swing the law as they please rather than conform. Unfortunately, when they are the victims, they cry to all ends but when they are the beneficiaries, they extol it. I believe that if you make the laws definitive and practice it, everyone will behave knowing there is a standard for everyone. I say the proposed changes are revolutionary because even in advanced democracies, they also experienced hegemonic resistance of elites to electoral reforms because politicians always want the laws to be in their electoral favour.
Given some of the proposals introduced by the Senate, I can tell you, based on my field experience, that they will positively impact the credibility of elections if fully implemented, because the devil really is implementation. The work of the Senate in this respect is a great leap which is not easy for politicians to make but they have acted like statesmen and women with a consensus; which indicates that sanity is required for the common good and for a better polity.
What do you make of the fact that nothing is done in the areas of election petition management as to whether a petition should be disposed of before swearing in of winners as well as the ‘burden of proof’, whether it should be on INEC; then the issue of need for Electoral Offences Commission?
The question of litigation when people have been sworn into office is a fundamental one that needs to be addressed. This is despite efforts made in reduction of time with the amendment of Section 285 of the constitution. We should go back to the practice in 1979 and 1983 when all election petitions are resolved before people are sworn-in to avoid the use of public funds to prosecute individual political aspiration, litigation and to avoid distraction of office holders from governing. On the question of burden of proof, I have always maintained and have demonstrated by personal field example that the burden of proof of how well an election was conducted, if challenged, should first be placed on the umpire that conducted the election; made the return and also was in custody of the entire materials used for the election in line with the provision of the Evidence Act, Sections 136 sub-Section (2) in particular and Section 140. This burden of proof is not static and would shift to the petitioner who has petitioned but first, the umpire should place all relevant material evidence before the Tribunal before it is shifted to the petitioner.
Election matters are sui generis and of a special class that are usually treated differently in terms of practice and procedure. Election managers have both legal and moral duty to explain to the tribunal in rebuttal of the claims of the petitioner that they complied with the electoral legal framework in the conduct of the election and that the evidence trail substantially conforms with the election result as declared. On the question of what appears to be a loud silence over the general call since 1999 for the establishment of an Electoral Offences Commission, l wish to say that every commendable effort made so far to reform the electoral process will amount to nothing if electoral offenders are not tried and sent to jail.
So, in effect, you are calling for punishment of electoral offenders to stop election rigging and manipulation in the country?
Absolutely, l am calling for increased targeted deterrence because it is trite criminal axiom that a rewarded and unpunished wrongful act would be repeated. This is the problem and the tragedy of our country seeing people who have been engaged by highly placed individuals to undermine elections walk freely and beneficiaries of patronage that should be in prison, occupy exalted public offices in the land.
For me, rather than go for a permanent Commission with all the problems of another bureaucracy, corruption and the politics of who should head such Commission and mode of appointment and such Commission becoming another national headache, l propose that some carefully selected judges be made to constitute an Electoral Offences Tribunal with units across the country, like the Election Petition Tribunal to be inaugurated from the time of commencement of voters registration when the act of rigging election begins with politicians colluding with registration officers. If the Tribunal is able to convict as many offenders as possible, many people would be restrained and afraid to violate or allow themselves to be used during the main election for rigging. We can also adopt the practice of other countries like US and even in Kenya where all divisions of court are on standby on election day to deal with cases brought before them over electoral violations.
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