Mr Mike Igini is the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) for Akwa Ibom State. In this interview with select journalists, he speaks about various issues bothering on the electoral system. ERNEST NZOR brings the excerpt
INEC recently dismissed some staff and is set to arraign some University Lecturers including Professors for Electoral offences, many Nigerians have commended this initiative, will it be sustained and what is the thrust behind the new impetus by the Commission to bring election offenders to book?
If you recall very well, the chairman of the Commission Prof. Mahmud Yakubu has often called for the implementation of the recommendations of the Uwais Election Reforms Committee regarding the need for an effective mechanism to ensure enforcement of consequences for electoral offenders. We have always advocated that as a Commission. In respect of our dismissed Staff and those to be arraigned in Court. Let me say this, if the ballot must remain the best means of expression of the will of the people in a democracy, the electoral process must be safeguarded from manipulation and the only sure pathway to do this is to enforce detterent measures and punishment for those who commit electoral offences. We all must appreciate the central role of election as a means by which the elected or those seeking elective office give account to the people. It is an end that evaluates and justifies why political power is exercised and sustains the organizing principle and values that underpin such exercise of power within a period. Any conduct that undermines or negates this system must be punished in order to hold, maintain and sustain the confidence of the people.
You were reported to have said that politicians should refrain from conducts that can kill democracy, what are those acts ?
The moment political elite begin to exhibit authoritarian tendencies, reject the rules that governs elections such as sabotage of card readers, inducement of collation officers to alter the outcome of voters will with a stroke of a pen, denouce the principle and values on which democray is practiced yet retains and appropriate benefit of office at the expense of the majority of the people, democracy surely is at risk according to Levitsky and Ziblatt in their work “How Democracies Die”. We must all appreciate that the choice and design of democracy is to ensure that ambition should check ambition to check the sustenance of democracy through elections. But the brazen crude deployment of violence using armed thugs endorsed by political elites during election is terrible, it persists, the risks are real and the danger to our democracy undeniable. The institution of representative democracy will die if these risks endure because democracy cannot thrive on the soil of absolutism, our political elites must know that democracy thrives on civic virtues of tolerance,inclusivity, conciliation and accommodation.
But why has your Commission not been doing this all along using high profile cases like these professors as good examples?
We have been doing it, many have been dismissed on account of electoral misconduct but many of you are not following developments in the Commission, particularly when the high profile issues of the election cycle have reduced in intensity or may be because many of these actions are not reported in the Media. In Cross River, we proceeded against some electoral offenders one of whom was convicted and jailed for eight months. We will continue to focus on targeted deterrence measures within the framework of existing laws of our election management. In any system, to ensure minimal deviation from the organizational goal, as the Frenchman Henry Fayol propounded, you need to utilize control mechanisms namely, normative and descriptive control. For election management normative controls, there is a growing consensus on global standards of election as you will find in election observers’ checklists, as well as evolving indicators developed to examine the structures and processes for elections before, during and after the election. Normative electoral standards are accepted best practices such as credible electoral processes, right to vote, access to ballot, non-manipulation or alteration of election results contrary to the will of the people, all of which constitute free, fair and credible elections. If you flout them, whether you are a permanent or an ad hoc Staff and irrespective of your status in the society,you should be punished because it is unacceptable behaviour. Even in countries where elections have become mere facade for undemocratic tyrants, social forces which constitute Normative controls are used to declare those who perpetrate such irregularities as pariahs or they are branded in international circles as electoral deviants, using Visa denials and other restrictions to target the elites who are often responsible.
Would you say that these measures have worked given our experience so far in Nigeria ?
Well, we will continue to try otherwise despite all these measures you still find people who consider the gains or rewards of electoral victory worthy of the risk of such social stigma. To return sanity we have to be very strong and hard on descriptive control measures, such as fines, jail terms, and ouright ban from participation in politics placed on politicians over offences such as bribery of election officials, vote buying, disruption of elections using thugs, destroying election materials in constituencies where their opponents are considered strong and so forth. The Commission has been pushing to bring offenders before the descriptive laws, where fraud is established, the Commission is committed to ensure that they will be prosecuted. Unfortunately, those who these laws should control or regulate are the principal actors who make the descriptive Laws that should control such deviant actions; hence, it is not easy to get them to concede to make such laws. Still, the patriotic ones who look at what Nigeria should be like beyond their own time have been pushing for such laws as they identify the problems inherent in our poorly regulated political space. Many of the Legislators are for instance victims of poorly regulated intra-party nomination Primaries and some victims of deviant behaviors during inter-party elections, so ensuring a level playing field for all is good for everyone ultimately because the perpetrators of today can become the victims of tomorrow.
Speaking of the checklist of election processes, INEC introduced a new process whereby Election results from the Polling Units could be accessed by stakeholders in real time as they are published at the polling units. what more can you tell Nigerians about this innovation ?
From my field experience and the general outcry of the Nigerian people, the two most problematic aspects of conducting elections in Nigeria are in nomination of party candidates during intra-party elections and more seriously, manipulations of already annouced polling units results at collation centres. To deal with the opacity around the collation process for more tansparency, the Commission embarked on piloting a number of innovations to evaluate their strengths and pitfalls in order to get a resilient remedy to problems associated with election results collation. That was what brought about this innovation using technology to ensure that declared polling units results are published to the whole world in real-time, hence they can no longer be changed at collation centres by Collation and Returning officers. Its an anathema for a candidate to win election at polling units but suddenly looses the election at the collation centre contrary to the will of the people. For me, upturning the verdict of the people at the collation centre constitutes a devaluation of the ballot and reduces election to a mere ritual without choosing. Furthermore, it is now difficult for a compromised official to change, alter or swap original Form EC8A result-sheets with those prepared by politicians on the way to collation centre because the Ward collation officer would have seen the already uploaded polling units result on the platform before the Presiding officer gets to the collation centre in compliance with the step-by-step manual recording of results under section 73 of the Act. The latter serves the purpose of an audit trail when required after the election. Election results at polling units hitherto accessible to only poll officials are now available to everyone, in fact in the Edo election the public result viewing portal was upgraded to accommodate up to two million viewers to follow the election results as they were published in each polling station where elections was concluded. So far, it has worked well in two off-season elections, hopefully, stakeholders will allow the innovations to improve election integrity and not find ways to scuttle it, if they are not already finding means to sabotage this innovation that Nigerians have fully embraced and are satisfied with while expecting more improvements.
What in your view makes elections so problematic in Nigeria?
There may be several reasons, but having closely studied several comparative opinions, I will begin with the issue of the Electoral System design. Our majoritarian Electoral System is designed in such a way that the election winner takes all due to our Presidential system design which Nigeria adopted from America. In an ethnically fractured society, it tends to create a societal polarization, because as election game theorists such as the economist Kenneth Arrow, the French theorist and politician Condocert, as well as Maurice Duverger have demonstrated by scientific studies of the mathematical modelling of such systems, the eventual behavioral choice patterns of voters often polarize towards the political groups that are likely to get the most votes. Although, such outcome has its strengths, for divided or segmented societies like Nigeria that are yet to have well defined national consensus, it can lead to damaging political behaviours in desperate efforts to win elections, rather than become leaders and statesmen, political actors tend to become election fundamentalists. Even in the United States of America as we are all witnessing at the moment, as well as several other representative democracies, you can see increasing dissatisfaction of voters with the trend of political behavior where political practitioners are becoming fundamentalist for election competition and election victories rather than nation builders. Democracy practitioners need to recognize these weaknesses, and make efforts to rescue democracy which is better than other options in offering a relatively rational process of selecting leaders. Unfortunately, in our country except for a hopeful few, very many who have little or no philosophical insight about politics, leadership and service are in politics. That unfortunate fact brings us to another possible reason beside the Electoral System, the behaviour of political players, it also counts, if political actors can restrain themselves or can be constrained by their society, at least from the point of view of enlightened self-interest or a collective consensus to make progress, it is possible to review what is not working from lessons learned and collectively reform them as demonstrated by the Commission with the new innovation in the Edo election. When a good candidate by the choice of the people had won at the polling units but suddenly loses at the collation centre, it is the society that has lost an opportunity for progress, because the essence of democratic election is lost and electoral victory from such outcome becomes the victory of individuals and those who rigged the process rather than the victory of society.
Given the do-or-die attitude of politicians from one election cycle to another, is there any hope for democracy in this country?
Periodic election as the bedrock of democracy is meant for the living and not the dead and whether the institution of representative democracy as we know it today has a hopeful future in Nigeria depends on the political elites and our collective commitment to sustain the conduct of free, fair and credible elections. Our political elites must appreciate the fact that in the absence of an authoritative interpreter of the common good of the people, Multi-party politics as a system of institutionalized rivalries must engage in competition and contestation of policy ideas. We must do our utmost to direct the competition of politicians to the expectations of the voters and not their personalities or personal benefits. This is important because it is only when politicians compete to please voters and not themselves that we can have desirable development. We as a people should have a benchmark, framework or charter of expectations,this is what we expect from the federal, state and LGA levels from elected officials annually, in terms of infrastructural development, education, water supply, power supply, employment, housing and so forth and review it periodically. If we develop such scorecards we will keep the conversation on these expectations rather than on personalities. if they are departing from that task we should guide them away from primordial issues. We should redirect our efforts and anxieties to objective performance benchmarks. I have said so many times and now I repeat it as a challenge to the Nigerian people and the media to develop frameworks and scoredcards that will be used to evaluate elected officials objectively. For instance, what is the minimum number of public housing, public toilets and conveniences, waste collection centres, domiciliary health facilities, citizens assisted with welfare aid, etc that an LGA should deliver yearly? If I ask you to score any government today for last year, I am certain you will have no domesticated framework of reference, at best you will use some framework from abroad, like the Mo Ibrahim index. l think that the future of democracy will depend on what it offers and we will do better if we approach elections decision making as voters if we direct our focus on instances of such development.
What is the prospect for your persistent call for the institutionalization of debates at all levels, for all candidates in our electoral system?
In the leadership or executive recruitment process debates on key policy issues allows the aspirants to present their private and public records for public scrutiny, if made compulsory as the practice in some countries, then those who aspire to public office will know that competence, performance and character are very important matters of public interest when seeking elective office. I have advocated quite forcefully for this so as to encourage the emergence of visionary and competent people of ideas who know the nuances and praxis of what development is about and not people with big pockets but who have no public service ideas. The only sure path of progress and stability in a heterogeneous country like Nigeria is to evolve and promote politics of performance, one that builds on social capital and thus rewards performance as a basis for seeking leadership position and not the politics of identity that reminds us of our differences, leading to mutual distrust and a reduction of the cooperative capacity to work for the common good of ourselves and the country. Once on a comparative working tour, we visited the South Korean Electoral Commission, where they told us how effective institutionalization of political debates rescued the politics of that country from the hands of the civilian military apologists and money bags, who took over government when the military returned to the barracks in that country, just like Nigeria. A compulsory policy debate will bring the best in our polity, from the private sector and academia to seek public office and above all, help voters to make informed voting decisions. We give kudos to Channels television for what it has been doing in this regard for some years organizing debates for governoship candidates. I have watched several of these debates and any independent observer could see from the quality of some of the debaters while others do not appear to know and had not given deep reflection to the job description of a Governor. I am of the view that such debates should be extended to intra-party contest such as Primaries; it will help the political parties to improve the process of leadership recruitment and strengthen Nigerian Democracy.
Why is it difficult for political parties to promote and deepen internal democracy?
Well there is a very comprehensive joint effort of the Commission and the Senate at the moment to bring about a fundamental change in the laws that govern Primaries, otherwise, from what l know and my field experience so far, it appears that politicians prefer chaos to order, perhaps they feel that order will not be in their favour. Otherwise, how can we explain the removal of section 87(9) that gave INEC some quasi administrative powers to ensure internal democracy and instead they introduced a proviso to section 31 of the Electoral Act, to the effect that, whatever list submitted to INEC as candidates cannot be rejected for any reason “whatsoever”, whether there was a primary election or not. It is our hope that the current efforts by the Senate with the expected new electoral Act that this would change in their own interest for sanity to reign in primary elections. The only beneficiary of chaos is chaos, because one chaos will beget another. But if everyone accept order then in the end the system will be beneficial to all because everyone will be subject to the same rules of engagement. Moreover as Susan Scarrow indicated regarding the benefits of internal democracy to political parties; Recruiting and selecting candidates is a crucial task for parties, because parties’ profiles during elections, and while in office, are largely determined by which candidates are chosen and where their loyalties lie. The impunity with which political leaders or those who have influence retreat from the requisites of internal democracy is bad for party membership, because the only thing that sustains growth in party followership is when party members know that they have a reasonable chance of predicting how the rules work in their parties and that these rules will be obeyed by all.
You have been reported to have advocated for the determination of election petitions before swearing in of winners and ‘burden of proof’ be on INEC?
Commendable efforts have been made in the reduction of time required to litigate post-election disputes with the amendment of Section 285 of the constitution. Still, the question of litigation when people have been sworn into office is a fundamental one that needs to be addressed. It is my view that 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 and litigation and to avoid spurious 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 kept custody of the entire materials used for the election in line with the provision of the Evidence Act sections 136 subsection (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 shifts to the petitioner. Election matters are sui generis and of a special class that are usually treated differently in terms of practice and procedure. Recourse to section 131 of the Evidence Act provision that whoever asserts has the onus of proof on the basis of which petitioners then become saddled with the back-breaking burden of proof should not be extended to election matters like other civil proceedings. 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 standards and the result of the election as declared.
How critical is the role of security agencies and how do we deal with the partisanship disposition of security agencies in election?
Election Day in other polities, is often like any other normal day, if anything at all, it is a day citizens go out without intimidation to the polling stations to exercise their residual sovereignty to hire or fire those who should be in leadership without the heavy presence of security personnel but tragically election has become a “do-or-die” endeavour for one thing, as a reflection of the faulty Electoral System we have adopted which makes political actors more desperate election fundamentalist, as well as a reflection of our backwardness in evolving a consensus in development that our elites are committed to. That is why Security has become a very critical defining factor of success or failure of elections in Nigeria. These are features that we must do away with as the Commission continues to bring in technology to reduce human manipulations, as we all observed in the Nasarawa bye election and that of Edo governorship election to secure polling units results from being tampered with at collation centres. But without the commitment of Security personnel that must shun compromises such as doing nothing when actionable infractions occur, it will be difficult. If we do not pay attention to Security in terms of Enforcement Security, you will still find places where intimidation, snatching of ballot box and election materials and other irregularities will occur. However, in moving beyond our limitations, it must be realized that elections “Process Security” is as important as “Enforcement Security”, because Process Security is more enduring. To instantiate, the reason why people no longer go to polling units now unlike in previous years to snatch away ballot papers is because the Commission has customized ballot papers for each polling unit, ballot papers were designed like a community drum such that if you steal it, where will you beat it without the Community hearing the sound? It is useless and an unnecessary risk to steal ballot papers because now you can’t use it elsewhere like before because ballot papers are now LGA and polling unit specific for each election. Security challenges also stem from ”l must win election mentality” because elective offices are big prizes and far more rewarding at the moment than other endevours and the huge benefits are not tied to performance and service delivery. Worst still this same politicians who should be creating new opportunities beyond politics are not working hard enough to create such opportunities. There was a time in this country when people shied away from public services because there were so many other alternatives and more rewarding work, but today people close businesses, some even thriving business and even go as far as securing bank loans to fund campaigns for elective offices.