In a week’s time, the general elections will be holding nationwide and dealing with challenges such as rigging, use of state and federal might, violence and other issues have been in the front burner. But the Akwa Ibom State Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), Mr. Mike Igini in an interview with ANIETIE AKPAN, Deputy Bureau Chief, South-south said electoral manipulations could only take place when key actors collude.
Some individuals are bragging that power of incumbency and security will be used to determine election results…
IN a democracy, the only permanent incumbents are the electorates. They are the unchanging incumbents, the un-commanded commander. Those in authority are usually in office for a short time, since power is transient.
In a periodic election, it is what distinguishes democracy from other forms of government, because a periodic election enables the electorates to exercise their residual sovereignty.
So, you concede some elections or you voluntarily give by your choice some level of sovereignty to the people for a period.
Ordinarily, in other parts of the world, security agencies have no role during election. They are supposed to do their normal jobs. But because of the level of criminality among the political elites, a very desperate set of people who are ready to kill and commit all kinds of atrocities to retain or get power, security has become an issue today in Nigeria.
As we draw close to the elections, INEC and security agencies are now the focus of either the success or failure of 2019 election.
As a commission, we will stand tall and mighty in defence of democracy and the rule of law by ensuring we have an electoral process where attitudes are shaped, confidence established and the understanding of the need for all to play by the rules to have a credible election conveyed, because if votes don’t count people will lose faith in democracy. That is what we are determined to do in the whole country.
However, the real threat to 2019 is the Nigerian elites, the political class who are recruiting thugs and piling up money to buy votes. They have become more sophisticated now. They have hired houses, and are collecting people’s permanent voter cards (PVC), VIN numbers and telephone numbers. They are calling people and collecting their account numbers right now.
Politicians are the greatest enemies of Nigerians. Unfortunately, if Nigeria is to ever rise to achieve greatness, it cannot do so outside the value and orientation of its elites.
You said without connivance with Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) election couldn’t be rigged in Nigeria…
It is a fact with regards to our history in Nigeria, that electoral manipulation can only take place when key actors collude.
These culprits include compromised INEC officials, security personnel and especially politicians, who are usually the initiators of a scheme to manipulate election.
But the trajectory of that terrible path has changed drastically, with the result that since 2011 till date, as evidenced by the over 196 elections conducted in various constituencies by the new INEC leadership before the coming general elections.
You will agree with me that the processes and outcome of those elections compared to the ones we had before 2011 were of remarkable departure.
This is because of the level of credibility that has been brought on-board on account of the kind of leadership we had, starting from Professor Jega.
The electoral process frontiers have been expanded to bring about transparency, particularly with the effort to introduce some measures of ICT solution to deal with some historical problems of election service delivery.
We have introduced some level of ICT solution, even though we know that the best election in the world (there is no perfect election anywhere) is not necessarily ICT driven, but the good and best elections are ICT assisted.
So, the introduction or successful completion of the biometric register, which is the foundation of any sellable election, is one step the commission has taken since 2011.
The body has also introduced the permanent voters card, where the biometric specimen of every Nigerian has been captured.
Nigerians now have their unique VIN numbers and other bio-data, as contained in the register, which also necessitated the use or introduction of the smart card reader to give credibility and transparency.
There will be no incidence form. In case the card reader does not capture, a fresh fingerprint will be taken on the spot.
In addition, there is now an innovation to build up on the result form required to be mandatorily signed by party agents, where the scores of their party performance are indicated.
That has to be conspicuously pasted at the polling units. We also have election-monitoring centre to monitor activities going on in different places.
So, we now have a multiple check on both the presiding officer and other categories of ad-hoc staff involved in the process.
It is alleged that elections are rigged in the situation room or collation centre. Is this true?
First, let me debunk the allegation that elections are rigged in the situation room.
That is wholly incorrect, because a situation room is nothing more than an environment where officials of the commission are seated, and what happens at the polling units are monitored.
Political parties have agents at every polling unit. Parties are also free to set up their situation room.
From the polling units, the result are declared and the duplicate result given to party agents from that point. On INEC’s part, the presiding officer is required to transmit that same number of result to the situation room.
But nothing stops party agents and political parties from setting up their own situation rooms and collate data from the field.
In any case, no result has ever been declared in a situation room in Nigeria. A political party’s situation room cannot be used to rig election, just like INEC’s situation room.
But politicians use all means to rig elections, using INEC to declare fake result regardless of the result on the field…
The truth is that we have made a lot of progress, but politicians are lagging behind.
In the normal course of life, there are laws regulating human behaviour, but human beings still try to find a way round them.
What you are saying happened in the past, when rigging was the order of the day. But under our leadership, there is what we call electoral accountability principle.
Section 131 of the Evidence Act where mainstream lawyers and election riggers always run to hide, says whosoever makes the allegation has the onus to prove it.
That section is read in isolation of Section 136, particularly 140 of the Evidence Act that talks about onus of proof, that where certain facts are especially in the knowledge of a person, the onus of proof of that fact is upon that person.
Generally, election is a generic process that has constituting elements of planning, recruitment of ad-hoc staff, accreditation, voting, sorting, counting and declaration. All these activities are within INEC’s special knowledge.
So, for us, at the end of election, and as leaders in the temple of justice, if the process is called to question, bearing in mind that all the things I enumerated (for instance, I recruit adhoc staff, train them and print ballot papers,) why should the burden of proof on how well an election was conducted be placed on the petitioner? No, we take responsibility of what we do, which is why we are making the system open and transparent.
There are two globally recognised metrics for accepting election, which are process indicators and outcome indicators.
The process indicator will show the level of participation, whether there was level of it being free and fair or whether there was competition or whether the outcome was legitimate, because legitimacy is key to exercising of power. Those who want to exercise power must assume authority legitimately.
Right now, politicians are not aware of so many things, which is why they are still planning thuggery and others. Most politicians are not ICT compliant.
Presently, there are many ICT people on the loose in the country, and they are telling politicians all manner of stories, such as they are going to jam INEC machine.
Card reader is not a voting machine, it is just a hand held device to confirm the genuineness of your PVC, as well as confirm your biometrics status.
Who are those not permitted to travel outside the country?
First, I have been advising Nigerians that they should ensure the election is not violent. You should not destroy our country just because you have the U.S., UK and EU visas, where you can run with your family.
Usually, it is the big people in the society that travel out. Between now till the election, there is likely to be visa restriction to those countries, so that those planning violence are also made to stay around.
If violence is a good thing, then let all of us stay here to experience it.
Politicians are jostling to see how some RECs and other officials can be transferred…
The issue of transfer is outside the purview of politicians. They are not to determine who should be where. Their job is to campaign.
The electorates who are the examiners are out there. We at INEC are to invigilate. So, politicians should go and face the people.
The era of politicians determining where Electoral Commissioner or Electoral Officer should be is gone forever. This is an independent electoral management board.
The issue of inconclusive election has been associated with this INEC…
We need to understand why elections are declared inconclusive. Section 53 of the Electoral Act, for instance, is one of the reasons we have inconclusive elections.
It is also applied in the situation where we discover a trend that politicians have found a clever way of ensuring that the election in their opponents’ strongholds are disrupted to snatch victory.
In such situation, after conclusion of the election and you are leading with just 5,000 votes, which means the margin is less than the votes in the area that has been disrupted, the implication is that if election is held in that place, the chances are that your 5,000 margin can be upturned because the election was disrupted. But where the margin is in excess, it will not be necessary to declare the election inconclusive.
Another reason is where there is over voting in a constituency.
Electoral Act section 53 says where there is an over voting, the election should be cancelled and another election conducted, if it will affect the overall result.
The case of over voting is as a result of manipulation, and who would you hold responsible for that? It is INEC’s problem. Why should you punish a constituency for a problem caused by an INEC official’s connivance?