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Igini’s ignition of change

By Nsikak Ekanem
11 July 2022   |   2:37 am
If Mike Igini never thought of coming up with memoirs on his decades of robust participation in Nigeria’s democratic processes, his experiences in Akwa Ibom, where, for about five years now

Mike Igini

If Mike Igini never thought of coming up with memoirs on his decades of robust participation in Nigeria’s democratic processes, his experiences in Akwa Ibom, where, for about five years now, he has been the Resident Electoral Commissioner for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), is enough to make him have a rethink.

In a report anchored by yours sincerely in the Daily Independent edition of January 25, 2019, Igini was among 20 persons listed as being “potentially positioned to shape or shake” that year’s elections in Akwa Ibom. There were street talks that gladiators from the two major political divides in the state had made overtures to no avail for him to shift from the central position of officiating to either of the two sides as a player with the uniform of an umpire. Then, postulation credited to former Governor Godswill Akpabio that what more money cannot do much more money can do was almost seen as the gospel truth.

Invalidating what was about to become an axiom, Igini vociferously mentioned that his mission in the state was to “count votes not money”. The avowal declaration was an indication of Igini’s awareness of what was the mainstay of some other INEC officials in the state before him. It was also a notice that he would not be converted by the gospel of much more money buying anything and anybody appearing not buyable.

Igini’s stuff of stubbornness exhibited in his student union leadership days at the University of Benin came to full glare in Akwa Ibom at the announcement of the Akwa Ibom North-West (Ikot Ekpene) senatorial district election in 2019.

The then-incumbent Senator Akpabio, an “uncommon transformer” was commonly defeated by current Senator Chris Ekpenyong, who has a trait of commonly defeating serving legislators – in his 20s in 1983 he defeated a serving House of Assembly Member in the Cross River State House of Assembly.

Typical of anything involving the uncommon person, the announcement of the election result was not without uneasiness. The intrigues, suspense and drama that characterized it could best be utilized in the Nollywood industry. Had INEC not invalidated thousands of votes alleged to have been fraudulently recorded for Akpabio, an uncommon act of using votes from one local government area to defeat a candidate that had a landslide victory in eight of the 10 local government areas that make up the senatorial district would have been another magical exploit in Nigeria’s annals of elections.

Though some lustful INEC ad hoc staffers lent credence to the hypothesis that there is nothing or nobody too expensive to be bought by a politician, Igini proved that there is an exception to the rule. Two professors co-opted by INEC for the election have been tried in court and so far one of them (the returning officer) has been convicted.

While others hail Igini for daring the dreaded, some blame him for Akpabio’s failure to return to Senate for a second term. Akpabio’s chances of losing the election were very high, as publicly mentioned somewhere by yours truly before the election, but the former Senate Minority Leader is often deluded by the wrong estimation of possessing invincibility attributes of infallibility.

Although the 2019 election could not be said to have attained 100 percent credibility in Akwa Ibom, INEC effected certain changes that helped in shaping the 2019 elections in the state. Unlike previous elections, the electoral materials were not conveyed to polling units by supporters or members of contesting political parties but by INEC’s ad hoc staffers on vehicles procured by the electoral management body.

Igini is a synecdoche for INEC. Tony Iredia, a veteran journalist and former helmsman of NTA once described him as “INEC’s encyclopedia of electoral information”.

INEC, which has made the appreciable change from its past, is at it again. Akpabio, along with Senate President Ahmed Lawan and Dave Umahi, tops the list of high-profile politicians battling for recognition as senatorial candidates for next year’s election. They were initially aspiring for APC’s presidential ticket. After their failure, with glaring impunity, they made an overnight attempt to dislodge their party’s senatorial candidates. But INEC says “No”. The situation is worsening in Akwa Ibom APC where there is the uncertainty about the party’s governorship candidate following motor-park-like governorship nomination processes embarked upon by different factions of the party.

It should be understood that the prerogative enjoy by political parties to choose candidates for inter-party elections does not imply breaking down laid down rules and procedures. More than ever since 1999, the National Assembly through the 2022 Electoral Act has strengthened INEC’s power of monitoring the activities of political parties. It is now mandatory to furnish the electoral umpire with a list of eligible voters and aspirants, dates and venues of intra-party elections within the stipulated timeline.

Unfortunately, public institutions in Africa are pliable to the dictates of strong persons, which might have informed Barack Obama’s observation, that “Africa doesn’t need strong men; it needs strong institutions”. But Nigeria’s former President Olusegun Obasanjo differs from his American counterpart, saying, “I disagree with him. We need both strong institutions and strong leaders. If we don’t have strong leaders, they will not be able to establish strong institutions and even if strong institutions are established and the leaders are weak, the strong institutions will not stand the test of time.” One can only add that strong men and women required to achieve strong institutions must not just be strong for the sake of strong-ness but must be strong with at least credibility-in-4Cs – character, courage, capacity and competency.

Ours is a grossly disoriented society. Owing to endemic poverty in many aspects occasioned by misgovernance and bad leadership, which among other misnomers, lead to an obsession with material wealth and devaluation of ethical values, the preponderant thinking among Nigerians is that every Nigerian is purchasable to compromise standards and go against public good. That is why there is thinking among some persons that Igini might have been bought by someone else.

One issue raised against Igini by even some of his admirers is his approach. The other day, an analyst in “Issues in the News”, a popular radio programme in Akwa Ibom, said she is not so pleased with Igini because his actions are laced with “passion”. But I think passion is a desideratum because it leads to higher organizational productivity and personal pleasure. Undoubtedly, Igini has a decades-long background in activism. Activism is driven by passion.

Passion emanates from emotion. Gani Fawehinhi, who, even after death, remains a shining example of selfless rights activism, was sometimes accused of having OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) by some persons. Igini, who had had some sort of comradely relationship with the legendary Gani in the pro-democracy days, is also being accused of being too emotional.

It takes great discipline to put emotion in check. In view of his current role, Igini should cut his emotions to a certain size without downsizing his stature of uncompromising strictness in remaining a stickler to rules. But it must also be acknowledged that in fighting against the monster of injustice, arbitrariness and unfairness, activism is adversarial and acrimonious. Since irregularity is the norm in our politics and Igini has demonstrated clearly that he is averse to electoral vices, he cannot be admired by those that turn anomalies into norms and triumph in them.

Irrespective of what might be his grade in emotional intelligence, in view of Igini’s ignition of change – adding his quota to INEC to cease being pliable to whims and caprices of moneybag politicians – he could be said to have possessed the requisite qualities to make INEC a strong institution. To strengthen public institutions for the greater public good, Nigeria needs more Iginis in all our public sectors.

On the whole, provided veracity would be his watchwords, Igini’s personal account of his involvement with Nigerian politicians and other stakeholders in electioneering processes would tell more stories beyond what our eyes can see.

Ekanem wrote from Lagos, via nsikak4media@gmail.com