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Mike Igini as guinea pig of integrity

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Wherever he went in the course of his duty, he flaunted his integrity and won the confidence of voters. The story of Mr. Michael Igini reads like a tale of courage, patriotism and determination. 

In physical stature, Igini does not have an intimidating presence. He possesses neither potbelly nor puffed cheeks. Yet, with his athletic build and frank visage, it is easy to see a man on a vision to excel.

Whatever credentials that convinced his employers to recruit him, as a Resident Electoral Commissioner must have been impressive and a plus.

From his account, Igini explains that the totality of his sociological and psychological makeup flows from parents, whom he holds apart as role models that “instilled the virtues of fairness, rectitude and truthfulness as family ethos.”

The REC also points to his upbringing, saying that the Southwest from where he grew up in his early years “also endowed me with a cultural environment of respect and tradition of resistance or opposition to what is unjust and unfair. Combining that with the experiences of Sapele, Warri, Benin City, and back again to Southwest, all have tremendous impact on my worldview and on so many things l do in life.”

Although he studied law, which would have ordinarily paved the way for him to become a judge, nature seems to have charted a different course for him. It happens that in his new calling as a Resident Electoral Commissioner, Igini’s learning and exposure seem to have prepared him to adjudicate in the affairs of men. What is more, he was students union president during the tumultuous years when Nigeria’s Ivory Tower Iron Lady, Prof. Grace Alele-Williams, presided over the University of Benin, Benin City. So, in a sense Igini had seen the worse of recalcitrant administrators and did not bend or bow.

By nature of its structure and business, the job of presiding over elections in Nigeria is akin to that of a law court, where the judge must be impartial, but must do and be seen to do equity.

Therefore, like Caesar’s wife the electoral commissioner must be above suspicion. But in the life and times of Igini, it could be said that though suspicion might abound, wearing the shield of integrity becomes his strength and song.

Against the background of recent national elections in Nigeria, the person of Igini comes off as metaphor of the nation’s quest for rebirth and renewal.

As a former students union leader, Igini seemed to have carried over his activism to public service. His activist posture in public service started showing in Edo State where he presided over the contentious election that midwifed the change of baton from the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressives Congress (APC).

Given that the state was under the control of APC, quite a sizeable number of voters were disposed to voting the opposition, which led to some tense moments that ended in the rescheduling of balloting. Determined to ensure that the proper things were done, Igini acknowledged, “quite a number of challenges arose during the March 28 election, lessons have been learnt and would be used in planning for Saturday’s State House of Assembly election.”

There is no doubt that Igini must have learned obedience to statutes through what he suffered in Edo State, but his real baptism of fire and test came during the 2019 general election when he was positioned by situation and circumstances to preside over affairs in Akwa Ibom State.

As in 2015 when there was intense contestation between PDP and APC, Akwa Ibom presented a reversal of roles, which became the source of new challenges for the resident electoral commissioner.

It is therefore in the clash between the political Godzilla and King Kong that Igini’s persona and preparation for the job came to the fore. Nurtured in jurisprudence, the Delta State-born REC displayed the noncommittal and impartiality of a judge to weather the storms of accusations and counter-accusation as he upheld the facts of events and the truths of the statutes.

Emboldened by his focus on purpose, Igini was able to stand face to face with his challengers and traducers to boldly declare: “If there is any, just one politician, who can come forward publicly that l sat with him or her to do anything for him or his party to win election, he should tell Nigerians.”

As the psychological battle between APC and PDP raged in Akwa Ibom State, we heard Igini trumpeting his avowed stand on impartiality and disdain for primitive accumulation: “I have not come here to count money. I only come here to count ballot papers. Those who want me to compromise the process are the ones shouting out there… Why would you remove a man who says he wants to give everybody equal opportunity?”

Now that the election has been won and lost, what remains is for the nation to do a sociological appraisal of the Igini persona as it relates to public office, especially the very powerful office of election management.

Could it be then that character, competence and courage form the combination of behavioural traits that served the Akwa Ibom REC to the good purpose he deployed in the recent election? The stature of the public officer could enhance or jeopardise the fight against corruption, especially as experts in political economy have established the co-relationship between political and economic corruption.

Igini’s message to Nigerians ring true, because as he said, “if we create deprived families, we harvest desperate and unethical citizens.” In Igini therefore could be found the public officer as a defender of the dispossessed and deprived citizens.

By insisting that votes count, Igini cast himself as an electoral shepherd dog to chase corner-cutting politicians back to the people.

“I can confirm to you that politicians here want to write results in hotels; they are afraid of elections,” he had said at the height of the tense buildup to the 2019 election.

Perhaps, his knowledge of law contributed to his volition to do good to all parties on the basis of the statutes. But it was in his preparation for the job and determination to toe the path of moral rectitude that Igini triumphed against the forces of retrogression.

But, he was able to throw the challenge to his detractors, who wanted him out of Akwa Ibom. He asked “Why would you want to remove me? Why is it that in our country today, when a man says he wants to do the right thing, a man who has embraced certain pristine values to do the right thing is the one having problems?”

What remains in the overall expression of the Igini public image is the reality that in public service, it is integrity stupid! That much he alluded to when he confessed, “I can now confirm that in my experience in the Nigerian public, integrity is very difficult to maintain. You are endangered if you are talking about integrity.”

With his yeoman’s job in Akwa Ibom State, Igini has spread a national backcloth to put the last election in perspective, because he allowed himself to be used as a guinea pig of integrity. He may not attain further heights in the consideration of corrupt politicians, but in him is an example for the willing ones to walk in the steps of integrity!


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