Our electoral process must be safeguarded from manipulation, says Igini
Mr. Mike Igini is the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) for Akwa Ibom State. In this interview, he spoke about the importance of the innovations by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), whereby election results from polling units could be accessed by stakeholders in real-time as they are announced at the polling units. He spoke to SEYE OLUMIDE.
INEC recently dismissed some staff and is set to arraign some university lecturers for Electoral offences, with many Nigerians commending 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 deterrent measures and punishment for those who commit electoral offences.
We all must appreciate the central role of the election as a means by which the elected or those seeking elective offices give account to the people. It is an end that evaluates and justifies why political power is exercised and sustains the organising principle and values that underpin such exercise of power within a period. Any conduct that undermines or negates this system must be punished to hold, maintain and sustain the confidence of the people.
You were reported to have said that politicians should refrain from conducts that could kill democracy. What are those conducts? The moment the political elite begin to exhibit authoritarian tendencies, reject the rules that govern elections such as sabotage of card readers, inducement of collation officers to alter the outcome of voters will with a stroke of a pen, denounce the principle and values on which democracy is practiced, yet retain and appropriate benefits 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 elite during the election is terrible; it persists and 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 elite must know that democracy thrives on civic virtues of tolerance, inclusivity, conciliation and accommodation.
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 outright 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 ensuring 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 behaviours 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.
What can you say about the new innovation whereby election results from the polling units could be accessed by stakeholders in real-time as they are published at the polling units? The two most problematic aspects of conducting elections in Nigeria are in the nomination of party candidates during intra-party elections and more seriously, manipulations of already announced polling unit result at collation centres. To deal with the opacity around the collation process for more transparency, the commission embarked on piloting a number of innovations to evaluate their strengths and pitfalls 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. That way, they can no longer be changed at collation centres by collation and returning officers.
It’s anathema for a candidate to win election at polling units, but suddenly loses 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.
Why is election 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 Condorcet, as well as Maurice Duverger have demonstrated by scientific studies of the mathematical modeling of such systems, the eventual behavioural choice patterns of voters often polarise 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 behaviour, where political practitioners are becoming fundamentalist for election competition and election victories rather than nation builders.
How can we deal with the partisanship disposition of security agencies in elections? 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 fundamentalists, as well as a reflection of our backwardness in evolving a consensus in development that our elite are committed to.