‘Election In The North Would Be Tough In 2015’ - Igini

‘Election In The North Would Be Tough In 2015’ - Igini

‘Election In The North Would Be Tough In 2015’ - Igini

The Cross River State Resident Electoral Commissioner, Mike Igini is not happy with what happens to electoral offenders in Nigeria. Igini, who just came back from Kenya where presidential election was held recently, said Nigeria should borrow a leaf from Kenya on how to punish election offenders.

In this interview with Sunday Sun, he speaks on how electoral offenders are handled in Kenya, the controversial Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) that has scaled second reading on the floor of the Senate, the alleged 83 percent oil blocs owned by northerners and the call for amnesty for Boko Haram members among other nagging national issues.

Excerpts…

Kenya is just coming out from a presidential election and you were there to witness it. It was reported that the electronic voting system which the country adopted had hitches, which delayed the announcement of the result for some days; is there any lesson Nigeria can learn from them, especially as some Nigerians are calling for electronic voting system in 2015 elections?

It is not true that Kenya used electronic voting system in the strict sense of the word, but rather an application of electronic accreditation, having conducted biometric registration of voters previously like Nigeria. The process was good in many polling stations, but in many other places where the laptops had challenges, they reverted to the electronically compiled register, with pictures of voters like the INEC compiled register, and it went on though for long hours to the credit of the Kenyan people who were orderly, patient and peaceful.

What l presume people refer to as electronic voting, was the effort of the IEBC to transmit the results which were already manually counted at the polling stations electronically directly to the national tally centre at Bomas, to avoid 2007 allegations of change of results at various centers of collation. That was the stage at which they had problems; hence, they had to revert to manual compilation by airlifting returning officers to Nairobi and that led to the delay of the announcement of final results. So, it is not electronic voting per se but electronic accreditation of voters and electronic transmission of results.

On lessons learnt, for me there were important lessons from this Kenya’s election which are: a shared vision by the Kenyan people to achieve certain national objectives, namely, the determination to overcome associated challenges of a chosen part of the election process. Thus, a decision to adopt electronic transmission was a bold step with some risks, yet the prospect of something going wrong as happened, did not deter them. Also, electronic system should be robust and must have early warning controls.

Events in Kenya shows that hard copy back-ups must not be dispensed with, irrespective of the fidelity of an electronic system, particularly because our electoral history is replete with cases of fraud and since people still view the system with that background in mind, we cannot afford to allow hitches to leave voters with the impression that, there are no alternative solutions; such an impression may leave voters believing that hitches were done deliberately.

Significantly, a supporter of an MP who was caught near a polling unit with monies in packed envelops for inducement of voters on Monday March 4, that is on Election Day, Mr Francis Murathi, the offender, was thus arraigned on Tuesday, the next day in court while election was still going on and was sentenced to three years imprisonment. Other electoral offenders would likely be jailed by next week. But would that be the case in Nigeria? From this experience, one is very angry with what happens with electoral offenders in Nigeria.

You will find judicial officials prevaricating and vacillating; we just end up undermining ourselves not doing the right thing to complement one another for our collective good.

On the political context of Kenya, there are some parallels with the Nigerian context; for instance, it was evident that the colonial history has also aggregated voters along the line of least resistance, namely, around ethnic interests rather than policy issues of development. This shows that it will take some time for people to look beyond the quasi-comfort zone of their ethnic interests. Also like Nigeria, and as one witnessed in Ghana, the common people were eager to see democracy work, if only the elite will de-escalate the turf wars and respect the developmental aspirations of voters. Professionally, the processes were akin to the generic rule which is gradually shaping into the continental, if not global practices for elections, as expounded in the African Union democratic codes of good practices.

How can you describe the move by the PDP governors to form their forum, when the umbrella body, Governors’ Forum is still in existence?

An umpire should not be seen making evaluative, prescriptive or value laden statements or judgment about the lawful association of political actors. Political engagement takes various forms; the interest of INEC is strictly to conduct election by ensuring that the rules of elections are implemented fully, fairly and impartially to all political parties and their candidates in an atmosphere that promotes free, fair and credible election.

Subject to the constitution and the Electoral Act, which sets out ambits of control, it is not for INEC to micro-manage the affairs of political parties, because the development of political parties is good for democratic practice and such development is necessary for democratic consolidation. At best, we can only urge leaders and political actors to remember that the greatest calling of leadership is the development of the people. The constitution allows political groups to converge and emerge and that is what gives spice and piquancy to democracy. However, while doing so, the politicians are expected to be mindful of the boundaries of the law and the expectations of good democratic practices.

The PIB has been pending in the National Assembly for many years but it just scaled the second reading in the floor of the Senate. Do you think the breakthrough is as a result of the revelation by Hon Ita Enang that 83 percent of the oil blocs belongs to the northerners?

The PIB is a legislation that has allocative and distributive implications, being a legislation that affects the Oil and Gas sector responsible for most of the national revenue generation; therefore, we must expect significant stakeholder interest. Basic policy analysis theory informs us that when such a policy is being formulated, the policy makers should do a detailed preliminary stakeholder mapping, which should reveal the proponents and opponents of such policy and the amount of resources they can bring to bear on the policy process. I believe what you see currently is the evidence of such interests.

I want to believe that if progress is being made on the policy, on the balance of probability, it will be mainly because, all stakeholders realise that when the Oil and Gas sector is tidied up with good legislation, the sort of fiscal and operational uncertainties which led to the numerous scandals we have been witnessing in that sector will be a thing of the past. If that is the case, then all stakeholders will benefit from the PIB because it will mean better accountability in the sector and more revenue to enable all governance activities.

Take the debate on the 10 percent fund for oil communities for instance; the opposition to 10 percent profit of oil companies not the federation account, to host communities, was shocking to me because of what we all know these communities to be suffering on account of the activities of oil companies – destruction of farmlands, streams etc. I believe that such a debate is attracting unnecessary furore because we have all been calling for greater development in such communities, by creating such fund.

The investors who operate in such communities, also secure their investments because the communities now have a stake in the investor making a profit. Moreover, it sets a precedent for other communities to motivate them to be cooperative in allowing extractive activities. Such a win-win position shouldn’t be a stumbling block to legislation, but then as I observed earlier, there are multiple interests involved, and I feel that in the end, progress will be made when everyone realizes the collective benefits.

What should the federal government do about the revelation that more than 83 percent oil blocs belongs to northerners in order to ensure that the principle of federal character is respected?

That is a political policy issue and it is my view that as Nigerians with the interest of Nigeria at heart, politicians should be able to sit down and find common sense solutions to political issues no matter how weighty they may sound. The main task of political leaders is to identify issues and opportunities, to seek information on such issues and opportunities and to then make decisions on such issues and opportunities in the interest of national development.

The quality of choices that are made regarding such issues and opportunities determines how well a country progresses. I take it that for now, more information should be sought on the issue and when clarifications are made, it is not impossible to reach common sense, just and equitable solutions.

On my part, I am more interested in what we should be doing to diversify the economy and generate more avenues for revenue and not this unending fight to share oil and gas profits like rent collectors. We have relied too much on oil and gas; we have 160 million or so people, as we claim, and there is so much we can do if we help to unleash the potentials in this large reservoir of human capital. Human development is the epicentre of all development and the quality of life of human beings in a country is the true wealth of that nation. The United Nations through the Human Development Index has given us simple targets, which if we have an annual goal to improve upon them, will help to improve the lives of the people of our country.

The Sultan of Sokoto last week called on the Federal Government to grant amnesty to Boko Haram members but government has also said it would not grant amnesty to ghosts. What is the implication of both statements on the security of the nation?

The implication is that there is a consensus that the Boko Haram sect is a national problem that needs a solution but the challenge has always been who to dialogue with and the issues to dialogue on. Recall the efforts of former President Obasanjo and the resultant gruesome murder of the alleged sect mediator. I am more disturbed by the agenda of the group to impose its religious views on others by force and not by gradual persuasion like other religions; is that an agenda they are ready to retreat from to facilitate dialogue?

Is there any cause too grave or profound that it cannot abide reason with other men or a war that has been won by perpetual battle? What really would be the issue for concession that people should accept forcefully conversion to a sect’s religious ideology? How does killings and bombing of pillars of democracy like media houses advance the goals of a religious group in this modern time? Well, it is better to examine the merits and demerits of conversion into religion by force in the 21st century in Nigeria.

Recently, the Kwara State Commissioner of Police was assassinated in Enugu; what is your take on that vis-a-vis the security of lives and property by the police in the country.

It is unfortunate indeed. At the moment l am not apprised of the details and facts. Hence, I will limit my comment on the issue to the fact that any murder anywhere in Nigeria is one too many, and the murder of a security personnel is even worse.

As a Resident Electoral Commissioner, what is your view on the increasing tension in the land over the 2015?

There will always be some tension prior to any electoral contest, but because of the level of our development and the fact that we need to de-escalate the degree of adversarial conflicts related to political transitions, I feel that we can reduce such tensions by reducing the uncertainties surrounding such power transitions until democratic consolidation has been achieved in Nigeria. One way to do this is for all groups to accept some degree of affirmative action, some political mechanism which allows power sharing and inclusivity, I will not bother to hazard a guess of any mechanisms as this may be misinterpreted as an endorsement of group policies or partisan opinion.

INEC chairman just expressed fears that the security situation in the North might affect the outcome of 2015 election; do you share his fears?

Certainly, the chairman is right because you cannot hold elections in a place where you cannot conduct normal social and cultural activities, and since elections are now becoming part of our shared culture, any activity which makes cultural exchange insecure makes elections impossible.

It is quite unfortunate but as things stand, there are no electoral provisions for holding elections by any other way other than that which we already know, and what we know is that people must gather in a polling station to vote. In an insecure place, it is very difficult to erect polling stations. We can only hope that the on-going efforts by various security agencies would restore normalcy before the next general election.

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