Mike Igini is the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) in Edo State. He was redeployed from Cross Rivers State.
In this interview, he insists that the INEC is ready to conduct the forthcoming polls, adding that the introduction of card readers will eliminate fraud, just as he urges politicians plotting to rig the election to concentrate on how to convince the electorate as they will be disappointed. He asks supporters of President Goodluck Jonathan and those of Gen.Buhari to obey the peace plan which they signed both in words and in their actions.
It seems you came to Edo with a magic wand as regards the distribution of PVCs to voters, what is the magic.
I did not come with any particular magic wand, except the power of information. My colleague and predecessor and the staff here did a good job. I am building on what he did through another strategy, mainly anchored on information dissemination and dissuading those who snatched PVCs to stop doing so because it would be useless and unhelpful. Such action, apart from being criminal under the laws, is also redundant given the fact that all PVCs will be useless without the presence of the owner of the card when used with the proposed card Readers.
I’m aware of the thinking of some members of the political class based on the misconception that the elections will be conducted in the old way of turf wars despite the changes since the 2011 elections under the current leadership of INEC. We have been deconstructing that perception and have made it very clear that the game has changed and the rules have also changed. If you play a new game with old rules, you will find yourself panting outside the field with your outdated ways as a burden to your aspiration. We have simply informed stakeholders that this election will empower the voter in a way that no election before in Nigeria has ever done, and that what they must concentrate on is the electorate from whom help and electoral victory cometh, hence they should do more than ever before to please them. Clearly, the message appears to be resonating so far. Good enough, a number of the stakeholders here have a fair idea about what we stand for when it comes to the issue of free, fair and credible election. They know that I mean it when I say that every vote will count and every vote counted would be taken into account, in order to sustain the confidence of the people and for our democracy to endure. I have only told the political stakeholders to go back to study the new rules of the game again and adapt to it, because the result of a failure of adaptation is biological and physical extinction. So those who want to remain relevant in the current political ecosystem must be adaptive to INEC’s new electoral ecology of “no-PVC-and-card-reader no-voting”.
Before your coming to Edo, hoodlums carted away thousands of PVCs and we learnt they called to inform you of plans to return them. What is the situation today?
That is true, but our daily and sustained public enlightenment that those snatched cards would not be usable, except by those for whom the PVCs were expressly produced, had turned the situation around on a good note, as you noted. Before l came, a total of 4,658 PVCs were snatched from various wards in 9 LGAs of Akoko Edo, Egor, Esan west, Etsako West, Oredo, Ovia North-east, Owan-east, Uhunmwode out of which Orhionwon alone recorded 2,052. However, I made it very clear to all that the permanent voter cards (PVCs) in their possession were like used recharge-cards. They are useless to them without the proper card-reader at the correct polling unit. In fact, PVC is only a sensitive or security material if it is in the possession of the true bearer, but useless in the absence of the owner whose biometrics each card bears. I’ve told stakeholders here to show the futility of being in possession of someone else’s PVC that I could even dump all the cards at Ramat Park or take them to the Ring Road , the center of town, that except individuals go to pick their own cards, they will all be useless to you. Since then, a few unknown people have contacted me by phone, expressing willingness to return these cards that I consider borrowed for admiration. I say they borrowed them to admire them because it is biometrically tailored to work for only the owner. Holding it is like carrying someone’s debit card which without the pin number is just a piece of plastic.
Nigerians have been encountering problems collecting these PVCs due to what is widely believed as INEC’s failure. Why is it difficult for the INEC to distribute the cards to Nigerians as and when due?
Except for Edo and 11 other states that were in the third phase of both the PVC and CVR exercises, the distribution of PVCs started since May last year and still ongoing. The first three days were declared for collection at polling units and continues at INEC offices in the LGAs. I think what l consider failure is that of the political parties and candidates who organise rallies canvassing for votes but are yet to mobilize or organise rallies at the states, LGAs and wards for the collection of PVCs by the electorate. No matter how many people you mobilize to campaign grounds, they will not be able to vote without PVCs. Here in Edo state, following the very impressive efforts of my predecessor and staff, 906,024 PVCs were already delivered when I came. Since then, we have moved down to the 192 wards and have currently hit a record total figure of one million, seventeen thousand, two hundred and seventy nine as the 20th of January and distribution is still on, but will continue at the LGAs. Whereas our goal is to achieve 100% distribution of PVCs to those who are entitled to them, it must be noted that although ideally we hope they will all come out to vote, it is rare to see all eligible voters voting in an election. In the last governorship election here in Edo with a total of 1,651,099 registered voters, the total number of valid votes used to make a return was 630,099 (i.e 39% of registered voters). We witnessed same in Ekiti and Osun states respectively. Therefore, our concern should be more on how to mobilize the over 1 million people who have collected the PVCs to come out on election day. A huge number of voters have collected PVCs and many more to collect in the days ahead. Let us make it work and not dwell too much on the pitfalls for now.
You have repeatedly told Nigerians that the card readers for the February elections would be a game changer. How would it do the magic of preventing rigging?
It would be the game changer in the 2015 elections because the system puts the electorate at the centre of the voting system using their biometrics. It is the new voting sheriff for the forthcoming elections. One card reader is configured for each of the 120,000 polling units nationwide. A card reader means that only the owner of the PVC can use the voter card, and he/she can only do so at the assigned polling unit for that voter, at or nearest to the place where he/she registered or transferred his/her registration. Also, by doing biometric-driven card reader authentication, the process will leave a more reliable audit trail of who and how many people actually were accredited, rejected and voted, in digital format which is easier to store and reproduce. This makes the question of altering the results as they are from the polling units more problematic for the election results manipulation. This will be in addition to the customization of the ballot papers and result sheets to each polling unit, making ballot snatching or the use of result sheets or ballot papers from one polling unit impossible at any other polling unit. A number of people think that the card reader will not come, that is why they are still instigating people to go and snatch permanent voter cards, thinking that they will use the old ways to deal with the new approach that we have developed. So this is the card reader, the battery will last for about 14 hours. Once you come with your PVC, your face and everything about you will show on it, it will authenticate whether the face corresponds with the person that has the thump print. There is a speaker in it that will announce that everything about you is okay before you are given a ballot. As a matter of fact, at the end of the day, we can print a new register with this. So you can see that it is useless for anybody being in possession of the PVC of another person. But when we were in the old regime when INEC was using paper, it was possible without photo for politicians to pack all of them and go to thump print. We have moved beyond this era. So we are at the level of digital while the political class are at the analogue stage in their thinking. That is what must have informed some of the unwholesome practices. We have now told people that it is useless to go and snatch PVCs. We have a total of 120,000 polling units in Nigeria. As at today, we have received a total of 137,000 in excess of the 120,000 polling units. But we must have some redundancies incase anything goes wrong. So we actually placed order for 137,000 of the card readers. As I speak to you, in Edo, we have received almost 60 per cent of that by the end of week or next week, we are going to receive the last consignment, so we are ready to go. The real challenge now, of course, in Edo is for people to collect their PVCs.
From what we have seen so far, are you really sure that the INEC is prepared to conduct the forthcoming polls?
Yes the Commission is putting finishing touches to our overall preprations in line with the time table issued on the 24th of January 2014. We published on the 13th of January the register, in line with Section 20 of the Act requiring INEC to do so 30 days to the election. We have taken delivery of 1,861 card readers and the balance would be delivered next week. Non-sensitive materials like ballot boxes are being delivered to the states. So preparations are in top gear and work is in good progress, even though l know that there are always anxiety that people express because of the stakes involved, but we are no longer new to this process. We are preparing for those things we can rationally plan for and we will adapt adequately to emergent ones.
How has it been for you in Edo? What are your challenges so far? Are you under any pressure from politicians?
This is Benin-City, a town I know to some extent. The pressure should be on politicians not me. My remit is on the timeline, the uncertainty of contestants is more than my own, and, therefore, I have no pressure. My only focus is meeting the expectations of voters in terms of the professionalism of INEC, its integrity and impartiality. Politicians should be more concerned about the electorate, worry less about me and I will have less to worry about them. This election is not about those of us who will count the votes but about the electorate who would cast the votes that must be taken into account.
What I have observed over time is that the enthusiasm and anxiety of the followers of politicians are often worse than what you see from politicians themselves, so I have learnt to be more wary of the politicians’ aides and followers than the politicians themselves. But to answer your question more directly, no, I suppose as always my values are in the open and the politicians know where to draw the line with me, and I respect that. There are some basic principles which guide my conducts; values that I was raised to cherish from my family, my faith and all through my days in UNIBEN and UNILAG before certification in character and learning that I hold very dear and have remained true to them.
There is this fear by the opposition APC that INEC is being controlled by the PDP. How true is that ?
It is preposterous and l do not think we should spend valuble time on such debate. I find it laughable having regard to the kind of local government elections conducted by state electoral bodies under the control of these two parties, where all elections are won by the governments controlled by these parties. INEC is the only electoral body because of the independence that enjoys full autonomy, but the same is often denied the SIECs that conduct elections that reflect our multiparty democracy at the grassroots. We have some of the finest Nigerian administrators at the SIECs who could do even more than we are doing, but regrettably do not have the kind of freedom we experience in INEC. If the February elections are to be conducted by the government of these parties, you would have known who will win all the elections, but can anyone tell for certain who will win the forthcoming election to be conducted by INEC? That uncertainty underpins the integrity of the electoral process and helps to keep leaders accountable to voters. At any rate each group often worry that the other group has an “advantage” so that is not new, as long as you walk on the path of rectitude. When people make such claims I subject them to simple subjective test by asking them to compare the elections supervised by INEC and the local government elections, by judging the process and outcome of both. You can easily see by making such comparison that the Commission under Professor Jega has remarkably asserted the autonomy of INEC and restored great fidelity on the national electoral process. This is a historical landmark and must be commended.
From your experience Sir, how do you think we can conduct an election that Nigerians will truly agree that it is truly free, fair and credible?
That is pretty straight forward. All it requires is for us to put everything in place at the proper time, allow the voters to cast their votes, eliminate fraud and minimize malpractices as a result of administrative lapses and ensure that the results reflects the votes as the ballots were cast. It doesn’t sound like rocket science; to me it is simple, stay impartial and respect the voters.
Can the leadership of INEC guarantee impartial election in the face of the struggle for power between the two broad sections of North and South?
This current leadership of Prof.Jega has given Nigerians since 2011 and subsequent elections much of what is great and eternal if sustained to ensure that our democracy endures, and that should be acknowledged. Today, unlike in 2003 and 2007, we no longer talk of the criminal acts of some officials of the electoral management body colluding with politicians to engage in pre-writing of election results a day before elections, ballot boxes and paper snatching that were thumbprinted to make returns. Additionally, state gubernatorial elections are no longer annouced in far away Abuja, but where the elections were conducted. This chairman has revved the engine of integrity and should be acknowledged and encouraged. Impartiality is the core professional vocation of INEC. In any election which allows for the contest between Nigerians several contestants must come from a particular region or state of the country learning how to accommodate and contain such competition within the ambits of decorum, peace and progress should be one of the key lessons we must learn in the course of our nation building. The carryover of these regional mindsets will not persist if all elected leaders learn to make power beneficial to everyone rather than the region or place from where the elected person originates because it has never happened that any contender received zero votes from any section of the country. Therefore, wherever a leader comes from he should at least respect the votes he/she received from everywhere by responding to the needs of all. The contest of regionalism is created by that zero-sum game in the use of power that politicians must learn to deconstruct.
All the presidential candidates have signed a pact to ensure a violent free election. What do you think should be done for that pact to be successful?
They should abide by the pact in words and conduct. And more importantly they should restrain their followers from pre-emptive expectations. In every election, voters vote for both sides and no matter who wins, there will be people who will compete again at the next election, if you kill yourself or get killed, no one will be mourning you by the next election, so don’t let us get to that point where anyone believes that the way he or she feels about this election is sufficient to die or kill for.
– See more at: http://www.vanguardngr.com/2015/01/recovering-stolen-pvcs-inec-chief-mike-igini/#sthash.HhSzdulm.dpuf