The Resident Electoral Commission in Akwa-Ibom State, Mr. Mike Igini deserves commendation for standing firm in the face of obvious intimidation and harassment, writes Shola Oyeyipo
“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. I can tell you that…those looking for compromise in the process are the ones who are also calling for my removal. Why would you remove a man who says he wants to give everybody equal opportunity?”
Those were the words of the unruffled Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) for Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Mike Igini, who has been in the thick of the storm over calls for his removal by the opposition All Progressives Congress following allegations that he was biased and favourably disposed towards the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the February 13 presidential and National Assembly elections.
But going by his words, if he had opted to play along by collecting money, probably the issue would not have degenerated to a level, where his removal was demanded.
In what aptly captures the overall argument by members of the APC in Akwa-Ibom State, the party chairman, Ini Okopido, contended that with Igini in charge, his party would not have a level playing field. He went ahead to claim that the APC has evidence to prove that that REC has been romancing with the (PDP), and that he has handed over uncollected Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs) to officials of the state government.
The Akwa-Ibom APC did not stop at that, the party called on the INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, to remove Igini in a petition titled: ‘Petition against Mike Igini, the REC in Akwa Ibom State for his Unbridled Partisanship and Partiality: A Request for his Redeployment to Avert Anarchy.’
“In total violation of his oath of office and code of conduct for senior electoral officials, Igini is working hand-in-glove with Governor Udom Emmanuel, to rig, manipulate and influence the forthcoming elections in favour of the governor and his party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP),” Okopido and Augustine Ekanem, alleged in the petition.
There was also an allegation that in a telephone conversation with Okopido, Igini threatened that the APC would never win the governorship election in Akwa Ibom State, irrespective of what the total tally may be.
“He told me he would ensure the PDP is declared winner of the election, no matter what happens,” Okopido alleged.
As if they had a good case, they pressed further and resorted to a judicial move to compel INEC to redeploy Igini from the state but that was equally rejected by an Abuja High Court.
One Mr. Stanley Okpara, the claimant who filed the application, ex parte through his counsel, C. F. Odiniru, had prayed the court for an order directing INEC, the first defendant in the suit, to remove Igini, the second defendant, as INEC REC, Akwa Ibom State and redeploy him to another state. But in his ruling on February 28, Justice O. A. Musa refused the prayers, stating that such an order may disrupt INEC’s plan to conduct a free and credible elections in the concerned state.
The court therefore held that, “Parties should maintain the status quo as of today, to this end. The first defendant either by themselves or chairman shall not take any step to either remove the second defendant as the REC at his current station pending the hearing of the motion on notice”.
It has since been their word against Igini’s. While they pointed fingers at him, he has maintained that the APC was only crying foul, where there was none, because he has refused to be corrupted, intimidated or harassed and many people have come to believe him more than his accusers.
In one of his reactions to the issues raised by the APC, Igini said: “The allegation by APC is nonsense. How do I have a meeting with the people I have never met in my life? Where was the meeting held? They should go and organise their affairs. In this election, nobody will write results at home.
“I will give all the parties a level playing ground and nobody would truncate the wishes of the people of Akwa Ibom State. Their votes must count.”
On the moves to remove him, he reiterated: “The question I am asking them is, 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?
“That people want to do the right things, they are putting all kinds of hindrances on his way. Why is it so? My friend, if I had compromised, I wouldn’t have any problem today. I can now confirm to you that in my experience in the Nigerian public, integrity is very difficult to maintain.
“You are endangered if you are talking about integrity. What kind of country are we? We are supposed to be going for a civil exercise and that is an election. Why does it look as if we are going to war?”
A lawyer by training, Igini has been a very vocal INEC official, who has taken position on several national debates. In the build-up to this election, he took a swipe on Nigerian politicians, saying they are most often prepared to rig elections than to canvass for votes from the electorate.
Making the assertion at a public briefing to preview the elections in Akwa Ibom State, which he said was noted in the past for election rigging, Igini stated that, “I can confirm to you that politicians here want to write results in hotels; they are afraid of elections.”
At the peak of the call for his redeployment, the REC said he was not bothered by the clamour for his removal. He said his focus was on the job and the need to deliver free, fair and credible election for the people of Akwa Ibom State. He also assured the people that he was committed to providing a level playing field for all the political parties and their candidates during the governorship and state House of Assembly elections conducted yesterday.
One reason interested observers might have reservation about the APC call for Igini’s removal is because it was repeated in other states, where the party seems not have stronghold and probably unable to influence the electoral body.
For instance, in Enugu State, the APC chairman, Ben Nwoye, accused the state REC, Emeka Ononamadu, of bias. In fact, on Thursday, March 7, he led supporters of the party to INEC headquarters to demand his removal. Just as in the case of Igini, Ononamadu said no amount of intimidation or blackmail against the commission would stop the conduct of gubernatorial and state House of Assembly elections scheduled for yesterday.
The same trend played out in Abia State, where the APC Secretary, Perfect Okorie, in a letter titled: Re: Lack of Confidence in the Abia State Resident Electoral Commissioner,’ dated February 18 and copied the APC National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, threatened that his party would boycott the rescheduled February 23 presidential and national assembly polls in the state if the REC, Prof. Francis Otunta was not redeployed.
The frivolous allegation by the party was that Otunta harboured deep-rooted hatred for President Muhammadu Buhari.
Same thing happened in Cross Rivers State, where the APC called for the removal of the REC, Dr. Frankland Briyai, alleging that he was working in connivance with the PDP to manipulate the forthcoming elections in the state.
The APC Vice Chairman in the South-south, Mr. Ntufam Hilliard Eta, who made the claim in Abuja while chatting with newsmen, declared that his party had enough evidence to prove that the REC was bias and working with the PDP to manipulate the elections.
Though a state known for its volatility, the alarm raised by the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Ezenwo Wike that there was a plot by security agencies and the APC to kidnap the REC in the state so as to create an excuse for the postponement of the governorship and State Assembly elections called for concern.
These allegations seemed to be common in the South-south and South-east states, where it is obvious that the APC is not very popular. Then the question would be, if it is in those select states that the RECs are biased, what happened in Northern states, South-west and states in the North-Central, was it that the RECs were saints or were just not biased or were they simply cooperative and ‘liked’ the president?
In Nigeria, intimidation and harassment of RECs is commonplace among political actors. Recall the REC in Ekiti State, Abdulganiyu Raji alleged threat to his life by unknown persons in the build-up to the gubernatorial election on July 14 last year.
Hence, bodies such as Citizens Advocacy for Social and Economic Rights (CASER), cautioned the two leading political parties, APC and PDP to stop dishing out statements that tend to intimidate INEC commissioners.
Human rights lawyer and executive director of CASER, Mr. Frank Tietie, gave the caution following the allegations by Oshiomhole on Monday February 18 during the party’s caucus meeting that some INEC commissioners were working for the PDP.
The APC received knocks for its antagonism of Igini from the Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC), Akwa Ibom State chapter; Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP), and the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP), which all kicked against the call for his removal.
Akwa-Ibom State chairman of the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP), and Publicity Secretary of IPAC, Mr. Aniebiet Emmanuel, who berated the APC said it was the unanimous position of the bodies.
Judging from his stance, Igini must be commended. He has a track record as a fearless Nigerian and he should sustain it. It is also important that others, who want to occupy such positions in the future should emulate his incorruptible virtues.