During the military rule in the country, a police officer dared the military despots in the 80s. Alozie Ogubuaja, the then image-maker of Nigeria Police Force, Lagos Command described the Nigerian Army as a bunch of lazy men eating pepper-soup and drinking beer – with only one thought how to plan coup d’états. This irked and embarrassed the military top brass. His ‘sin’ fetched him a sack from the system.
Probably, Ogubuaja fell as a victim in the public service for challenging the system and for his audacity and frankness in being himself. Maybe, he was not connected to the higher authority hence his immediate ‘sacrifice.’ In a typical Nigerian clime, some might have mocked the gallant policeman for spitting fire on the military. Whereas in other saner climes, he would have been hailed by many and the system would have elevated him for baring his mind on a controversial issue and for daring the ‘lion.’
However, Mike Igini, the Akwa Ibom INEC Commissioner, in a sense, is luckier than Ogubuaja. With his activism in the defunct National Democratic Coalition, NADECO, he knows how to dare the authority. As a public officer, he is expected to be seen not to be heard. But he carries the two and climbs the INEC’s ladder. Blunt and outspoken, Igini is seen and at the same time, he is heard. Maybe, he has ears of the system or the system is afraid of spewing him for his connections to the powers-that-be or for the fear of spilling the beans.
While other INEC commissioners who conducted the 2019 general elections have gone on holidays for ‘delivering’ their candidates, Igini is blowing hot in the mass media. Before the elections, he had hit APC in the state below the belt. For highly placed politicians who called for his posting to another state, he ranted: “I came to Akwa Ibom to count votes, not to count money.”
After the elections, he appeared in the Channels TV and nuanced that the 2019 presidential election that INEC transmitted results electronically to a ‘central server’ through smart card readers in Abuja” where results were collated electronically. Already, the runner-up in the presidential election, Atiku Abubakar, and his Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had challenged the victory of President Muhammadu Buhari at the election tribunal.
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Determining whether the commission operated a central computer database that received election results became central to the dispute after Abubakar said results obtained from the server proved he defeated Buhari with 1.6 million votes. Realising the implication of the Igini’s claim, INEC strongly denied it, saying it neither transmitted results electronically nor saved them on any server. The commission also accused Abubakar of circulating fake results. Yet, Igini, the purveyor of the information was neither queried nor punished for holding brief for the commission and for committing the ‘gaffe.’ Well, he might have been spared because if an assailant holds the testes of a challenger, the latter begs for rescue.
After the first verbal ‘bomb’ that sent the system gasping for breath, Igini dropped another that has sparked a lot of controversies. On Tuesday, January 28, 2020, he stated that his predecessors in the South-South region simply allocated election figures to candidates, as opposed to actually counting votes from polling units.
Making the allegation on a ChannelsTV breakfast programme, he stressed that he has sufficient evidence to back up his claims, especially as it relates to the 2015 and 2019 general elections.
“In that same 2015 in Akwa Ibom, they ‘allocated’ five percent (of votes) to the current President,” Igini blared. Reminded of the need to choose his words carefully, Igini insisted: “Yes, allocated! Because in Akwa Ibom, they don’t do elections, they write results. I have the records, you go there; because when I arrived in Akwa Ibom State, leaders – traditional rulers, religious leaders; all groups came to me but that is not new to me, I was the commissioner in neighbouring Cross River State.” What a damning report!
It would be foolhardiness to argue that he did not make a point or he did not know what he was saying. He was an insider in the elections. But, why is he raising the alarm now after the President, governors, senators, House of Representatives members and House of Assemblymen had completed their first tenure in office? Is he calling on the elected folks to make restitution for ‘stealing’ the people’s mandate? Before he taunted his colleagues, he might have forgotten the proverb which says “If you say your fathers’ wives are thieves, you should not forget that your mother is among.” Has he forgotten that as South-South person, he had served in Rivers and the Cross States before and during this period? Again, he has indirectly discredited the mandate of Udom Emmanuel said to be freely given to him Akwa Ibom people by admitting that INEC ‘allocated’ him votes instead of being ‘elected’ by the people. Equally, he has inadvertently disparaged the election of governors in the region.
Perhaps, Igini wants most people to see him as a person who is above reproach in the performance of INEC’s duties. As a man who claims to be of impeccable character, has he done the biddings of the governor (s) or privileged politicians in the states he served or he is serving before and during the elections? It is not enough to talk but it is better to walk the talk.
Yet INEC, the body he is working for, is a product of a chequered history of other disheveled commissions. For example, the Electoral Commission of Nigeria (ECN) was established to conduct the 1959 elections. The Federal Electoral Commission (FEC), established in 1960 conducted the immediate post-independence federal and regional elections of 1964 and 1965 respectively.
The electoral body was, however, dissolved after the military coup of 1966. In 1978, a new Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO) was constituted by the regime of General Olusegun Obasanjo. FEDECO organized the elections of 1979, which ushered in the Second Republic under the leadership of Alhaji Shehu Shagari. It also conducted the general elections of 1983.
In December 1995, the military government of General Sani Abacha, which earlier dissolved NEC in 1993, established the National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (NECON), which also conducted another set of elections; Local Government councils to National Assembly. These elected institutions were, however, not inaugurated before the death of General Abacha, in June 1998 and the process was aborted. In 1998, General Abdulsalam Abubakar’s administration dissolved NECON and established the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). In all, were the electoral umpires free from viruses of corruption in the conduct of the elections?
Lest Igini forgets, Senator Godswill Akpabio, the former governor of Akwa Ibom State, Godswill Akpabio, who represented Akwa Ibom North-West in the Senate, had accused Igini of working for the PDP candidate, Chris Ekpenyong, during the last election. Few equally threw tantrums on him. Anyway, these were claims which Igini had deflated. The PDP hierarchy in the state, on the other hand, congratulated him for conducting credible elections. This is not to say that a Nigerian politician is unblemished in election matters. Given an opportunity in the elections, APC would have exacted a pound of flesh from PDP. “You rejoice when it favours your party, but you wail when your party loses out in the political chessboard,” an anonymous political analyst enthused.
Though belated, Igini, no less a personality in the INEC family, has made some weighty allegations that Nigerian courts should review cases they had decided while the security agents should probe and unravel the allegations with a view to bringing the culprits to book. Let the Federal Government set up the Truth Commission to verify the claims in order to right the wrongs and rewrite the history of credible elections in the country.
● This article was first published in Straight new.