Mike Igini retires from INEC as the Resident Electoral Commissioner in Akwa Ibom State. He speaks about his best and low moments as an election official.
What do you think is the biggest challenge of INEC in Nigeria?
IGINI: The greatest challenge to organising credible elections in Nigeria is corruption. It is the greatest challenge in every facet of our nation’s life. My colleagues in the bar are not immune from the malaise either, and it makes things difficult. You see, as REC, I am responsible for supervising all INEC projects within Akwa Ibom. Whenever contractors who are assigned from Abuja come to execute projects, maybe INEC office building or other construction, they would ask to know what my gratification would be from the job. They tell me that some RECs extort them for jobs. As a result, they scale down the scope, change the design or quality of materials. When they come to Uyo, I demand for the approved Bill of Quantities (BoQ) and I ensure that the specifications in the BoQ are followed to the latter.
The craze for gratification has permeated everywhere, including the judiciary, where people can literally procure judgements these days. Some unscrupulous elements within the system connive with politicians to circumvent and beat the rules. Civil society itself is hemorrhaging from corruption. That is the biggest challenge.
Similarly, the general absence of the rule of law poses danger to democracy. Doing the right thing in Nigeria can be dangerous. Civil society and the judiciary have been significantly compromised.
How come you have not joined that trend? Are you so rich?
Igini: I learnt from my father that the only thing money cannot buy is honour. You can get every other thing you need in life with money, but if you lose your honour, you have nothing left and you can’t buy it, no matter how much money you have. The challenge of wants vs needs was settled in my life long ago; long before I joined INEC.
Most people fall into the money trap because they find it hard to separate between wants and needs. Before the rain, there was water in the coconut. I am a very contented man. And it did not start recently. When I was the SUG President in the University of Benin, there were efforts to bribe us by the military. When I was in the trenches in the struggle for validation of (the annulled) June 12 (presidential election), there were efforts to bribe us. None of those efforts paid off. Is it at this my age that I would start to collect illicit money? What would I use it for?
What is your worst regret?
Igini: What has befallen some of the winners of the primary elections we monitored gives me serious cause for concern. The political parties turn on their members with impunity and the system allows it to stand. Do you imagine someone spent money to buy nomination forms for election, campaigned and won the election, with INEC in attendance and monitoring? And then, their party in Abuja turns around to forward names of people who did not take part in the process at all, to INEC as the candidates? And the winners are the ones still spending money in courts to prove they won, while those who did not take part are sleeping easy at home? That is what injustice looks like. It is painful to watch.
There are allegations you drive around Uyo in bulletproof cars which could not have been bought by INEC or with your legitimate earnings, and that those cars are the proceeds of corruption.
Igini: Those who make such allegations must have been part of those who plotted to assassinate me and so, could tell a bullet-proof car from other cars. I inherited a Toyota Prado SUV from my predecessor as the official car. I have been using the car since the last five years. The pilot car is a Toyota Hilux. If this is the allegation, it means they have been profiling my car for sinister reasons. Thank God for saving me. In 2019, they plotted to assassinate me and bomb the state head office of INEC. It was caught on tape by the security agencies.
You mean there was a plan to kill you?
Igini: Yes, they plotted to kill me. The audio recording is there. Crisp and clear. It is the intelligence agencies that revealed it. It is blood-chilling and I will share it with you to listen yourself. They agreed to finance the operation with N25 million and made an advance payment of N15 million before it blew open. The plan was to cause maximum violence that would have dazed me so much that the election would either be stolen or I would be dead. (The REC shared the audio clip with PREMIUM TIMES). It shows you the extent to which politicians go to win elections, not minding the role of the electorate and the sacrifices some of us put into the struggle for the democracy we enjoy today.
So, this happened in Akwa Ibom?
Igini: You can hear it for yourself. Insisting on rules can be very dangerous. But thank God, we did not budge. In the same 2019, we got intelligence that political participants spent millions to print fake result sheets and flew them into Akwa Ibom in a chartered jet. Do you imagine the cost? As soon as I got wind of the plot, I went to the Central Bank of Nigeria – Uyo, where we stored all the sensitive materials, to personally sign and endorse all the original result sheets for the election. It took me five hours to endorse every sheet used in the 2,980 Polling Units in Akwa Ibom. Can you imagine that? But we did it to neutralise the grand scheme and protect the sanctity of the ballot. And it worked. We beat them to their game and stopped them.
Do you have fears that the gains made by INEC can be reversed if, for instance, a corrupt REC takes over from you?
Igini: With the integration of technology in the electoral process, it would be difficult to roll back the gains. Too much technology is involved already.
It is alleged, especially on social media, that you have been penciled down for appointment as a consultant on electoral matters to Governor Udom Emmanuel, after your exit from INEC?
Igini: There are some things that are stupid to contemplate. What can a former INEC REC do as a consultant on electoral matters? Consult what and for what purpose? I am aware that former INEC operatives took up a consultancy with state governments on how to rig elections. It shows the level of depravity and foolishness in the system. The only thing that such a person may be needed for is to devise means and methods for rigging. Nothing more. If I did not allow the rigging of elections as REC, how then would I be a good consultant on rigging? People forget that the introduction of BVAS has removed the propensity to rig drastically. Now, elections are decided at polling units by voters. Not collation centres. Certainly not INEC Office. So, what would Mike Igini do as a consultant to Governor Udom? What are you consulting? That is a stupid thing to contemplate. The National Organising Secretary of APC was the first to make that allegation in a TV show. I have perfected my plans to sue her for damages. I will definitely sue her.
What were your best moments in INEC?
Igini: My best and happiest moment was when I delivered ballot materials to all the polling units in Akwa Ibom State in 2019. Many chiefs and traditional rulers came to the office to thank me. Some of them said that their subjects had never seen what a ballot paper looked like before then. Since 1999! It was a sobering moment for me. I was happy to break that culture of electoral crimes. I ensured that polling units where results and materials were stolen by thugs, were cancelled. It shook the country.
Do you have anything else to say to Nigerians?
Igini: Nigerians need to protect the construct called a democracy because it is fragile. Eternal vigilance is the price for freedom. We may not get it right all the time, but we are not also getting it wrong all the time. I will exit at the same Ibom Hall Uyo, where I entered through. I will speak to the people I served faithfully on Friday 12th August 2022. I hope they will extend the cooperation they gave me to my successor. I hope too that the politicians would know that the umpire is neutral. I have nothing personal against anybody. I was just doing my job, to the best of my ability.
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