The Independent National Electoral Commission’s Resident Electoral Commissioner in Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Mike Igini, in this interview with SUNDAY ABORISADE of Punch Newspapers, explains what INEC expects of politicians ahead of the 2019 polls
What does the INEC hope to achieve with a section of its pending bill before the National Assembly which will make it compulsory for everyone seeking elective public office to engage in debates with their opponents?
INEC, under part 1 sections 1 and 2 of the Electoral, has a statutory duty to educate Nigerians on a sound knowledge of democracy and its processes. A compulsory debate will make a great impact if we can get such a law in place before the 2019 elections because the strength of democracy and the opportunities it creates depend on the vigour of multi-party politics in terms of policy issues, debates, moral arguments and value formation.
We should not be contented with just having elections after every four years without real democratic values being canvassed. In the first place, politics is about competition of ideas on how best to influence the cause of development in a country. There should be formalised platforms to canvass ideas, hence compulsory debate is the most significant platform to do so.
Is INEC satisfied with the progress being made on its bill at the National Assembly?
The amendments to the Constitution and Electoral Act are still work in progress. The Senate had passed its version but it is waiting for the lower chamber where there is a delay at the moment. Meanwhile, they have this (last) month (January) by international best practices which frown on tinkering with electoral laws a year before the election date, to obviate partisan amendments.
Also, the full compliments of RECs in the entire 36 states are also being awaited for Senate confirmation. Issues around election security and the need for absolute security neutrality as well as the need to avoid manipulation of the electoral process from corruption, violence and other uncertainties are expected to be addressed in the fresh amendment proposals before the federal parliament.
What is INEC doing to address massive open vote buying on Election Day?
The growing trend of vote buying on election days is a big threat to democracy because the electorate are not really making informed choices which is a basic assumption of democracy. We do not have to go that route that other societies have travelled even though vote buying has a chequered history in the development of democracy and democratic elections globally. It is very important to closely understand the general and contextual contributions of the phenomenon in order to abate and mitigate it.
In Europe and North America, when politicians used to rely on voting machines, when middle men mobilised voters with pecuniary incentives, politicians who contested later found that every election cycle made them more dependent and vulnerable, with less guarantee of assured outcome. The middlemen, who bribed voters for them, grew greedier and many politicians lost both the votes and huge fortunes. Both the political class and the society will lose in the end if such behaviour is not stopped.
That was why the use of anonymous ballot papers was introduced because middlemen, who bought votes, used confirmations of how they voted to get their payments. Even recently in Italy, North Carolina and India, the use of cell phones was banned at polling centres because some voting machine gangs asked voters to send a picture of their ballot from inside the polling unit by MMS messaging to confirm their payments. We have to deal with this form of political corruption now and should not happen in elections slated for 2018 and the 2019 general elections