Local Council Not Third Tier – Igini, Cross River REC

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culled from Nation

Barrister Mike Igini, Resident Electoral Commissioner, Cross River State
Barrister Mike Igini, Resident Electoral Commissioner, Cross River State

Cross River State Resident Electoral Commissioner Mike Igini spoke with MUSA ODOSHIMOKHE on the constitutional amendment and other issues in Lagos.

What is your reaction to the single term controversy?

For me, it is an interesting debate because the suggestion of a single term or two terms indicates that all the groups are in agreement that there must be term limits for incumbents and that there ought to be turnover and alternation at the top at some point. But, that we are having this debate now also indicates that there are uncertainties in our power transition mechanism. However the quandary is, should it be a single term of six years or two terms of four years if a person is re-elected? My take is that it is not so much the length of time, but the quality of service or the performance of the incumbent in delivering his or her mandate, hence the mechanisms agreed upon must have caveats that sets benchmark of performance.

If a single term of six years is preferred, should the incumbent only be allowed to proceed to the full term, if he or she satisfies some performance standards after a certain period in the tenure, say three or four years? Here again, we have the challenge of who sets the benchmarks objectively.

For me therefore, Professor Claude Welch’s timeless statement becomes relevant, that for ‘’forms of government, what is best administered is best’’. Our problem is not about single term of six years or two terms of four years each per se, but how we see public offices in this part of the world and the attitudes that flow from it that generates so much tension, as well as the resources deployed to secure such offices, that is the problem. This has to change and when a change of attitude happens, there will be some certainty in the power transition.

You have argued that Nigeria should return to true federalism to make progress. Is the country on that path now?

Certainly, federalism is the surest and the only part to the speedy overall development of this vast entity called Nigeria. Just recall the pace of development that took place in the regions during the short period of the first Republic. The centre has emasculated the federating units so much so that everybody heads to Abuja for everything. The whole struggle today is about sharing and not about how to create or generate more wealth. It is unfortunate indeed.

Our ethnic, cultural and religious diversities made the choice of federalism more compelling. This unitarist tendency is an elite contraption. The Nigerian people acknowledge the essence of true federalism, but some elites often pull towards the unitarist tendency because of the luring benefits of a stronger center for the favoured elite.

How relevant is the local government autonomy to the practice of federalism?

We must keep in mind that the local governments are not federating units, but exist and should function within the sphere of the states as envisaged by Section 7 of the constitution. So, autonomy to the local government must be viewed within that context to facilitate grassroot development. For LGA to be referred to as a ‘’federating unit is abnormal and aberration.’’ The federating units are the states; LGAs are administrative units, which, as a matter of fact, should also devolve some of the functions to the wards to expand the scope of development in the context of the evidence based contention by the scholar Radonelli that greater functional devolution in some spheres of governance expedites development.

Are you in support of financial autonomy for the Houses of Assembly?

It is most unfortunate that the state legislatures that the Senate tried to give financial freedom in the last constitutional exercise voted against its own freedom by majority. It shows that some people who determine the tickets of who can contest election are somewhere perhaps threatening a reprisal otherwise, how do you imagine a people that need freedom to strengthen the institution of checks and balance and for effectiveness voting against their own freedom? It was quite embarrassing indeed, because it amounted to political self-immolation. Infact, a governor recently granted an interview and declared that autonomy for the legislature most not be granted at all to avoid what he referred to as a situation of ‘’perpetual fight between Senate and Executive over budgets and other matters at the federal level from happening at the states.’’ This is the thinking and mindset of a democratically elected governor and the reason for the absence of debates over budgets at the state houses of Assemblies where you also do not hear about oversight committees or oversight activities unlike the National Assembly where we see robust debates.

This is also partly due to the over-whelming influence and decision of governors on the selection of who should be a candidate of the party for legislative roles, which is often not determined by the party members in many cases. Consequently, a legislator cannot challenge the action of a man who single-handedly decided that he or she should contest as a legislator, or the Chairperson of a local government LGA.

The later scenario of quasi-clientilism contrasts significantly with the national setting, where in most cases, a President does not have such leverage to make pre-determined choices of who should be a candidate for election to the National Assembly. That is why there is often tension at the federal level, which itself is not bad, because tension generated by public policies may lead to value addition or to a positive outcome, if it is constructive.

At any rate, there will always be some tension between legislative power and executive power in a presidential system where, unlike the parliamentary system, the executive does not get part of its mandate from the legislature, but directly from the people. Even in parliamentary systems, that tension is also there, and accounts for the reason why sometimes, early elections are called because some executives want to unfetter themselves from conflicts of interests or moral hazards arising from diverse engagements arising from interfacing with legislative powers. But in an efficient system, the executive learns to work with that reality, using consummate liaison personnel who have experience with the workings of the legislature. But in every human social engagement regarding the interactions of all institutions, some corporate cultures develop, the important thing is for that culture to add value to society. Both sides of the fence must therefore, develop the savvy required to abide the other side.

Do you share the view that the state of emergency declared by the Federal Government in the four Northern states came late and should have been done a year ago?

I believe that the declaration of a state of emergency is often intended to be something of a last resort, particularly when the cause is internal. The important thing we should focus on is its effectiveness in returning normalcy, as we are beginning to see at the moment in those troubled parts of the country and ,we should turn our attention to the rehabilitation of the areas and those citizens who have been adversely affected by helping them to go back to doing what they are capable of doing within the economic sphere. All over the world where we have insurgent and extremist activities, options are not easy and free of divergent opinions particularly in a democratic environment. This is the kind of situation that Frederick Forsyth in his novel referred to as the ‘’devils alternative’’. We should not forget that, the call for and offer of dialogue and amnesty could not assuage the situation but were explored first and fairly long enough before the declaration of a state of emergency, which was a last resort, taken in that decisional order and therefore in order in my well considered opinion having regard to the situation of anomie in those parts of the country where life became a bleak episode.

You have consistently advocated for a return to federalism, as the only sure path to accelerated development of Nigeria. Do you see the proposed removal of items like railways and prison from the exclusive list as a step in that direction?

Indeed, that would be a great step in the right direction because the American system that we claim to copy has only very limited items on the exclusive list, being just about 18 for the Federal Government after over a period of 200 years, contrastingly, what you find in our constitution is a bloated exclusive list of 68 items in the center, and this is mainly responsible for the dysfunctional outcomes we have regarding our development. This arises from the fact that for too long, peripheral development relies too much on central policy-making, even now many people expect local government obligations from the federal government, apart from this being a hangover of military rule, some unnecessary issues are still embedded in the exclusive list, the federal government should be freed from those things which are best done by governance from the places which are closest to the people.Why should matters like Railways and even prison where most of the inmates were brought in by state laws be on the exclusive list and a burden for the federal Government ?

I have often cited the case of water supply, that cholera was discovered over 150 years ago in England because scientists could trace the suppliers, showing that even our colonial leaders saw the merit of devolving such responsibilities even to private providers from the locality, while concentrating on quality assurance and policy…but after over 50 years we are still loading the to-do list of the federal government like a colonial power, thereby emasculating the states that should be the centers of development and disrupting federal government policy making functions with many grass-root operational obligations.

The key function of the federal government should be to make overarching enabling policies; this is my opinion without prejudice to the rights of parties to determine their policy goals on the extent of the roles of government in society.

If federalism is the only sure way to development according to you, where then is the place of democracy and elections?

Both concepts are not mutually exclusive but compliment one another. Federalism is a system of government that allows for and promotes harmonious co-existence between people of diverse, cultural, religious and linguistic background in an equal, co-ordinate not superior/subordinate power mentality relation, and in a manner that enables resource creation and use for development competitive and healthy between the federating states and the centre like what we had in the first Republic. Democratic elections are a procedural arrangement for selecting and conferring legitimacy on leaders that would drive the goal of development, both are necessary means to the end of development. We all accept that there is wide diversity in our social and cultural dispositions, federalism allows each component to grow at a pace that is self motivated, while also its growth is complimented and being strengthened by its being part of the whole, elections on the other hand is a mechanism for selecting leaders who meet the goals of the federal governance, in doing so, the citizens are given a periodic opportunity to select these leaders either directly or through representation, when they are given an unfettered opportunity to do this, the desires and aspirations of the voting citizens become the primary obligation of the leaders.

You have severally said that without the rule of law, Nigeria has no chance of development. Is it because you are a lawyer?

That is the whole truth and nothing but the truth. In the absence of law and order, as well as the due process of law, Nigeria like any other nation has no chance of making the desired progress. Its not only because I am a lawyer and have a theoretical grounding of the law as the building brick of an ordered society, but more importantly is the fact that empirically, it is also the observable natural order that, all of us as human beings know that in any society where there are no rules, norms or expected and accepted rules of conduct with consequences for those who breach these rules, there will be chaos. It is rule of law that accounted for the development and the level of orderliness that you find in developed countries like the UK,U.S, France, Germany and several other countries the our elites are trooping to spend holidays. In these developed countries emphasis at all times is the law and not your status or position in the society whenever there is violation of law. In any society where there is violation of the law enacted to safeguard public interest and recourse or consideration is about the individuals instead of strict application, surely the law becomes weak and ineffective. These rules, laws and norms must apply equally and equitably because when there are actual or perceived disparities in their application society will be non-committal to such rules

Three years now as public officer instead of civil society advocacy, how well have you practiced leadership values when in authority that you have preached as the Director of the Centre for Policy and Leadership values?

Three years ago when I was appointed I said that the first challenge was to walk the talk of my advocacy. I have not detoured from that commitment. In my experience while delivering the mandate of my appointment, I have stayed true to the cause of the Nigerian people, even when I have observed that there were monumental forces which pull and push towards the status-quo-ante, I knew that the only way we can make a difference is to apply our human agency to alter the inherent structuralism that pulls our society to the abyss of dystopia.

It has been leadership by example of those values we have advocated. I have not done anything in the past three years intentionally for personal interest or benefit to undermine the office that I occupy, because I’m conscious of the fact that the office l occupy is a public trust that should not be betrayed. My personal integrity, the integrity of the office and public faith in that integrity must take supreme priority at all times. I have never sat with anybody or group of persons to do anything capable of undermining my personal integrity and that of my office as an umpire, but always tell people to do the right thing. I have never taken or accepted even an ordinary sachet of pure water, how much more other worldly things of higher values from any man born of a woman in furtherance of any interest incompatible with the expectation of my position as an umpire. My needs are small and can be met without betraying public trust afterall, l eat just once or maximum twice a day. Nevertheless, it has been quite challenging meeting and working with people of diverse value orientation.

In navigating these challenging sociological ambiance, I have met Nigerians of different dispositions, some who have put in their very best and continue to do so in the hope that things will change, and some who have given up and have decided to swim or die with the tide, and I realize that only those who commit to change will experience change, and if the stakes are high the triumph will be great, for our country, we shall experience a big triumph, but only if we maintain the cause of change for the better by doing our small part individually to make a grand impact from our collective efforts.. we cannot afford to let future Nigerians down by putting ourselves first all the time, we must accept and motivate our effort with the realization that, no matter what we have, it will never be enough if we live in a bad society.

Also, to actualize my goals, I have found very useful, the assertion by Paul Getty that, no man’s opinion is better than his information, I listen to good advice and follow some basic rules of decision-making which is an art and science that everyone in a leadership position must take seriously, because the outcome of your choices is often dependent on the quality and inputs of people around you that reflect on the decisions you make. If you listen to poor quality advice, because they offer you easy choices, you will make poor quality decisions and get poor quality outcome, as they say in information technology “garbage in, garbage out”. The truth is that public office, position of authority and exercise of power do not change people but rather reveals who they truly are no matter the posturing and pretension.

Is this the same as the saying that a leader is as good as those who work with the leader?

Those who work with and around a leader are very important because the decisions required for effective leadership in the modern world are now more complex and challenging and no leader is equipped with all the knowledge and competencies needed for optimal to best outcomes all the time.

Hence effective leadership requires that knack, and gut feeling as well as experiential knowledge to make good judgment about the abilities and competencies of those whose inputs are critical for success in different fields, and to be able to know the limitations of others and hence accept that such limitations may do more damage if other competencies are not utilized instead. This is because leadership is not about doing things yourself but about been very effective in influencing, directing or facilitating those who do what it takes to meet organizational or corporate or group goals.

It is not just the leader who requires such ability to judge people by their abilities, but also those who form the core group of leadership should also be able to identify when extra competencies are necessary. This is why I said earlier that in my experience I have found the assertion by Paul Getty that no man’s opinion is better than his information very useful. You may have very well established anecdotal premises for making some decisions where information is unavailable or time is short, but the outcome can never be superior to decisions made based on factual information or knowledge based on empirical exactitude.

Naturally, it is good to have friends who you can rely on around you because you share some common values, but friends also have their limitations, and good friends will tell you when you need extra competencies to achieve a goal, because your failure will not be in their best interest as well. so the rule of the inner circle and getting it right is critical to leadership success. That is why people say that a leader is as good as those around the leader in all situation.

In the last few weeks, the president and ministers have been presenting mid-term reports of their various ministries, what is your assessment?

It is good that they are taking the measurement of outcomes, because a process that is not evaluated cannot be improved and that is very good. Its like what we are doing in INEC at the moment to deliver a much better and acceptable elections by 2015 than even the 2011 elections that Nigerians gave high credit. The process review measurements are good and should be qualitative and quantitative, to get a birds-eye view of performance, society must also assist the process of governance at all levels, by introducing independent assessments because a democratic government is like a pupil who will be taking exams during every election where the final score is awarded by the people who benefitted or did not benefit from governance, hence the introspective assessment of government should be complemented by the external judgment of independent reviewers, this is why I have often advocated that Civil Society and the media should develop a reviewable scorecard of performance like the Dow-Jones index for public office performance, where unlike the stock exchange performance which has profits, equity and stock gains as its parameter, the public performance index should have delivery of benefits and value added to societal development as its critical parameters, the political parties can make their assessments but even though we know that partisanship judgments may not be ruled out and expectedly so like in other countries. so for the benefit of society, development Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), that governance space between the government, the market and the family is best placed to make such assessment. Granted that CSOs also have their interest, but those interests are more often grounded on development. Such a performance index will be a good continuous assessment exercise for all the democratic pupils who occupy government positions throughout the country so that when the people call the final results during elections, they will have seen the signs long before elections, and spare all of us the litany of post-election lamentations.

Based on the mandate of INEC to inform Nigerians on good practices of democracy, what in your view is missing from the 2015 politics thus far?

First it must be pointed out that official campaigning for political positions for 2015 is not now, based on our laws. what should occupy the political space currently, ought to be policy debates on how to deliver benefits to the public because elections are conducted for that reason. However, in directing our attention to what should be prioritized in terms of policy debate for 2015, we must turn our attention to section 16 of the constitution.

Unlike most constitutions, that makes specific consideration of welfare an option of party political manifestoes, ours is unique because it obligates specific welfare for citizens, Section 16 of our constitution, is prescriptive of the purpose of government, it does not give political parties choices over their obligation to the welfare of Nigerians, it directs all government functionaries to make the security and welfare of Nigerians their primary purpose. Thus policy debates for political offices in Nigeria should primarily center on who has the best policy options to deliver on section 16 particularly sub-section 2 a and d.

The first part of sub-section 2 ‘commands’ government political policy to be redistributive, in other words it directs political policy to be such as to reduce inequality and disparities in the distribution of wealth, it does not mean that government should deprive those who are enterprising enough to create wealth to be stopped, but it says carry others along, bridge or minimize the gap between those who have and those who have less, what are the party responses on how to achieve that? Then sub-section 2d obligates governments at all levels to provide adequate shelter, food, wages, old-age-care as been done commendably by a state now, sickness and disability benefits. These are policy options for parties in many countries but by our constitution, it is not optional, it states clearly that political policy must be directed at making such provisions, what are the tactical and operational options which parties have to deliver this? Such goals are the anchor for the debate on affordable healthcare for which the Obama government contends with the other parties. In Europe quality of state welfare is an ongoing debate, we must therefore test the governance proposals of parties upon their articulated responses to these imperatives.

When Nigerians weigh politicians and political groups, the first criterion for voting decision ought therefore to be; “how can his/her goals or party goals deliver on section16:2a-d, any political debate which does not focus on that matter is inconsequential, this is why all these debates around personalities and geopolitical agitations are a distraction from the real meat of the matter regarding our political debates, and if it is absent so far, we must compel the politicians to redirect their efforts to defining and articulating their policy options and priorities on how to deliver on S.16:2(a-d) of the constitution of the fatherland.

Finally, with the unveiling last week of the INEC Strategic Program of Action for 2015 Elections after so many retreats, what should Nigerians expect by 2015?

Strategic thinking allows an organization to clearly evaluate its ambiance of operation, and objectively assess its strength, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, and to effectively map the stakeholders who can constrain or facilitates such operations in each area of operation, by taking account of the resources they can bring to the process, and recommending potential courses of actions and alternative options. As an organization that is mandated to mediate the competition of political stakeholders and related activities, embarking on such an endeavour periodically is very important, the outcome is what was formally unveiled in the document, which is a road map for what INEC intends to do, in future election cycles, how it intends to do so and possible adaptations to changes in the dynamic environment of Nigerian politics, as well as the resources it intends to use to meet its goals. Moreover, it also outlines the values that inform such activities.

Some of the highlights that needs mentions in the strategic plan includes; five core strategic objectives with key outcomes including effecting the continuous updating of the voters register, and publishing it on an INEC register of voters website, conducting constituency delineation using global best practices, improve voter education, register and monitor political parties effectively, improve interfacing with stakeholders and to reposition the Commission to enhance its ability to deliver its mandate with value for money. But one fundamental step for 2015 election will be the expected use of of the biometric data accreditation process of every voter through a hand-held card reader in all polling units in the country.

Also changes in the legal framework which will assist the commission to meet these goals will be required such as; the amendment or expunging of section 31 to remove the need to accept candidates who were nominated by parties for election purposes through processes that do not comply with political party constitutional provisions, and the need for the electoral legislative framework to recognize electronically enabled voting processes that need not be use in 2015 elections as the chairman said but would give INEC the opportunity to do so pilot for future use which will deepen democracy and enhance election integrity amongst others. But as you know electoral legislation relies on the national legislature for their amendments and so they are key partners in the ability of the commission to meet its strategic goals.

INEC recently conducted a recruitment exercise, will this help to strengthen the operations of the Commission, what is your evaluation of the potential recruits?

Yes the Commission conducted a recruitment exercise and will consequently select from the interviewed candidates. Well INEC under this current leadership craves for high standards regarding staff selection because the rise or fall or indeed the future of any organization is tied to its recruitment policy in terms of the quality of manpower recruited into the organization. So we should expect a strengthening of the Commission with the selected personnel, however on a general observation, I must state that the quality of the educational standards of so many candidates observed at the portharcourt venue of the interview that l participated as one of the panelists left one wondering what is happening to the examination standards in our tertiary institutions

Can you elaborate on that; with respect to your disappointment on the tertiary education standard of many of the candidates?

First, I am sure we are all interested in the improvement of our educational system because that is the only sector in which all countries can level their difference when they pay attention to the development of the younger generations, that is why I feel deeply concerned that amongst the interviewed candidates we had Sociology graduates that could not define culture or socialization, English graduates who could not define a verb, history graduates who could not remember the amalgamation of 1914 or when we had a Republican constitution, Economics graduates who cannot explain a budget is or exchange rate, and Science graduates that showed unpardonable ignorance about what osmosis is about. It leaves one wondering if we should declare a state of emergency regarding standards in our educational system and a complete review of the relevance of the educational system to problem solving in our society.

Luckily for the Commission, it will train and keep retraining personnel for the purposes of INEC operations. It is really cause for dismay, but hardly surprising when one learns that nowadays that setting pass-marks, admission criteria is now all-comers affairs including even the students that sat for these examinations and no longer school eductionists.

Most of the graduates at the moment are not employable at all and cannot compete at the global level. That is why l’m very worried for our country that at this age and time of globalization, we do not have knowledge workers that can even man our economy how much more exporting same like other countries. Parents now assist their children to cheat in examinations and where they fail, they orchestrate campaign for reduction of standards. Teachers no longer write nor mark examination papers with pen flowing with the ink of integrity and honour any more on account of a terrible sub-culture or practice of what l understand they call ‘’blocking or sorting’’ a euphemism for money for grades. what a tragedy for our educational system.

Another pertinent issue relates to the question of the death penalty which caused some furor, locally and internationally when the death sentences of some inmates in Edo was signed by comrade Gov. Oshiomole and executed, how does the claims of opponents and proponents stand regarding the practice of democracy?

First, the issue is one of value judgment regarding sanctity of human life and what penalty is a just penalty for some degree of crime, such as murder,homicide, treason and so forth under the constitution of the fatherland. Even the Right to life is not absolute in our constitution because life can be taken under certain circumstances outlined in chapter (iv) of the constitution. The federal government recently decried the refusal of governors to perform a constitutionally imposed duty of signing death warrant arising from death sentences imposed by courts in line with section 33(1) of the constitution. Its unimaginable that people elected into public offices that swore to uphold and defend the constitution would pander to emotions, unfathomable religious claims and sentiments over the value of life of judicially condemned criminals some of whom actually murdered fellow human beings by refusing to sign death warrant. Gov. oshiomole undoubtedly demonstrated leadership in line with the duty imposed on him by the constitution. Let me say this, democracy outside some universally accepted basic tenets must reflect contextual realities, culture and norms. This is why theoretically, the argument in the classroom still subsist as to what typologies of democracy is best. That is why also there is the categorization of democracy into a continuum of democratic attributes with minimalist democracy at one pole and maximalist democracy on the other end.

So,if it was so easy to accept that death penalty is unacceptable irrespective of the circumstances, the United states will have abolished it in all states, but that is not the case because there are still some states there which still carry out death sentences, which shows that not everyone is persuaded. The same thing can be said of gay rights, that some countries think they can threaten African countries like Nigeria that has taken a firm position through the National Assembly to uphold and defend our culture, norms and immutable values of the separate roles of men and women that actually defined who we are as a people.

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