Dr. Adekunle Ogunmola is the Resident Electoral Commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for Lagos State. In this interview with OLAOLU OLADIPO, he speaks on his experience in the state as well as the plans of the commission for the 2015 general elections. According to him, while INEC is preparing for a credible outing, and politicians must change their attitude to electioneering in the country.
Looking at Lagos, being a cosmopolitan state, what has been your experience since you arrived in the state a little over two years ago?
My experience has been quite interesting and highly rewarding. Quite unlike what I was told before coming here, Lagosians appear to be highly enlightened; it's much easier to deal with them unlike with some other people in some other parts of the country. If you put your cards on the table, if you do things the right way, you are not likely to have any problem with anybody. What I am saying is that the quality of the population is high compared to any other state in Nigeria. I think it's been a worthwhile experience.
Would you attribute this to why the commission has been recording low rate of election petitions at the various tribunals in the state?
The relationship between the commission and the relevant stakeholders has been mutually beneficial to all. By that I mean, on their own part, they are enlightened, they will easily comprehend your position.
On our own part, we play our cards the right way: we give all political parties the level playing ground; we don't engage in hanky panky; we don't usually give room for suspicion; our slogan is 'we will prevent all those who choose to do the wrong things from doing them because we will not do the wrong things ourselves. This, we follow strictly and that is why, a lot of people appreciate our efforts.
You seem to talk more on the process, what about the politicians?
Our relationship with the various political parties has been quite cordial. We invite them regularly for our various activities. We display a very high level of openness to them. That has prevented them from coming up with unnecessary accusations against INEC. We try as much as possible to go beyond our call of duty to ensure that not only that we do the right thing, but that they see us as doing the right thing.
You paint a rosy story; has there been any time you faced a serious challenge?
We've had quite a lot of challenges here and there. You will recollect that there were some hitches initially during the registration exercise, especially in the first two days. Fortunately, we benefitted from the tremendous goodwill that Nigerians extended to us. Although, we had accusations here and there, people blamed us for those two days but we were able to surmount the problems and we came out successfully.
What about during the elections?
We had similar problems when the elections were postponed but, again, because of the goodwill of the people that we enjoyed, Nigerians gave us support and so we were able to come out of the problem as usual and the necessary lessons learnt for subsequent elections. Let me say that the political class still needs a lot of improvement in terms of political maturity, in the sense that when it is considered that the world is a global village, when you are talking politics, your position should not be restricted to what you are capable of doing alone; we should benefit from the experience of other countries, so that we try to imbibe the good aspect of what they do and discard the bad aspects. I think the political class in Nigeria has not really benefited from what obtains in other countries. In other parts of the world, we have seen the example of people who lose elections congratulating the winners. We have seen examples of people after losing elections saying they have to move on, but here in Nigeria, this kind of attitude seems very strange; the person who loses would think that election can only be fair if he wins, and that it was rigged against him when he loses. For instance, during the Edo State
election, the incumbent governor, Mr Adams Oshiomhole, was raising the dust when the elections started on Saturday; he was shouting that the election was not going to be acceptable to him. At the end of the day, he won the election and he started pouring encomiums on INEC. We should at least learn to give ourselves the benefit of doubt. We cannot conduct elections when there is mutual suspicion of one another. On the part of the politicians, they should try and ensure that they are statesmen and play politics the right way.
Are these the only things you saw?
Some political parties plot their own defeat even before elections are conducted. For instance, when you look at how candidates emerge from the parties, a majority of the membership might like candidate A to be chosen, and at the end of the day candidate B would be imposed.
When this is done, the party has already shot itself on the foot as there would be problems in the end. The trend in the country now is that people no longer vote for political parties anymore, but would now look at the character and the pedigree of the candidates when coming to select their leaders at the polls. This trend will continue for quite some time. We hope that, at the end of the day, we will also grow to the extent that we will not be afraid of the people planning to snatch ballot boxes during election, or people committing all sorts of irregularities. In a country like Argentina, which is similar to us in many ways - they had had long period of military rule like us and it is a place I have had to visit as the head of the country's delegation to monitor their polls - one thing that struck me the most was that the Nigerian Embassy there gave us a short brief on the politics of Argentina, and predicted the winner accurately, saying the person would win 52 per cent of the votes, which she did. In Argentina, the possibility of a military takeover is very remote since it is the army that conducts election there. So, their involvement has removed whatever alibi that they might want to use to stage a return. I want to praise the security agencies for the assistance they rendered to us during the last rounds of election. My thinking is that if they continue like that, the country is heading the right way.
How well is INEC utilising some of these exchanges between its personnel and similar other agencies across the world?
INEC is doing quite a lot in this direction. These exchanges are not for sightseeing or jamboree; they are indeed intended to assist the commission in fashioning out a system that would be acceptable to Nigerians and would meet the global standard for such activities. INEC has organised a workshop in Abuja for all heads of Election Management Bodies (EMBs) in Africa where we shared experiences with similar other electoral bodies on the continent. In the end, they gave kudos to INEC for its ability to carry out the registration of quite a number of people. In fact, INEC is serving as a consultant to some of them.
Beyond that, INEC has just fashioned out a strategic plan which has incorporated all these experiences into a plan of action, which we intend to use between 2012 and 2015. That is expected to extend beyond the next rounds of election. But what we have done is to do it in phases. One of the consultants that INEC hired for designing the strategic plan used the process of implantation - meaning that workers of the commission would be involved in the planning and development of processes and plan, to own the strategic plan so that everybody sees the plan as belonging to him, not that somebody just dumped it on their laps. The design involved the various units and strata of the commission. We have also indicated the timeline for the achievement of the plan, so that by 2014, we will be able to do an appraisal.
Does that include the initiative to hold all elections in a day?
In fact, that is not in consideration for now, but it cannot be ruled out completely. What we are doing is to ensure that we put the right things in place to check the inadequacies in the process. For instance, through the plan, we want to ensure that problems such late arrival of materials are completely solved and that they never happen again. In the end, the plan is expected to assist INEC to ensure that the 2015 election is far better than the 2011 election.
Which specific areas do you think that the commission is more concerned with in its quest to have credible polls?
In developing that strategic plan, we have looked at that area. Maybe I should just mention some of them. A lot of people made valuable contributions so that, in the end, it is an exhaustible contribution: lateness in the arrival of materials and personnel, inadequate training of ad hoc staff, logistic problems, especially to riverine communities in the state. These are some of the problems which we intend to use the plan to tackle. There were some delays during the last exercise created by these ad hoc staff who felt they would be paid at the end of their work; we have also identified that as a weakness such that we devise better means of payment.
What about voter registration and register?
The Electoral Act stipulates that registration must continue until some days before the election. So the implication is that the commission will run foul of the law if it stops registration of voters before that time. Our hope is that, by the year 2015, there won't be any need for mass voter registration in the country. The election would be conducted by April; that means that the month of January is free to make it 60 days to the election, and people can still register in January. That was why we included the first quarter of 2015 as being part of the activities of the commission. We may consider registration as part of the activities.
How do you hope to make the register credible?
We hope to have a fine and credible document at the end of the day, a register that would be acceptable to everybody. We have to clean it up. We will try and ensure that those that have died have their names removed from the register. The aim is that, at the end of the day, nobody will come up with the idea of missing names. This time around, we will now ensure that we now have permanent voter cards, which will make accreditation easy for voters. The idea is that all the needed information about the holder would have been inputted into the card.
So, by slotting it into the machine, the process of accreditation would be completed. We are putting a lot in place so that at the end of polling in 2015, the nation will congratulate itself for having a credible election.