In this interview, the first since his appointment as INEC boss, Jega spat fire. Words like sanction, penalize, deal with such individuals, criminal offence, were freely used by Jega to demonstrate his resolve to deliver to Nigerians a credible election. His words: As far as I am concerned, what I am saying is that if I have more time, I will deliver a better result; if I have less time, though it will be difficult for me but we will still have something better than what we had in 2007. Being better than 2007 may not be what we need or what will satisfy the aspirations of Nigerians but Nigerians will know that we have done something better than before. We will do our best under the circumstance. Beyond 2011 elections, having made all these massive procurements that we want to make, we will be in a position to present to Nigerians a better voter register on which we can continue to improve and clean up so that any election beyond 2011 will also be qualitatively better than 2011. The new INEC boss also spoke of his grand plan and vision just as he cleared the air on some falsehood that had been published about him and activities around him.
This one that you are having meetings with people; tell us, did you meet those people they said you met: Chief Anthony Anenih and Alhaji Sambawa?
I did not meet Anenih or anybody called Sambawa. Somehow, somebody just sat and created that story and gave it front page treatment and also put my photograph.
Some of my friends have said I should stop speaking but holding this position there is no way I cant speak. I must speak but when I speak I will make sure that I am very clear, believing that things would not be taken out of context.
I did not meet these people. And people who have read the story may not read the correction if there is any. The challenge is to do the right thing from the beginning. This is not a seminar but it is good to clear the air.
What was the situation you met on ground when you took over?
The impression I got when I took over was that there is a lot of work to do in terms of re-organising INEC, in terms of bringing in credible and very good staff, in terms of changing the mind set and the attitude to work and the actual work itself. Even though I had a clear vision in my mind about the job, I didnt realize that it is that complicated because suddenly we were confronted with constitutional amendment which had tightened the time schedule within which we were expected to do our work. But these are clear challenges in life. They make life more difficult and luckily from what I have seen, things might be difficult and challenging but not impossible if we at INEC put our minds to doing it and if Nigerians work together with us, we can show a remarkable difference.
Talking about making a difference, Im sure youre aware of what the former governor of Cross River State, Donald Duke, said about mobilizing funds for elections and how people are settled. What does that say of politicians and Nigerians because what Duke said is coming after the fact of his winning two terms as governor?
Given my own experience as a university lecturer I have taught courses on Nigerian elections. As a human rights activist, Ive also participated as an observer of elections and Ive interacted with politicians so, by the time I came to INEC, I knew, and many of the national commissioners also knew that many of the areas of credibility for the elections come largely from the relationship which exists between state offices of INEC and their host governments.
In particular, the excessive reliance of the state offices and local government offices on the state government or the local governments and unfortunately, the fact that the state offices are not adequately funded and adequately provided for give rise to some of the excuses that the state officials hide under to gain maximum benefits from their host governments. There is also clear inducement on the part of state government to the staff of the commission at the state level.
Therefore, when I made that statement it was based on knowledge that I already have of what goes on, knowledge made more graphic, confirmed and illustrated by the statement of a former governor (Donald Duke).
The opportunity of inaugurating the RECs was what I had to make them understand that they must be decent and law abiding in their relationship with their host government.
I assured them that whatever we can do within limits, we will do to ensure that they are able to do their work so that they wont be under pressure to go cap in hand to go begging for support.
Obviously, the extent to which we can satisfy the needs of the state is limited. We did not prepare the budget, we met it and we are too far in the implementation of the budget but we are prepared to as much as possible, improve the conditions in the state offices and the local government offices so that we can reduce that which makes the RECs or the Electoral Officers to go to these governments to beg for resources.
What penalties await those who breach this rule?
Once you are found to have breached this rule, you will be appropriately penalized.
Sanctions are already there, there are laws for such. Those areas where it is perceived that officials are bribed or that they sell results or change results to declare wrongful people as winners, we will make sure that we gather the requisite evidence and once we have evidence to prosecute we will start prosecuting and once we start making examples of people, we will begin to make progress and people will realize that it is in their best interest to either do the job very well or leave the job and go and do something else.
Your meeting with the Inspector General of the Police, how did it go because without the support of the Police, you may not be able to go very far?
First of all, as one of the decisions that weve taken after meeting with departments at the headquarters here and as a follow up to our retreat in Uyo, is that all outstanding cases of offences, we should have a report on that so that we would know, state by state, the electoral offences that have been compiled, those prosecuted, what stage of prosecution and states have already started sending reports to us and our idea is to ensure that where there is clear evidence of fraud, we will proceed with the prosecution, hoping of course that we will have very good working relationship with the agencies that are involved.
I had a very good meeting with the IGP and we have pledged to one another to tackle the challenges around voter registration and the coming election and it is their responsibility to protect lives and property at all times especially during elections, to ensure there is no breach of peace.
We have received assurances that we will work together to firstly, correct the mistakes of the past and prevent breaches and electoral fraud and if any, catch the offenders. I believe we now have a frame work within which to forge better ties with the police.
With the pressure from President Goodluck Jonathan, your civil society groups, and Nigerians who are investing so much hope in you, wouldnt you agree that this is overwhelming?
Im a human being and I do not want it to appear as if I am a messiah or I am somebody who is extra ordinary.
I am an ordinary human being and if I have a job to do, I have the single minded determination to just do my best and achieve the goal that I have defined for myself.
Yes, I am overwhelmed by the support from Nigerians but what all that has done is that it has not scared me; it has not made me sit down and start gloating about the job, that Im the most liked Nigerian but all it makes me do is to make me think of how to deliver to Nigerians. My decision about this is simple and it is to do my best, do it transparently for all to see that I have done my best then I will be satisfied. Though the best may not satisfy everybody but if I can leave nobody in doubt that I have done my best, then I will be satisfied.
When everybody contributes to the job, then it is always better because the outcome will be more positive.
What are the likely obstacles or, better put, constraints that youve noticed?
Obstacles? I wont say I noticed obstacles that can stop me from moving but there are constraints and the constraints are very clear and evident.
The constraint is that there is a slow process of getting all the information that you need and at the time you need it and maybe that is because of the way the organization is structured and that is why it is necessary to restructure so that you can move faster because if you need information fast and you can not get it, then you are constrained. That does not stop you from moving, but thank God we are moving and making progress.
Luckily too, many international donor organisations are assisting with technical support. If, for instance we want to know which manufacturers can deliver quickest capture machines, we are getting the required assistance.
I can not say here is an obstacle.
Im happy with the way things have been going on in the last three to four weeks and what well need to do from time to time is to look back and ask how we can still do things better.
This issue of voter register, what option in your view, do you think is best for Nigeria in the circumstance without breaching the law, even in the face of the constraints you have. What alternatives are there?
Im not sure I understand the question but let me tell you this: Free and fair elections are a continuum. You push yourself towards an ideal and you push yourself to try and get the best so all you do is to ask if you can do something better than the last, can we do something much better than what we have done in the past.
So, as far as I am concerned, what I am saying is that if I have more time, I will deliver a better result; if I have less time, though it will be difficult for me but we will still have something better than what we had in 2007. Being better than 2007 may not be what we need or what will satisfy the aspirations of Nigerians but Nigerians will know that we have done something better than before, we will do our best under the circumstance.
Beyond 2011 elections, having made all these massive procurements that we want to make, we will be in a position to present to Nigerians a better voter register on which we can continue to improve and clean up so that any election beyond 2011 will also be qualitatively better than 2011.
By the time we are able to have a much better election in 2015, then we'll guarantee that other elections will be better.
That is the way I am looking at it and that is the way I want Nigerians to look at it.
The worry of every Nigeria is to ensure that we do not go below the 2007 elections.
We will not be worse. We may not give Nigerians what they are looking for but we will definitely do better. If I had more time, I would come close to the expectations of Nigerians.
I do not have that time and unfortunately I do not make or amend the Constitution and I do not and when I say I, I mean we as a commission. We do not dabble into things that do not concern us. We were sworn by Bible and Quoran to uphold and work within the framework of the Constitution, within the frame work of the Constitution as amended and the Electoral Act as passed.
We now have a time to do voter register but it would be very tough and very challenging but not impossible.
Again, we can only succeed with the support and cooperation of everybody.
The National Assembly amended the Electoral Act to accommodate your concerns. What about the executive? Is it being as supportive?
So far, Im glad the National Assembly has been very supportive.
When the Constitution was amended and it made things too difficult for us, they amended the Electoral Act so that we can have more time. Now we have that little time.
Weve gone to the executive to say that even with an amendment, until you give us sufficient resources, so so and so quantum of resources within a specific time, we may not be able to do it. The executive tells us that we will do our best to provide for that and we know they are working in that regard. I know that once we are able to get the resources we need and we, too, have been working extra hard to sort out the issue of going directly to manufacturers to procure and at the same time we are also discussing with vendors just in case we can not get all that we want from the manufacturers.
We believe that there is a silver lining and this is the best option. Going directly to the manufacturers, you will cut cost, you are sure of the quality and it may even be delivered in good time. What we are doing now is to get absolute guarantee.
At the same time, we know that software have to be produced and some hardware manufacturers do not provide software so we are already talking to the software people so that by the time the computers are manufactured, they will come with the software.
These are all the things that we are doing.
Talking about cost, there are those who see this cost as being on the high side since we are not doing a census?
I will say that to the best of my knowledge and ability, I think weve done the best calculations and weve used the best figures we can have whether it is for personnel cost, whether it is for equipment cost and we believe that we have been very careful.
In fact, some of us even think that the money we are asking for does not allow us sufficient margin in case of any eventuality.
But what we have said is that if we have to do this job and do it well, within the time we have, what is the best methodology.
In our view, we looked round and the more recent voter registration exercise and which has been touted as very credible is the one in Bangladesh and people are talking about it.
The country has a population of about 150 million almost about the same population like Nigeria, it has a rugged terrain like ours but they did their own registration in 11 months and they did theirs at a very leisurely pace because they had a lot of time they were not under pressure that election would be coming up close.
They used just a fraction of the computers that we are asking for they used just 10,000 and the methodology they used was such that they moved all the machines to a particular region, moved all the personnel to a particular region and worked there. When they finished with that region, they moved to another region with all the machines and personnel and that was how they moved round in 11 months which is credible.
What they did was not just voter register because the data they captured could be used for civic registration but they had so much time.
But this case we have on our hands now is different?
Yes! That is why I keep saying that we have just four months.
I can not move all the machines to one region and all the personnel to the same region at once. But the best way to do it is to acquire a lot of equipment and deploy a lot of people closest to the prospective voters and the closest is the use of polling units.
So, if I can deploy to all the 120,000 polling units at once and I have well trained people and Ive already estimated that within two weeks, INEC will be able to register about 70 million Nigerians and the challenge before the commission is how we are going to do this within two weeks.
So, we decided that if we take November 9, 2010, which is the Electoral Act deadline, if we take that deadline as the deadline for doing registration.
We have to then say we can do the registration two weeks before that date, then we agreed that well commence registration in the last week of October and the first week of November, still leaving us with another one week allowance before the Electoral Act deadline.
The challenge is one, to have the money to procure the equipment, train people, print all that should be printed, payment of allowances, who do you recruit and how much do you pay them. This is how we arrived at the cost.
The unit cost that we envisaged using a good branded laptop with a very good webcam, very good finger print device, an extra power pack that can be charged, and a rugged box for packaging, then you are talking of, in our estimation, a unit cost of $2000.
So, if you multiply $2000 by 120,000, at the exchange rate of N152 to a dollar, (mind you we have added another five per cent to that number because of redundancy because anything can happen), youre talking about N36.8 billion (and that is if we get it from the manufacturers).
If it is coming from the vendors, you have to add at least 30% margin for them, thats why we have this range.
But then, even if you have a power pack that can work for six hours and there is no electricity to charge the battery, you will still have problems so we added the provision of a standby generator because we assume the worst. If you are doing this type of planning you have to make room for such assumptions.
And somebody has to also manage and maintain that generator which means there is an addition to the two other people manning the computer and you have to pay them. Even if one of them is not available, you still have two other people. You have to think of transportation.
The other thing I said about Bangladesh is that they are a more disciplined society.
Wait! How do you mean?
Yes! Im sorry to say that it is a more disciplined society. Look if you allow movement of machinery, it can end up anywhere; it can get damaged. Or somebody might want to use it to try and do some other thing after the days activities.
Direct capture machines are just single purpose machines. If you buy a laptop that has other facilities, people will be tempted to use it.
If you ask me, when you do a cost benefit analysis, what we stand to benefit far outweighs the cost.
Prof, Ive heard politicians say that this voter registration that would be done is an opportunity for them to do their own thing too, to warehouse their own voters for future elections. Im sure you would have heard this too.
Who are those to man the machines?
Weve already decided that they are going to be youth corpers.
We knew before we came in that there is a subsisting relationship between INEC and the NYSC. We also know that NYSC deploys more contingents of corps members now and we are going to even test those who have been trained and there is enough in the pool.
If push comes to shove, and we do not have enough, we can go to our tertiary institutions and recruit from the graduating sets. They are also fairly educated and in fact some of them may even be waiting to be mobilized for NYSC. We have identified them.
Mind you, these are people who are also doing national service.
What about the politicians waiting to pounce?
Yes, there will always be bad eggs anywhere.
After all is said and done, we are going to have very strict and rigorous monitoring and supervision to ensure that there is no misconduct but if we notice any form of misconduct, then offenders would have to be penalized
Your vision of having credible elections may suffer a set back. You redeployed some RECs but some of these RECs were the ones in whose state of duty had varying degrees of elections nullified by the courts?
To be honest with you, Im not worried.
If I have evidence of any misconduct by any REC or staff of INEC for that matter either in the state or local government or here in the headquarters, I will deal with it.
Anybody who has any such evidence should pass it to us and well use it but I can not just say because somebody has been a REC before and I dont have the evidence in any case I am new and it is even too soon for me to have evidence then I will just remove somebody, no. But where people have evidence, they should please come forward.
A priori, I take everybody on face value and my own concern is to ensure that people do their jobs the best possible way and in accordance with the laws and procedure.
In doing that well be able to achieve substantive results.
Have you ever envisaged a situation that may arise, maybe due to pressures from some quarters or just about anything and you say, Im fed up, I want to resign?
My answer is that Ill cross the bridge when I get to it.
So far, as you have also pointed out, the goodwill is abundant and I do not intend to waste it and I have no reason to start thinking of that. I have a very positive attitude towards it
Some observers are saying that one of the best ways to ensure that votes count is to announce results on the spot as was the case during June 12, 1993 presidential elections? Or do you have a magic wand?
Frankly, I dont have a magic wand but what I can promise and guarantee is that whatever within the law that we can do to increase transparency, honesty and the integrity of the process, we are going to do it.
If the law does not prevent us from announcing results from the polling units, we will do it. If the law makes allowances as to how this can be done, we will explore it. Whatever we can do to give Nigerians credible elections, we will do it.
But you know declaring results at polling units will not give a total picture until results are collated at the collation centres.
But it is when results or votes are in transit that people do what they want to do by changing figures and collating false results?
I do not envisage a situation in which proper results will be declared and we will change them; I dont see how that can happen. I also dont expect RECs to alter results because that is a criminal offence and whoever does that will face the law.
I believe once we operate on the basis of law and procedure, most of the problems will be minimized.
By Jide Ajani , Deputy Editor, Vanguard.