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February 4, 2023

MIKE IGINI: AN IRREPRESSIBLE INCORRUPTIBLE UMPIRE STANDING STRONG AGAINST BULLIES

Read Time:4 Minute, 59 Second

Celestine Mel

I have never met a man so straight, so strong and so determined. He is not your regular everyday Nigerian. No. He is firm and fair. He is straight like a NEPA pole. He has the heart of steel and the determination of a lion. He is as firm as the base of the great wall of China. He is stubborn like a goat. Indeed, he is a GOAT electoral umpire – the greatest of all time.

He is a lawyer with uncanny ability to look bullies in the eyes and tell them off. He once told a former governor who went to offer him bribe for the purpose of compromising the electoral system in 2019, that he was ”posted to Akwa Ibom State to count votes not money”. And he stood stoically and determinedly until the votes were counted and they count.

Mike Igini, the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) of INEC in Akwa Ibom is a Nigerian of unmatched integrity and character. Since his appointment into the management team of the Independent National Electoral Commission, he has remained a strong force and a voice for good towards ensuring that participants in the electoral process play by the rules. In pursuing that crusade, he has courted many enemies. He has ruffled many feathers. He has unmasked otherwise powerful politicians, who basked in the ignominy of electoral banditry and political jiggery-pokery to snatch unmerited victory from the jaws of defeat. He has exposed the dirty underbelly of wooly politicians and worsted their grand rigging schemes. He has rendered impotent, people of vaulting power who do not respect rules – people who expect the rules to respect them. Mike Igini is my kind of man.

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On June 7, 2019, The Guardian Newspaper’s editorial described him as a tale of courage, patriotism and determination. Born in Edo State, this patriot cut his teeth leading the Student’s Union Government of University of Benin in the tumultuous years of the military, under the IBB, when Grace Alele Williams – the first female Vice Chancellor of a Unversity in Nigeria, held sway. He fought the impunity of that era with uncommon zeal and paid his due price in defense of the rights that we all take for granted today. When the same IBB annulled the June 12 1993 election, which was (arguably) adjudged to be the freest and fairest in Nigeria’s history, Mike Igini joined the NADECO movement to frustrate IBB out of power. Of course, he also paid dearly for fighting on the side of truth, to defend our freedom.

As soon as he was appointed into INEC, he supervised the election that saw the defeat of the ruling PDP in his home State of Edo, by APC’s Adams Oshiomhole – an election that held this country in suspense and drama. The feat left political pundits dazed, including then biggest political wizard – late Mr. Tony Anenih, who was reputed to be Mr. Fix-It of the PDP behemoth, reputed for pulling solutions and political victories from his hat of tricks, but who could not find the right compromising button to press, to deter and change a determined Igini and the Edo results.

I recall the reverberations that followed when the Edo election was declared inconclusive and spilled into a rerun. There was hot backlash and shockwaves across Nigeria. Pressure mounted on him to allow the ruling party rig its way through. Mike would have none of it. He stood still and stood firm. The result stood and the opposition removed the ruling party from power, to the applause of ordinary Nigerians.

His biggest test was the 2019 general election in Akwa Ibom State. The gist in the street is that both political parties approached him to settle as usual. He told the PDP that he was not interested in any bribe. He advised the APC to rather channel whatever money they intended to bribe him with, towards prosecuting their campaigns. One side of his suitors took the advice in good faith and went to work, knocking doors from Uyo to Ikot Abasi, Itu to Eastern Obolo, Essien Udim to Uruan. The other side thought that his refusal to take their bribe meant that he had already taken bribe from the opponents. They concluded that he must have been compromised because they had never dealt with an INEC REC who refused to be bribed.

In their ignorance, they went to town with bogus conspiracy theories that Mike Igini was the worst thing to happen. They called on President Buhari to sack him. They cast senseless aspersions to demonize this incorruptible angel of truth and light. They launched multi-pronged campaigns to convince INEC to remove and replace him. Nothing was sparred in the battle. Youths and women were mobilized to stage daily protests at INEC offices in Uyo and Abuja. Newspaper pages were bought to plaster spurious and senseless allegations, aimed at making INEC office to start doubting the integrity of Igini. TV stations became go-to places to vilify Mike Igini. Radio studios across Nigeria were filled with pay-as-you-go analysts, who took time to pummel the integrity of Mike Igini, with salacious allegations that he was compromised. The hope was to crack the mind of President Buhari and the INEC Chairman, towards moving this stubborn man of probity from Uyo, in order to give way for the usual carry-go electoral heist that they were used to.

Instead of stumping on the campaign trail to sell their candidates to the electorate, the local political demi-gods believed that they could take the short-cut by forcefully orchestrating the ouster of Igini so that a more plaint and bribable REC could take his place and do their usual bidding. They were wrong.

**** TO BE CONTINUED

** Celestine Mel is a chartered banker, IT projects lead and active citizen. He writes from the FCT – Abuja

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