Mallam Garba Attahiru Madami resumed office on July 31, 2018 as the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) for the Kwara State Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). In this interview with HEAD POLITICS, MUMINI ABDULKAREEM, he talks about some of the controversies that trailed the conduct of the last general elections in the state. Excerpts:

How How would you describe your experience so far as the REC of Kwara State?

It has been far reaching and fortunately for me, the general election was the second organised in the state by INEC under my leadership. My first baptism of fire was the bye-election in Ekiti/Oke-Ero/Irepodun/Isin. That gave me an insight into what election is all about. I was happy that despite my inexperience, I had very good experienced staff that assisted me. All they needed was direction and leadership which I provided. I used that as a basis to see what the general election would look like. I am happy that the bye-election went on very well because the political parties involved were full of praises for me because I gave them level playing field. There was no complaint except on security. In an election, if INEC staff didn’t compromise, the security will also not compromise otherwise we are finished. So I held meetings with all the security agencies to reiterate and assure them that we will not compromise and I don’t expect them to do so otherwise the blood of the people will be on them and on their conscience forever.

What about the general election….

That was a different ball game because it covers the entire sixteen Local Governments in the state. One of the first things I did was to change my staff, the Electoral Officers (EOs), their assistants (AEOs) and Registration Area Officers (RAOs) those involved in the elections. I discovered they were fraternising with politicians and have been in their respective locations for ten to fifteen years. I moved them from their comfort zones to different Local Governments three weeks before the election.

How did people react to the development?

I received calls from highly placed Kwarans whose names I would not mention and I told them that any of my staff that was not willing to abide by the orders should resign. I maintained that I was ready to step on toes to get credible election in Kwara.

The commission also had image problem, how were you able to handle that? 

Before I arrived, there was the assumption that INEC is same as KWSIEC that is in-charge of the Local Government election. I had to embark on a lot of enlightenment programmes to set the record straight. I repeatedly told the people to collect their PVCs that their votes will count. I made them understand that I was coming to Kwara with high level of integrity and transparency, which will underscore my assignment here and that I can never compromise the election. Some believed and others didn’t. We held special meetings with the political parties and pleaded with them after the initial rancour and destruction of billboards to stop the violence because Kwara is known as a state of harmony not for violence. I assured them and security agencies that I will be open and transparent in my dealings and they should trust me for us to make history together.

How were you able to check your staff or were there no black sheep among them?

One thing I did that was unique was to detail the DSS to follow my EOs, monitor who they talked with, where they ate and how they slept three weeks to the election. Four of them were seen with a big politician in the state and I summoned them to a meeting and told them the time, place and dress they wore while meeting the politician. They were shocked and I warned them to stop or I will ensure they lose their job if caught again. This instilled fear in them. People say I am friendly, open and don’t joke with my staff welfare, yes, but I am ruthless when it comes to indiscipline. As the boss, I am transparent with election funds and gave them all their entitlements and even more. I call them to deliberate together on how to spend funds received. The people of Kwara State were anxious for their votes to count, I just gave them the platform to do that and did all I could to resist the pressure from politicians. All these helped me to conduct peaceful and credible election in Kwara State, which is now being rated in our headquarters as the best in the country.

Aside from the pressures from here, were there any from your headquarters?

No and that is why I said Prof Mahmud Yakubu and his team are the most excellent group of Nigerians you can work with. There was no pressure whatsoever. Theirs is that the state has been given to you, go and do whatever it takes to have a credible and free election. The chairman did not give me any instruction on what to do except to discuss with him on challenges.  INEC is truly independent and that is why I love the job.

During the election in Kwara State, some stakeholders alleged that some unclaimed PVCs were deployed to assist some of the parties, what is your take on this?

That is highly untrue and such allegations really hurts me. Before the political parties and the media, the remaining PVCs were returned to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). Not only did I take the unused PVC to the CBN which are still there, I gave them the number of ballot papers, results sheets and everything we used in document form and they saw it. I went to the extent of telling them the number of those that have collected PVCs in the wards and Local Governments for the political parties to plan their strategies. That is why they will tell you I am the most transparent REC ever deployed to Kwara State.

There is also the allegation that some people were brought from other states to vote in Kwara…

That is not possible because you cannot take the PVC of Ilorin West to vote in Ilorin East and you can’t even carry the card reader of one polling unit to another or even ballot papers. Some of these things are just excuses by politicians. The PVC and card readers have made our election very credible. That is why you see politicians now going for vote buying. We are having inconclusive elections because the card readers worked and elections are now highly competitive and keenly contested. In Kwara, we can see the difference between the party that won and lost which shows that the people just want change.

Was there cancellation of any election by INEC in Kwara and why?

Yes, during presidential but not in the governorship election, two polling units were cancelled for over voting and then refusal to use card readers in another one. That is just three out of 2,882 in the state.

How would you compare the exploit of INEC in the presidential/NASS to that of governorship/House of Assembly elections in Kwara?

We had improvement. Immediately after the presidential election, the management and EOs did a post analysis on issue of late arrivals of electoral materials and presiding officers and the issue of card readers not working till maybe around 10:00am. There was also the issue of logistics and we had to look for fund to retrain some ad-hoc staff and improve on our logistics. We also met with the security agencies to re-strategise and solve the problem of some flashpoints identified earlier. We can’t have a perfect election but we are learning with every one.

What do you have to say about the allegation of intimidation and harassment that reportedly took place in the state?

We did not receive any complaint from anybody on that.

Do you record any issue of vote buying in Kwara State? 

Yes, one person was physically caught with new naira notes trying to buy vote. I called for his arrest and the case is still with the police.

There were issues regarding conduct of your staff…

We had about three cases. One was involved in hiding ballot papers and we have taken him up for prosecution. He’s going to pay the price  because I don’t take nonsense from anybody. We have forwarded report to INEC headquarters for legal action to be taken against him. The other two were minor cases of filling fictitious family names in order to collect their allowances. I withdrew them from the local government and they are here in the office. They will be given letters and pardoned. But I have made them redundant in the meantime.

When you were being deployed to Kwara State, was there any special mandate given to you?

Not as such, the only thing I was told was that yes I am a man of integrity but Kwara is the hottest spot in election in this country because of the contending forces of the Senate President on one side and the Minister of Information and Culture and the presidency on the other side and they needed somebody that has the courage and integrity to come here and do what is expected of an electoral officer. Secondly, I was told that Kwara is in the eye of Nigerians and people outside Nigeria in terms of election. Everybody including the entire world will be interested in seeing what will happen in Kwara. A lot of my friends raised concerns about the deployment. But those that knew me were sure that I will do a good job. I was also confident that I can do a good job for the following reasons. I never applied for the job and never lobbied anybody. Rather, I was begged to take the job and my wife asked me three questions including why I was reluctant. I told her I am the kind of person that nobody dictates how to do my job and in Nigeria you are told how to do it their own way, which is always the wrong way, which I will not do. She said since I didn’t apply for it or begged anybody to get it, it is God who gave me the job and He will give me the wisdom, technical knowhow and protection to do it. With those words from my wife, I came to Kwara with much confidence that I can do the job with God’s help and guidance coupled with my experience in other fields. I think I have done what God wanted.

What is your word going forward for the 2023 election?  

 My observation and experience is that the political parties lack internal democracy. That is why we have over six hundred cases in court. Secondly, the political parties don’t do voter’s awareness and education but leave it to INEC and NOA. It is their duties to educate their supporters and voters on how to vote. Why should we have over three thousand invalid votes in Kwara? Though the figure is much higher in other states, that is too much for me. At INEC level we have to look at how to monitor ad-hoc staff employed which is a big task. We also have to start looking at electronic voting where people can vote in the comfort of their room and it will count to eliminate harassment, vote buying and violence. The issue of how Nigerians in Diaspora can vote should be looked into because they are citizens of the country too. Electronic voting will give ad-hoc staff, policemen and other security officials opportunity to vote but now they are being disenfranchised.

You were deployed to Benue for the rerun election, how can you compare the state with Kwara?

I think INEC appreciated what I did in Kwara and the Benue election was just another assignment. In comparison, Kwara is more peaceful; Benue people are very volatile even though they are my in-laws having married a Tiv for over thirty-years.

Your message  

We should continue to live in peace in Kwara and for the incoming government, they should form a government of everybody. It is good that the governor-elect is already talking in that direction. There are talents in other parties that can contribute to the growth of the state and Kwara belongs to all of them. He should harness the potentials in the state to move it forward and I implore the people of Kwara to give total support. I have advised the incoming government to have suggestion box like I did when I came and think of developing the state through the ward system by making money available for priority projects according to the needs of the people.