I WON'T SELL MY CONSCIENCE -REC
Akin Orebiyi, succeeded septuagenarian Ayoka Adebayo, whose tenure in Ekiti State was mired in controversy as Ondo State Resident Electoral Commissioner. Orebiyi, probably the youngest in the club of RECs, is about seven months old in the saddle.
In this interview with Saturday Sun, he gave account of his stewardship so far and the preparations for the governorship polls due in the state next year.
Your predecessor, Mrs. Ayoka Adebayo, was a household name, not necessarily for enviable reasons, and then comes along this young, relatively dark horse as a replacement.
Who is Akin Orebiyi and where are you coming from?
Akin Orebiyi is a citizen of this country; a Nigerian and I've had quite a number of years in the private sector- precisely in the media. I started work in the public sector initially as an apprentice printer in the then Ogun State Printing Corporation in Abeokuta in 1980. I later went into teaching and I was a school- teacher for six years at Government Secondary School, Hadejia, in the Old Kano state, now Jigawa State (1984/85). I also worked at former Igbaro Technical Institute, now Eyinni High school, and Iboro as a class teacher for five years before I came over to the Guardian Newspaper to work as a supplement adverts executive.
In intervening years as a school- teacher, I had stints with the Nigerian Television Authority, Abeokuta where I did some presentation and also with the Ogun State Television, Abeokuta as a duty continuity announcer, before I went to the Guardian Newspaper. So, on and off, I've been in journalism and the media for 25 years. After the Guardian, I went to advertising Communications Concerns Limited, first of all as a client service executive. Later, I was manager for client services and also the chief executive for that company. I went back into newspaper business in 1990 at the founding of the Comet newspaper, now known as the Nation newspaper. I was the pioneer advertisement manager for that newspaper between 1999 and 2002. From 2002 to 2005 I worked with Newage Newspaper also as a pioneer advertisement manager. I went back to Communication Concerns, which was an integrated marketing communications firm, working there as chief executive and also as the founder of events marketing company- Events Now and New. From there I joined the Bi-Courtney group as a group head communications for that big firm. And it was from there I got this appointment as the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC).
You were in private sector. You were head of an organization and director with Bi Courtney, a blue-chip construction firm. You must be making money, why did you decide to go into public service where people believe there is no money to be made?
You've mentioned it. It's public service, not public money making venture. It's always been my dream to also be able to support and provide the little I could to the Nigerian populace and I saw this as an opportunity in that direction. Over the years, one has been quite critical about people in governance and I've been wishing that if only I could have that opportunity, I would be able to make that difference. So, when the opportunity came, I said yes: this is what I've been yearning for- to show example and to let people know what service is.
You're coming with a private sector orientation and I believe bureaucracy is a different ball game. Did you experience any culture shock?
Well, not so much about culture shock because if you're going to a place and you know your onions, it will always be of help. And I'll like to say this: I came here with a good pedigree. I have worked with some of the best institutions in this country. For example, the Guardian Newspapers. I got to the Guardian at a time when it was really finding its feet and I could say in a way, we were pioneers in some areas. I worked with the best-Lade Bonuola, for example, was Managing Director at that time, Femi Kusa was editor- in -chief, Emeka Izeze was the editor.
With such people who had clout, who were good managers of men and materials at the Guardian and also lately at Bi Courtney, one of the blue chip companies in this country, and under the chairmanship of Dr. Wale Babalakin (SAN), an accomplished businessman in his own right, a courageous and business-like man. With all that in place, it was good training. So, I have always been sharpened on how to meet any kind of situation and to deal with such situation anywhere. So, coming here was more of letting people know that this is what I was prepared to do. To a large extent, the staff was quite co-operative and ready to work with me. And to be fair, a number of them too, in spite of the fact that they belong to the public sector, have over the years, acquired the necessary skills for success in any field they found themselves. So, it wasn't so much of culture shock but of getting them ready for the way I wanted to work.
For example, I would go to Abuja, hit the road that same day and get here at about 12, and by 1, I would insist on having a meeting, and they will say: 'Oga, won't you rest'. I would say 'No! We have a project. We have an assignment in front of us'. Maybe they weren't used to that, but they were able to swing along. I think so much depends on leadership anyway. Once the leadership is ready, it will be able to drive people.
If you look at it globally, would you say that the experiences we had with cases of rigging rackets had gone from the Nigerian electoral system?
I will not stick out my neck and say it has gone completely, I would say we are on the path towards eradicating electoral malpractices. These didn't arrive in one day so they would not go overnight. And again, we are a developing nation. Development is a process, largely gradual. Nowhere in the world would you have 100 per cent perfect elections. Even in the United States, they had issues in the elections between George Bush and Al Gore. And what happened at that time was nothing short of electoral malpractices. In any human system, you'll not have perfection but you must strive again and again, for improvement.
And I think we've set the tone, we've set the ball rolling and we've set our hands to the plough in that direction with the April elections. So, I won't say the politicians have already imbibed everything. No. But if we, as INEC will always insist especially in consonance with our stakeholders, insist on doing the right thing, they will in time, see that those things are done.
Already, quite a number of them saw that in the last election. People who traditionally will win in one or the other lost. People who will infiltrate polling units with armed men, even use military personnel; some of them were arrested and prosecuted. The commissioner from another state who came here during election was detained for about three or four days. A former Senator here was known to go around with armed military personnel. The military personnel were arrested and taken to Abuja and they were dismissed. He himself was detained and interrogated for sometime. Some politicians who are known to be violent were arrested here and interrogated. I mean, with all that in place and where there was electoral malpractice, elections were cancelled.
We can't even collate in a particular collation centre because we couldn't guarantee the safety of our men and materials. So, we brought them here and with adequate security, the collation was done publicly here and electoral commissioners were not directly involved. You know, these days, returning officers were largely non- INEC staff. There was no election where the resident electoral commissioner was also the returning officer unlike previous elections. At times, at our office here in Akure, I would sit at the back and people who didn't know me before wont know I was in the midst of the crowd. And when the election result is announced, then I get up. There was even a particular election result that was announced and an aggrieved member of a political party gave an interview under my nose to a television station. He said all the terrible things about INEC and after they finished, I walked up to him. He is a person I've known for years. We were classmates in school. I introduced myself and he couldn't recollect.
The next day he came, he said: 'you know, yesterday I said something wrong about this, I didn't mean them…' I said it's okay. There were cases of litigation in our office and the day I was attending to him, he was surprised; he said no, this INEC is not partial. He kept on saying that, and I said why would I. across the parties, I've known people all over the years. There was a person I've known for over 20 years, he lost in his constituency. He called me a few weeks after and I said hope you are not annoyed with me? He said no, INEC did its best and that it was their opponents that were not fair. He said there was violence in some places. I said well, you go to court. So, with the result and with everything that happened, quite a number of them must have learnt their lessons.
A common accusation is that RECs are always very close to the ruling party in the state and this gives room to their being compromised.
How close are you to this government?
In the first place, I am not close to this government. I came in here just a month before the elections and if I had come earlier it would not be my intention as a person. Why I took up this responsibility was principally to render good public service and I told quite a number of politicians that I am a young man compared to a lot of INEC electoral commissioners. I have many years ahead and I really want to make a name for myself. Besides, the unfortunate incident in which my predecessor was involved also served as sufficient blessing for anybody taking over from her. With that in place, and with me as a person, my conviction in life will not allow me to support anything negative that does not go with the truth and with this, the moment I resumed I had only one intention: to create a level playing field for all participants.
Two, in terms of maybe influence from the government; I will say with all honesty, there was no influence. I will also admit right now that I had on one or two occasions to speak with the governor on phone. What he himself said was that 'I want you to just create a level playing ground'. I wonder what would have happened if I was here in 2007. Maybe I would have resigned because if I were asked to do anything that will not swing with my own conviction, of course I would have rejected such demands.
Suppose you are threatened?
That's it. After you've done what is wrong, you'll not be free. And I don't even think, let's face the fact, any electoral official's life was threatened. Cite the example anywhere- where this man didn't do this and then he was killed. No.
You spoke as somebody with strong morals. What is your world -view?
This goes beyond morals. Since 1988, I was fortunate to come across a unique source of knowledge, which is knowledge of the truth of life and existence. In the Light of Truth, The Grail Message, written by Abd- Rushin and the work reveals what truth is, the laws of life, which govern all creatures and let you know in all simplicity that each human being reaps as he sows and that wherever he finds himself today, is first and foremost a consequence of the way he has lived his life in the past. And where he finds himself today is an opportunity to rectify, to correct, and to ameliorate those things he had done wrong in the past.
And that if he sows well today, he will reap only what is good and if he does what is not good, he will reap what is wrong. And so, with that, I have that at the back of my mind for the past 23 years. I had no other motive or intention but to live out my convictions. And it was so easy for me. If you stand by the truth, you will also receive that strength; that guidance that will make you succeeds. You need that courage to also say or do those things that will be accepted tomorrow- that people may find quite hurting today but you do it with more courage, knowing fully that you are on the right path. So, what is threat? What is death? There is no death, it is just transition. You have to leave this flesh and wherever death may meet us, you should be glad to accept it.