AS RIVERS PEOPLE VOTE AGAIN… v

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All the stakeholders must ensure that the election is peaceful, free and fair

Less than 24 hours to the National Assembly rerun elections in Rivers, both Governor Nyeson Wike and his immediate predecessor and current Transport Minister, Mr. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi have conspired to put the state on tenterhook in an election in which neither of them is a candidate.

The desperation between the two principal actors may have informed the decision by the Nigeria Police Force to deploy of 20,000 officers and men to maintain peace during and after the election. This is in addition to thousands of personnel from other security agencies. Yet except common sense prevails, even all this may not be enough in ensuring that the state does not end up in violence after tomorrow.

What is particularly disturbing is that notwithstanding the posturing by the two men, the reality of the Rivers State rerun election, which also is true with all past elections in our country, is that it is not being fought on any ideological pretensions. Neither the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state ( led by Wike) nor the All Progressives Congress (APC) that controls the centre ( led by Amaechi) can be described as an ideology-driven party by any stretch of the imagination.

It is even more unfortunate that in all that has transpired in the build up to the rerun elections, there is nothing to suggest that all the allegations and counter-allegations by the two groups are about the welfare of the people of Rivers State. For the two sides, it is all about capturing power, essentially for its sake. Yet this is happening at one of the country’s darkest moments when majority of Nigerians fret reasonably over searing poverty and insecurity. But that does not seem to bother the political gladiators in Rivers State.

To the extent that the atmosphere of tension they have already created bodes ill for our democracy, we call on the authorities to be vigilant. We also believe that the procedure by which the votes are cast and counted tomorrow will be very crucial to the maintenance of peace. That is why we implore the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to do everything within its powers to ensure a free and fair process before, during and after the ballots are cast.

The greater responsibility rests with Governor Wike who must ensure that his state does not, by acts of omission or commission, descend into violence. Making unfounded allegations against INEC and the police cannot in any way help the cause of peace in Rivers State. Meanwhile, the security agencies should also ensure that their legitimate duties of protecting electoral materials, INEC personnel and maintaining law and order are carried out in line with their rules of engagement and with the highest professionalism. They must refuse the temptation from any quarters to undermine the integrity of the election.

However, it is nonetheless still worrisome that for all the killings and bloodletting that have led to the inability of INEC to conduct the elections in Rivers State these past months, we are not aware that any arrest has been made concerning the perpetrators. Yet the failure to fish out and deal decisively with these entrepreneurs of violence may have emboldened them and their sponsors. They may have reasoned that they could successfully unleash mayhem on their fellow citizens and still get away without any consequences.

It is therefore our hope that the people of Rivers State will tomorrow be allowed to exercise their franchise without any form of coercion or violence while all trouble makers will be arrested and brought to book. Turning election into a matter of life and death, as it has now become a tradition in the state, is a shame that should no longer be tolerated by the authorities.