Ernest Chinwo in Rivers State
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has said it was ready to conclude the rerun elections in Rivers State if the political parties would guarantee peace.
Speaking at a consultative meeting with critical stakeholders at the Police Officers’ Mess, Port Harcourt, yesterday, Rivers State Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), Mr. Aniedi Ikoiwak, said although the date for the conclusion of the legislative rerun election had not been fixed, INEC was prepared and ready to conduct the exercise, provided all the stakeholders in the state were willing to cooperate with and support the electoral body.
The INEC recently issued a statement that all outstanding elections across the country would be concluded before the end of July. The commission had suspended elections in eight local government areas of Rivers State citing violence as reason.
Giving a breakdown of the registered voters for the election, Ikoiwak said Rivers West senatorial district had 215,281 registered voters in 73 wards and 656 polling units, while Rivers East senatorial district has 240,103 registered voters in 63 wards and 433 polling units. Rivers South-east senatorial district, he said, has 491,690 registered voters in 75 wards and 889 polling units.
He said INEC had 820,971 and 563,942 registered voters for the House of Representatives and state House of Assembly rerun elections, respectively.
He said the commission would conduct the suspended rerun election only on if the leaders and supporters of the 28 registered political parties contesting the election were ready to eschew violence.
He said the essence of the stakeholders’ meeting was to rub minds on how the noticeable pitfalls and violence that marred the suspended exercise could be avoided and ensure a free and fair exercise.
His words: “Today, we are gathered to see how we can conclude the legislative rerun election in Rivers State. We want to find out among ourselves whether or not there is a need to conduct the election.
“If we are not prepared, it will be a mere waste of human resources, money, time and energy to continue to hold elections that would be inconclusive. We must agree that we must conclude the rerun election.
“The only way to avoid inconclusive elections in Nigeria and in Rivers State is for the politicians to allow INEC to conduct elections, being the only body recognised by the constitution to do so.
“Let us (INEC) be allowed to conduct elections so that when the blame comes, INEC will be willing to accept it.”
Ikoiwak, who appealed to the leaders of the political parties present at the meeting to take stock of the violence that marred the March 19 exercise, however said no date had been fixed yet for the conclusion of the rerun election.
“We at INEC are ready for the election but it will be determined by the stakeholders if you really want it. Between now and the end of July, we will have the election concluded as directed by the INEC Headquarters.
“If we have the election now, don’t let us have a repeat of what happened on March 19, 2016 when people moved out of Rivers State due to fear of violence. It was only those who I will call die-hards that stayed to participate in the election then,” he said.
In their responses, the three major political parties in the state; the All Progressives Congress (APC), the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Labour Party (LP), blamed each other for the violence that marred the elections.
Rivers APC chairman, Dr. Davies Ikanya, absolved his members of any complicity in the electoral violence but, in a veiled reference to PDP, added that beneficiaries of the violent acts must be punished.
He raged: “We cannot continue to allow people who benefitted from violent elections to continue to occupy offices and we think there will be a stop to electoral violence.
“People who perpetrated violence must be punished. APC is ready for the election but there has to be adequate security and punishment for those who perpetrate electoral violence.
“INEC upheld election results that were declared at gunpoint. People are still killing because INEC allowed them to occupy offices. When you don’t allow those who kill to occupy positions, killing will no longer be lucrative and it will stop.”
However, chairman of the Labour Party in the state, Mr. Prince Favour, accused his APC counterpart of being miserly with the truth as he said members of both PDP and APC were involved in the electoral violence in the state.
“No party should exonerate itself from the political violence in Rivers State. Both the two big political parties, PDP and APC, are culpable. APC should stop throwing blames and absolving itself of any complicity.
“In my own area, we know APC members who are causing violence. APC of today is the PDP of yesterday. The same tactics they used before are what they are using today,” he said.
Also speaking, the PDP candidate for the rerun election in Rivers West Senatorial District, Senator George Sekibo, sympathised with the Rivers REC on the burdens associated with conducting fresh elections.
He absolved PDP of any complicity in the violence and killings witnessed during the last inconclusive exercise, declaring that nobody can point to any PDP member as the perpetrator.
He said the issue of violence would not be resolved until the truth was told about its causes, urging INEC to appoint non-partisan people as its ad-hoc staff for the conclusion of the yet-to-be scheduled rerun election.
Sekibo urged INEC to apply “Solomonic wisdom” and ignore the call by the APC chairman that all the declared results of the March 19 rerun election should be cancelled.
“REC, please use all your wisdom to manage the election. If INEC is ready for the election, we will come out. The onus rests on INEC to fix the date. Whatever we are told to do, we will do within the dictates of the law,” he said.