The federal government has a responsibility to ensure that the Rivers State rerun polls are free and fair, writes Wale Suleiman
There is little doubt that not a few Nigerians may have been shocked watching Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State on television complained about the refusal of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct the rerun election for the state and National Assembly elections.
Watching the governor on that particular day, it was apparent to see that he struggled to control his emotion when he asked: “How can the National Assembly discuss the Petroleum Industry Bill without Rivers State, which is a major oil producing state, being part of it?”
It was a question that brings to mind a proverb made popular by late M.K.O Abiola. “You cannot shave my head in my absence!” The National Assembly is now in the second quarter of the second legislative year, yet Rivers State has but an insignificant number in the House of Representatives while there is no senator in the Senate all these time.
It is an indictment of the legislature that no one had thought about the incongruity of debating the PIB without the input of legislators from Rivers, one of the four states that produce 80 per cent of the crude oil for this country. The others are: Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, and Delta States.
Aside the issue of the PIB, if the legislators take their jobs seriously, would they have allowed a situation, where a state with a population of 5.2 million people (2006 census) is denied representation in the national legislature for upward of nearly two years? But righting the wrong is never too late, and the Red Chamber redeemed the legislature when it threatened to suspend sitting if the INEC failed to conduct the rerun election before December 10.
And as if to prove that the delay in conducting the election was a deliberate act of sabotage against the state, the electoral commission announced almost as soon as the Senate issued the threat that it was ready to conduct the election. It also came out immediately with a timetable fixing December 10 for all the outstanding state and National Assembly rerun polls.
If Governor Wike had kept quiet and never raised any alarm, and the Senate never acted on Wike’s concern, the chances are that INEC may not have announced a timetable yet for the election.
Especially in view of the fact that INEC had earlier come out in reaction to Wike that it was ready to conduct the election but it was the Rivers State government and other stakeholders that were unwilling to guarantee peace.
So, if one may ask, who gave INEC the guarantee for peace and security that made it change its mind about the election? I think there is a need for the legislature to investigate INEC before the elections are conducted on the actual reasons for delaying the rerun.
Is it possible, as the Peoples Democratic Party in the state has severally alleged, that INEC was acting the script of the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, who fearing the erosion of his political base, if the PDP wins all the three senatorial seats, as is likely to happen?
The plan to rig the rerun elections which was exposed again by the governor is another food for thought. A man said to be a relative of Dakuku Peterside, the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress in the 2015 election and now Director General of NIMASA, was caught with printed INEC-marked ballot papers and result sheets. The young man was captured on TV channels looking incredulous and sober while confessing to the heinous criminality to deny the people of Rivers credible representation.
The PDP in the state appropriately alerted the nation again about a possible plan by the APC-led federal government to rig the forth-coming elections. The alleged arrest of three suspects by the Rivers Command of the police further gives credence as to why the allegation against Amaechi and the APC must not be dismissed as propaganda.
The statement by the APC leadership in the state that the alleged plot to rig the election was “stage-managed” by the Wike administration to blackmail Amaechi and Peterside is hollow and puerile. The party must jettison this persecution complex and make credible offer of support for investigation of the plot.
As the ruling party at the federal level, APC must know that the success or otherwise of the rerun depends on the extent the government is willing to go to make it transparent and credible. It does not augur well for our democracy when a state governor, as Wike did last week, alleged that he sent 15 petitions to the Inspector General of Police over posting of some senior police officers with “questionable” character to the state, which are ignored.
Wike alleged at a press conference that the plan was to use the police to destroy evidence, including video, of the rigging plot. He has threatened that people of the state would not fold their hands and allow any rigging plan to succeed. “If you rig, you rig your life,” he threatened.
Such skewed handling of grave allegations by the ruling government can only encourage resort to self-help, as Wike has threatened. Government owes citizens the duty to act on their concerns and allay their fears, especially on such an important issue as election matters. It is an incredible way to restore the peoples’ confidence in government.
President Muhammdu Buhari hit the right cord last week when he charged security agencies and INEC to ensure hitch-free elections in Rivers and Ondo states. He said the elections would be the litmus test for the agencies preparedness for the 2019 general election.
One cannot agree less with the president. But he must not just mount the moral high ground to pontificate; a more useful measure is to give INEC and security agencies all necessary logistics support, and put APC and PDP stalwarts in the state under close surveillance.
-Suleiman wrote from Abuja
Aside the issue of the PIB, if the legislators take their jobs seriously, would they have allowed a situation, where a state with a population of 5.2 million people (2006 census) is denied representation in the national legislature for upward of nearly two years? But righting the wrong is never too late, and the Red Chamber redeemed the legislature when it threatened to suspend sitting if the INEC failed to conduct the rerun election before December 10