INEC Chairman, Mahmood Yakubu

The Independent National Electoral Commission and relevant security agencies must do everything possible to avert security lapses in the December 10 rerun polls in Rivers State, writes Davidson Iriekpen

This weekend, precisely December 10, Rivers State will be in the news again. The rerun legislative elections earlier postponed indefinitely by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will hold in the state. The vacant positions INEC needs to conduct elections to fill are the three senatorial seats, eight House of Representatives seats and 10 House of Assembly seats.

Already, tension has enveloped the state with members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and All Progressives Congress (APC) talking tough and mapping to strategies on how to either rig the elections or checkmate one another. The most logical question to ask, however, is: will INEC live up to expectations this time?

Both the Election Petitions Tribunals and Court of Appeal had between November last year and January this year nullified virtually all the legislative elections conducted in 2015 by INEC into the state and National Assembly seats in the state. The tribunals consequently ordered the commission to conduct the rerun elections within 60 days.

Since then, however, the commission has been dilly-dallying, citing insecurity as an excuse and consequently leaving the people of the state without adequate representation in the national and state House of Assemblies.

Though the commission last March tried to conduct the rerun elections, it later cancelled those from the three senatorial districts and some federal and state constituencies, citing insecurity as reason. INEC’s decision to conduct the polls this weekend owes largely to the threat by the Senate three weeks ago to suspend sitting indefinitely if by December 10, the commission fails to conduct the outstanding rerun elections in the state.

Moving a motion on the floor to the upper legislative chamber to drive home his point, the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, alleged flagrant breach of constitutional and Electoral Act 2010 provisions as well as disobedience to court orders by INEC’s failure to conduct outstanding elections. He expressed dismay over the decision of the electoral body to act on the resolution of the Senate on September 27, 2016, which implored it to conclude all pending rerun elections in the country.

Ekweremadu said it was appalling that INEC had continued to act in breach of Sections 14(2c) of the 1999 Constitution which he said guaranteed the participation of all parts of Nigeria in the governance of their country. He said INEC’s perceived recalcitrance against the conduct of the elections also violates Section 76 of the constitution which orders INEC to conduct elections into the Senate and House of Representatives on an appointed date.

The deputy senate president, who lamented the non-representation of the senatorial districts of the state in the activities of the Senate for almost a year, described INEC’s action as not only an affront to various laws of the land but also unfair to the entire people of the state.

Other senators, who supported the motion, lamented that the state had been denied involvement in various important decisions affecting them, including the debate on Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), which had passed second reading.

They also lamented that if INEC was grappling with conducting elections in only one state, it would be problematic to expect the same commission to conduct a successful election in 2019, observing that the elections conducted so far by the current leadership of INEC has either been inconclusive, suspended or characterised by confusion.

Many observers had alleged that one of the main reasons INEC was reluctant to conduct the election was the pressure on it knowing that state is a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)-dominated state and stands a good chance in the election.

It was against this allegation that the state governor, Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, while speaking at a forum in the state recently said the fact that INEC had successfully conducted elections in Borno State and other Boko Haram-troubled states was an indication of the negative plot against Rivers. He said the non-conclusion of the rerun elections in the state was the fallout of a grand conspiracy to rig the polls in favour of an unpopular party.

Wike maintained that the state was far more peaceful than other major states in the country, hence it has played host to series of international and national conferences. He said once elections approach, desperate opposition politicians and their media collaborators induce negative propaganda on insecurity, adding that deliberate anti-development programmes have been slated against Rivers State, but that the state has successfully overcome such plots.

“Because people want to illegally seize power in Rivers State is the reason you are hearing all this. All the plots are to take Rivers State. Why do you want to take Rivers State when it is not your own? Between March 19 and now, they planned to do elections so that they can get the number of seats to impeach me and put their own man. Since March, everyday they postponed the elections. From May to June to July, August then September, they later said October ending, still no election. Now, they said December 10 and when we get to December 10, they may shift it to next year.

“Election took place in Borno; election took place in Yobe; election took place in Adamawa, where you have deadly insurgency. They were able to conduct elections and votes were counted. They were able to conduct election in Sambisa forest and votes were counted, but they cannot conduct election here in Rivers State.”

The elections will no doubt reopen the rivalry and supremacy battle between Governor Wike and his estranged benefactor and political godfather, the Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Amaechi as sell as create tension in the state in the next few days.

Moreover, for Amaechi, the rerun elections are a must-win for him to continue to have a strong voice in the Muhammadu Buhari government as well as have his own people in position of authority.

While Wike is hoping that his party, the PDP, would make a clean sweep of the legislative polls based on the developments he has brought to the state and the fact that they are in charge of the state, the APC is strongly in contention too, counting largely on the federal might to win the polls.

The APC desires to win some seats through which it could gradually make an inroad towards 2019 general election. This is why the party at the national level, last week, inaugurated a special committee made up of five of its governors to plan for the election. All this shows the importance the party attaches to the elections.

Based on alleged desperation by the APC to win the elections at all cost, Wike recently called on the international community to take serious interest in the plot by the police to start indiscriminate arrests of PDP supporters. The governor hinted that through established intelligence channel, he was in possession of the list of PDP supporters earmarked for arrest by the police before the rerun elections.

The governor called on the people of the state to resist any such politically motivated arrests, pointing out that such actions aimed at promoting the interest of an unpopular APC will not be tolerated. He noted that it is the fraudulent plots of the APC in liaison with the police and INEC that generates tension, which could lead to violence.

“They have written the names of those they want to arrest. In Khana Local Government Area alone, they have earmarked 103 persons for arrest. You didn’t arrest them before now, but you want to arrest them at this point because election is approaching.

“Now that it is obvious that the APC cannot win, they should forget about these rerun elections and wait for another time. There is no need creating crisis when the APC is unpopular in Rivers State. We want free and fair elections. They should allow our people to choose their leaders in peace because nobody will be allowed to rig elections here,” he said.

Wike also alleged that the police high command through the state Commander of Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), Mr. Akin Fakorede, has distributed SARS personnel to APC candidates and chieftains for the elections. The governor said the SARS personnel were assigned to the APC candidates and chieftains for the purpose of snatching election materials and the intimidation of PDP supporters. He wondered why politicians, who are expected to stay away from polling units, were allocated SARS personnel.

He said the police command after allocating security to APC candidates for the rerun elections, have left all PDP candidates for the same elections without security, adding that attempt to rig the December 10 rerun elections will not succeed in the state because the people would defend their votes.

Knowing clearly what is at stake in these elections for both parties, it is only expected of INEC to do the right thing and avoid plunging the state into needless crisis.

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While Wike is hoping that his party, the PDP, would make a clean sweep of the legislative polls based on the developments he has brought to the state and the fact that they are in charge of the state, the APC is strongly in contention too, counting largely on the federal might to win the polls…The APC desires to win some seats through which it could gradually make an inroad towards 2019 general election