Electoral manipulations and violence constitute abuse of the right of the people to choose their leaders

Almost three weeks after the Rivers State rerun legislative election of December 10, the guns are silent, but the smoke is yet to clear. Last week, the Department of State Services (DSS) accused the Rivers State Governor, Mr. Nyesom Wike, of a plot to pressurise the system by using thugs to breach the peace in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. Wike, according to the DSS statement, intended to cause mayhem with a view to “diverting public and international attention from the ongoing police investigation into the unwholesome role played by the governor and some of his cronies in the violence that trailed the rerun elections in Rivers State”.

Wike has of course dismissed the allegation as “irresponsible scaremongering” by an agency bent on a mission to blackmail him and bring the state government to disrepute. While the governor has a valid point about the unfortunate partisanship of the DSS, it should worry him too that violence has become part of election culture in Rivers State. Unfortunately, the police are also implicated in the tangle. Some of its men were caught on camera trying to disturb the peace at least in a polling station instead of maintaining the peace.

However, perhaps more than anything else, what fouled the atmosphere and raised the temperature unnecessarily before, during and after the election, was the contest over turf between Wike and his immediate predecessor and current Transport Minister, Mr. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi. The desperation between the two principal actors may have informed the decision by the Nigeria Police Force to deploy a record 28,000 officers and men to maintain peace during and after the election. That was in addition to thousands of personnel from other security agencies. Yet, common sense failed to prevail.

Violence and bloodletting again marred the election. The gruesome murder of Mohammed Alkali, a deputy superintendent of police, his colleagues and many others, attested to that. The police, badly bruised, have set up an investigation team on the election and to unearth the killers of their men and others, besides verifying the alleged “audio” threat by the governor to manipulate the votes in Etche area of the state. The state government last week also set up a judicial commission of inquiry into the killings and violence to determine the number of people killed and why. These are all well and good.

Besides, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), after a relatively good outing in the recently conducted Ondo State governorship election, did manage, despite reports of logistics problems in certain areas, to release most of the results of the election which were a welcome departure from the ignoble past of landslide victories.

This newspaper has always maintained that electoral manipulations and violence are not only violations of the law, they also constitute abuse of the constitutional right of the people to choose their leaders. We believe that the goal of politics is to organise to secure power to serve the people. That being so, it ought not to be a zero-sum game that would involve violence and needless bloodletting. Close observers cannot but notice that the campaigns and the election in the state witnessed threats of violence, carnage and all manner of intimidation. Yet violence and intimidation have no place in civilised society, especially for those who seek to serve the people.

It is sad that our democracy has today lost its shape essentially because the political parties want to be democratic in a manner that advances only the personal interests of some leaders and not that of the society. Yet until political leaders imbibe a culture that reflects and promotes good governance, transparency and accountability, our democracy will remain imperilled. We hope the results of the panels of inquiry into the Rivers rerun election will advance the cause of democracy.