By Tonye Patrick Cole
A good friend once told me as I pondered my journey into the world of politics that if there is one thing that drives politicians the world over, it is fear. Politicians, he said, are afraid of losing elections, they are afraid of becoming unpopular, they are afraid of the people who vote, they are afraid of not being relevant in the scheme of things, they are afraid of tomorrow.
That fear, depending on how it manifests, will drive the desperation with which they will pursue their mandates and will determine to what lengths they will go in order to win an election. That fear, if left unchecked, is potent and permeates through every fabric of an electoral process leaving behind, a trail of destruction that is hard to hide and difficult to repair.
I set out determined that I must find an answer to the malaise and a solution that would spare us as citizens, the death and destruction that unbridled fear brings. The challenge in itself seemed insurmountable when even before a single vote was cast, the by-word in Rivers State was insecurity and violence but to not face the challenge wasn’t an option and to not seek a solution was cowardly to say the least and so I embarked on a journey to entrench peace into our politics and to instill hope in the hearts and minds of the people.
Hope – this word and emotion was driven home to me by a study that showed human behaviour is driven by the two extremes of fear and hope, with multiple combinations of both in between. I reasoned that even though fear was a dominant short term emotion that delivered immediate results for the benefit of a few, hope was a far better long term emotion that delivered lasting results for the benefit of the majority, so I chose to anchor on hope to bring the Rivers People the succour that was so desperately needed.
Fast forward to Election Day.
My candidacy had since been halted and the platform from which I could speak on ‘The Politics of Peace and The Power of Hope’ had been sidelined. The prevailing voices being heard were those that sowed fear for a living and the state had turned into a battleground of accusations and counter accusations. The voice of the people had long receded into the distant background as had hope for an outcome that would serve the true aspirations of the people.
One side accused the security agencies of conspiring to steal the elections while the other side was accused of using the independent electoral institution to hijack the electoral process and steal the mandate. In the wake of the accusations, all driven by what politicians fear the most, which is FEAR itself, we saw death visit us as a people and destruction lay siege on our communities.
Like politicians are want to do, each side was quick to blame the other where the one with more money and influence with the media ends up shaping the narrative that the world sees, hears and ultimately believes.
So what is the truth?
It seems to me that the truth is no longer relevant in the blame game that has now characterized the election of March 9th and the subsequent suspension that followed.
Whose truth is one willing to believe in any case? Is it the truth of African Action Congress (AAC) that Awara won or that of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that Wike won? Is it the truth of the military that their intervention was to save lives or that of the Rivers State Government that it was to take lives? Is it the truth of the All Progressives Congress (APC) that their political machinery backing a little known politician delivered a shocking defeat to an incumbent or that of the PDP that an unknown politician, backed by an ‘unballoted’ party was run over by a sitting governor? Is it the truth that as at the time of suspension only 7 LGA results had been declared and others were still being collated or that 17 LGA results had been collated and awaiting declaration? Is it the truth that collation was suspended for wide scale violence when there was relative peace or that collation was suspended in spite of the peace to enable one party rewrite the results?
In the scheme of things, the truth has been buried very deep under a mountain of half-truths and lies, which leaves very little room for anyone to claim the legitimate right to the crown.
Where does that leave us?
I am constrained by the choices before me to take a stand on something. An oft-quoted saying by Edmund Burke goes, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”. The situation we find ourselves in Rivers State is extremely dire and having initially participated and then taken a ringside seat in the elections for Governor of the State, I have seen plenty and have gained substantial knowledge to know that staying silent at this time is akin to doing nothing so evil can and will triumph.
If there is one thing that I am certain of, it is that the entire election of March 9 is totally and completely compromised from head to toe. There are no results that would be announced today that would reflect the will of the people in any form or manner. There are just as many people who do not trust and will not accept an election that delivers PDP today because of the belief that the umpire has granted unfettered access to the result sheets and a yeoman’s job has been done on the collated results that is guaranteed to withstand any scrutiny through the election tribunals or any court of law thereafter just as there are as many people who will not accept a result that delivers the AAC because of the belief that the election day results were structured to favour them by the direct involvement of the military as insinuated by the PDP.
In neither of the scenarios above is the voice of the people heard nor are the pains and toils taken to come out and vote considered. Indeed, if there is any evil to contend with, it is this rape of democracy that completely ignores what the general voter thinks, says or does simply because politicians genuinely fear that outcome. Politicians will rather emerge with contrived results that stills their fear of losing elections, of becoming unpopular, becoming irrelevant in the scheme of things and most of all the fear of what tomorrow brings.
What must we do?
This is a pivotal period for Rivers State and indeed the entire political institutions in Nigeria. Our state has always been at the epicentre of political affairs, most often hugging the limelight for all the wrong reasons. We are the only State that the courts silenced almost all political opposition to an incumbent, nearly making way for a walkover election. We are the only state that is yet to conclude an election three weeks after voters went to the polls. We are the only state that armed militants and the military faced off violently. We are the only state that continues to be a cause of deep concern to the international community. We are the only state that the electoral body is being brazenly accused of unparalleled bias. We are the only state that is openly labeled as electorally violent. We are sick and tired of these negative headlines.
In this atmosphere, it would be grossly irresponsible to proceed with concluding an electoral process that hardly anyone believes in. It is certainly the constitutional responsibility of INEC to conduct elections, collate and announce results in a credible and acceptable manner, open to the participation and scrutiny of the public at all times and within the eyeballs and participation of political parties and their agents throughout voting, collation and declaration. This process has been completely truncated and its sanctity defiled, the result of which I fear greatly can lead to anarchy and possible loss of additional lives.
Rivers State deserves better
We therefore have a choice and a chance for redemption as a state and a people. INEC, the Federal Government of Nigeria, the International Community, political parties and all those who care deeply for the people of Rivers State can make history by positioning the state for a completely new round of proper elections that will let the people make a true choice for who will lead them.
INEC must therefore declare the entire elections of March 9 null and void and set out a new date for fresh elections.
This time around, there are no distractions left and every eye is on Rivers State now. The violent elements can be caged and neutralized so they are ineffective on the day of election. We have seen this happen. The people can come out to vote without the fear of intimidation and harassment. We know this is possible. The electoral officials can carry out their duties without compromise or fear of terror. We know this is achievable. The security agencies can provide the environment that enables them operate professionally and efficiently without fear of being shot at or killed in the line of duty. We know this is desirable. The party agents and politicians can carry out their duties without the fear of being killed or maimed for their affiliations. We know this is progress.
This is a clarion call to the good men out there to conduct fresh elections in Rivers State where the entire focus of the world at large is upon our activities and us. Let us give this land and its people something to cherish and be proud of, a solid foundation to build upon; a democratically elected government that is chosen by her people, freely and fairly, whether or not the chosen candidate is one who just entered politics yesterday or a veteran. Let us allow the people to choose and let their voice be heard loudly and respected completely.
*Cole, is a clergy, businessman and politician