By Obo Effanga
After a long drawn out process, the 2019 general election in Rivers State finally came to an end last Saturday, April 13. Like many of the recent elections in this state, it came with lots of drama, tension and violence much of which was totally unnecessary.
We thank God Almighty for guiding us through it all to the end. We also celebrate the men and women of goodwill in Rivers State, especially the electorate who committed to exercising their civic duties and defending their votes in the face of unwarranted intimidation by persons whose interests were far from deepening democracy. At this point, I wish to pay tribute to one of our ad-hoc staff, Ms Ibisaki Daperi Amachree, who was killed via gunshot in the line of election duty during the Presidential and National Assembly Elections on February 23.
For us in the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Rivers State, we stayed focused on conducting a transparent, free, fair and credible election. As I kept promising, on behalf of my team, we were bound by the provisions of the Constitution, the Electoral Act, other laws and the guidelines for the election. We were further bound by the pronouncements and decisions of courts.
Yes, we know that not everyone was happy with our commitment to maintaining the rules. But we were undaunted and we showed true valour in upholding the standards of equity. We refused to break the rules to please anyone.
The present INEC team has by its conduct, helped to break away from the negative narrative of violence-tainted victories or elections and results that have limited input and participation of the voters. We can say, and confidently too, that many voters in the state had access to polling units and indeed exercised their rights to vote in peace in this election than in previous elections. If we sustain this momentum and proceed on this new narrative we have established with the 2019 election, Rivers State would no longer remain a flashpoint of violence at elections and would no longer risk being left behind by the rest of the country when it comes to the electoral calendar.
After 20 straight years of practicing constitutional democracy, Nigeria can no longer hide under the lame excuse of referring to its experience as ‘nascent’ democracy and doing all that is wrong in the name of election and claiming to be undergoing a learning process. In fact, having organised five successive and unbroken general elections during this period, before 2019, one would have thought that this year’s election would be a walk in the park. But unfortunately, if not in any other area of our lives as Nigerians, in politics, many of our people have long since carved a niche for our country as a people capable of circumventing the rules and doing just anything, to achieve a political goal.
The duty of the election management body in such situation is to ensure that participants in the electoral process do not benefit from their bad behaviours aimed at undermining the rights of the electorate to freely choose their leaders. This is what INEC has done in 2019. If the same opportunity presents itself again, we shall not hesitate to act similarly, with the hope that politicians would learn to adhere to rules governing elections. For that to happen, the election umpire is required to be strong and courageous. This we exhibited in the 2019 election.
It is interesting to note that election umpires often find themselves in the middle of contesting politicians who throw darts, dirt and murk at each other. We therefore risk being hit by stray missiles of the so-called political gladiators and sometimes guided and targeted missiles by the politicians. In the course of this election, some of us had such missiles unfairly hurled at us. For me, I was guided by the fact that when you have an important task to carry out, just like a journey, you do not have the luxury of time to pick a stone and throw at every dog that barks. More so, some of those complaints and accusations were so grandiose that they deserved no response.
*Effanga is the INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner, Rivers State
The present INEC team has by its conduct, helped to break away from the negative narrative of violence-tainted victories or elections and results that have limited input and participation of the voters. We can say, and confidently too, that many voters in the state had access to polling units and indeed exercised their rights to vote in peace