The Test of Democracy in Rivers State

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Nyesom Wike

The Rivers State government is set to conduct the local government election in April. The state government has enjoined the electoral commission to conduct a free and fair election. But the APC National Executive Committee is kicking. It has directed its party members in Rivers State not to participate in the forthcoming election. Its greatest reason for refusing to participate in the election is because according it the election is merely a selection.

In other words, it has no confidence in the electoral system put up by the Rivers State government. It is not ready to give the selection any form of credibility by participating in it. On the other hand, Magnus Nge Abe is enjoining the APC in the state to participate in the election. APC is now a house divided against itself. Are there benefits of the APC participating in the local government election? Personally, I think there are. First, everyone knows that Wike is an apostle of participatory governance.

Since he became the governor of Rivers State, he has left no one in doubt that free participation in government is the only sure way to enliven our democracy and create good government. He showcased this in the Edo governorship election held last year. Governor Wike has often stuck out his neck insisting that election in Nigeria should be free and fair. Furthermore, he has enjoined the Rivers State electoral body to conduct free and fair election. Recently, the governor has told the aspirants that there are no automatic tickets.

The APC has the opportunity to show the world that governor Wike is not a democrat by participating in the election. The APC should participate in the election and ensure that the election is free and fair. The APC should hold the electoral body to account the same way governor Wike had held national INEC in the past to account. It will be a loss to democracy and a set back to the democratization of the local councils if the APC refused to participate in the forthcoming local government election in Rivers State.

APC is a political party that has the constitutional rights to partake in any election in Nigeria at any level. Democracy is defined as government of the people. It is not so when only one party is allowed to contest in an election. So where is the plurality of governance? Rivers State should not be allowed to be a one-party state. Otherwise, it becomes a dictatorship and the people will only blame themselves. In a democracy, the people form the government. This is not so when only one party is contesting an election at the grassroots level where government is brought closer to the people. The APC should be able to separate its internal politics from popular governance.

One may argue that apart from the APC, there are other parties in the state. This may be true, but these other parties may have no electoral value (my apologies). It is only when political parties with strong electoral base spread across the state participate in an election that democracy can be deepened in the system. The APC has a right to boycott the local government election slated to take place sometime in April. But it also does not have the right to deny the people the opportunity to democratize the local government system in the state.

A political party is a tool by which the people participate in governance. By withdrawal from the election, the people have been denied an opportunity to participate in the governance of the local governments in the state. This can no longer be called a participatory government because it has become a one-man show. Who do you blame for this? The APC of course! It is in this respect that I support the call of Magnus Abe, the factional leader of the APC in the state that the APC should prepare and participate in the election. Those who are interested should pick the forms and start their campaign. Magnus Abe’s position is the best for the APC. They should ensure that the election is free and fair. It is our responsibility to ensure that Rivers State does not become a one party state.

The APC in Rivers State should know that its allegiance is to the people of the state. If it refuses to participate in the election, then it lacks the moral right to criticise an exercise it refused to participate in. Of course it cannot accuse governor Wike of running a one-man government when it has refused to participate in an exercise that enhances governance and makes dictatorship impossible. Those who refused to participate in government should not complain when government leaves its responsibility to engage in acts consider antithetical to democratic governance. Magnus Abe is right for calling on the APC to participate in the local government election. The APC should participate.
––Chimezie Elemuo, Oginigba, Port Harcourt