The Rivers State rerun Parliamentary elections for the National Assembly and the State House of Assembly, going on today, Saturday, December 9, is a litmus test for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the All Progressive Congress (APC) led government of President Mohammadu Buhari.
INEC had been forced to postpone the election in the past due to utterances and threat of violence by political stakeholders from the PDP led by Governor Nyesom Wike and the APC led by former governor and now Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi. INEC had said it would not conduct the elections until the security atmosphere in the state became conducive for an election to hold. In July, although there was peace meeting brokered by the Nigeria Police and the Department of State Security (DSS) where Amaechi and Wike signed a peace accord for a peaceful conduct of the rerun election, the election still did not hold as INEC was forced to postpone it again!
The Nigerian Senate, worried that the delay in conducting the rerun elections had after its retreat in November, threatened to stop sitting unless INEC conducts the election in Rivers state to fill the National Assembly seats. Apparently, jolted by the hard-line position of the Senate, INEC had in a statement by the Secretary to the Commission, Augusta Ogakwu, announced that the rerun elections would now hold on December 9. INEC made perfunctory effort by trying to convince Nigerians that the atmosphere was now conducive to hold the election, citing the assurance they got from security agencies that they would ensure a peaceful election.
The Armada, however, is deeply worried because latest reports from Rivers State do not indicate that the political stakeholders are ready to leave their belligerent attitude ahead of the election. In fact, INEC and the security agencies are even being accused of joining in the plot to subvert the will of the people. Wike claims that INEC and the Police are colluding with the APC to rig the elections. Citing the reluctance of the Police to prosecute suspects arrested with printed sensitive electoral materials, he says information available to him indicates that INEC has handed over the original copies of the results to Amaechi. Wike adds that the people will resist the attempt to rig the election and declared: “If you rig the election, you rig your life”. He has also raised alarm over plans to kill him with the sudden removal of his Chief Security Officer (CSO), DSP Promise Nwosu on the orders of the Inspector-General of Police (IGP).
INEC, in its defence through a statement signed by the Chief Press Secretary to the INEC Chairman, Mr Rotimi Oyekanmi, has described Wike’s allegations as “baseless and untrue.” The Commission said it condemned in very strong terms the relentless false allegations, provocative and dangerous comments being made by some political actors, especially governor Wike, against the commission, all of which are capable of inciting people to commit violent acts that could derail the election.
The Nigeria Police Force, in its explanation, said Nwosu was redeployed because of his involvement in partisan politics. According to the Force Spokesman DCP Don Awunah, Nwosu was fingered for gross professional conduct, as he was found in the midst of protesting APC party faithful.
APC, led by its national chairman, John Odigie-Oyegun, Kano State Governor, Abdulahi Ganduje and Amaechi, had in rally in Port Harcourt to round off its campaign, declared that the rerun election is a must win. The leaders, who said they came with force, told APC members that “if they shoot you take cover and shoot back.”
The Armada is totally against such utterances which evoke desperation by political stakeholders that appear as not particularly willing to convince the electorate to win elections. An election that is supposed to elect lawmakers should not be turned into a warfare.
The Armada wants the Police and other security agencies to act professionally and must not be used as tools by politicians to subvert the will of the people. INEC, on their part, must use the Rivers rerun elections to convince Nigerians that it can be trusted with future elections in the country. After its initial fumbling in the Kogi and Bayelsa state elections, INEC was able to restore a bit of confidence in the people with its conduct of the Edo and Ondo governorship elections. INEC is expected to demonstrate similar sincerity, transparency and fairness in the accreditation of voters and in the collation and announcement of Akwa Ibom State Assembly rerun elections results.
Lastly, President Mohammadu Buhari needs to know that Nigerians are beginning to question his democratic credentials and his commitment to free and fair elections in which his associates have vested interest in. He has to show leadership and rekindled the trust of Rivers State people in the ballot. The economic somersaults of his administration is telling on Nigerians, he needs not add a political baggage of an own goal with a badly flawed election.