At last, the yearnings of Rivers State people to have representation at the National Assembly have received the attention of the National Assembly. It is sad that Rivers State has no representation at the Senate at a time the Petroleum Industry Bill has passed a second reading.
That an oil-bearing state like Rivers will not have its input in the PIB is tragic. This is not how to treat a people under a democratic government. This is not how to treat an oil-bearing state. It is never how to treat a minority people.
It is also worrisome that Rivers State people are not fully represented in the House of the Representatives and the State House of Assembly as well. These are indeed ugly sides of this democratic dispensation that Nigerians ought to be worried about. We should do things the right way.
We should not do things simply because we are in charge or that they favoured us. Those in power today should remember that no condition is permanent. You may be up today and be down tomorrow. Power is transient and even life is not permanent either that people should boast of it. Perhaps it is this worrisome development that made the National Assembly to wade into the electoral confusion in Rivers State.
It is also the reason the Senate on Wednesday gave the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) up to December 10 to conclude Rivers rerun polls and others in the country. The Upper Legislative House threatened to shut the House if the electoral umpire refused to abide by the deadline.
The Senate also said that INEC’s action on Rivers outstanding polls is endangering democracy. The Senate’s decision is the fallout of a motion by Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu and Senate Leader, Senator Mohammed Ali Ndume.
The Senate’s strong and welcome position came on the heels of earlier one by the House of Representatives ordering the electoral umpire to conclude rerun polls in Rivers and other states in the country. We shall return to the Reps’ position in the course of this article.
Senator Ekweremadu has observed that INEC’s failure to conduct the rerun elections in Rivers State within the time frame ordered by the respective Election Petition Tribunals/Courts breached the Electoral Act and Section 76 of the 1999 Constitution, which stated that “Election to each House of the National Assembly shall be held by the Independent National Electoral Commission at such time as may be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly.” INEC’s conduct also breached Sections 48, 49 and 91 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
On their own part, members of the House of Representatives also decried a situation where a good number of the 469 seats in the National Assembly are vacant due to pending rerun elections in Rivers, Anambra and other states. The Lower House therefore mandated INEC to conclude the rerun polls in Rivers and other states to address the under-representation in the National Assembly.
It is commendable that members of the National Assembly have risen to the occasion and ordered INEC to conclude all outstanding polls in Rivers and other states in the country. No doubt, INEC’s handling of these polls through unnecessary postponements violated both the relevant provisions of the Electoral Act and the 1999 Constitution.
The INEC under the leadership of Prof. Mahmood Yakubu has been riddled with inconclusive elections and other ills that space will not permit to be elaborated upon in this piece. The current INEC is a far cry from the one led by Prof. Attahiru Jega. While not saying that any of them is perfect, Nigerians can concede some credits to Jega’s INEC.
It is on record that INEC under Jega conducted the 2015 polls in the North-East states, the epicenter of Boko Haram insurgency. It is, therefore, puzzling that the same INEC under Yakubu cannot conduct rerun polls in Rivers State because of ‘insecurity.’ INEC should better tell that to the marines for we have heard enough of such lame excuses.
It is understandable that Yakubu is new on the job. He should learn fast. His performance in Rivers rerun, especially the continued postponement of the exercise on reasons of ‘insecurity’ is sad, while it conducted polls in other volatile states and recently in Edo State where the poll was initially shifted for serious security threats.
The way INEC singled out Rivers for such ill-treatment cannot be explained by the logic of its version of insecurity. INEC’s tale of insecurity over Rivers poll is stale. It does not resonate with most Nigerians. There may be more to it than the inelegant excuse of insecurity.
It should not hide under the cover of insecurity again to subvert the December 10 deadline given by the Senate for it to conclude all remaining polls in the country because Nigerians have seen the emptiness of such indefensible excuse.
We agree with Leo Ogor, Reps Minority leader’s submission that “INEC’s action is a clear case of injustice being meted to Rivers State and her people, as they have been denied the right to participate in critical national issues that have come up at the National Assembly, including National Appropriations.”
Under a change administration as we are meant to believe we have now, INEC should act like an independent body and ensure that all outstanding polls, especially the Rivers rerun is finally concluded. Rivers State. more than any other in the country, has suffered from the injustice of INEC’s unwarranted postponement of the polls based on some flimsy excuses.
The National Assembly should do more than shutting down its sittings if INEC refused to conduct these outstanding polls before the expiration of the deadline. They should not only issue the deadline and relax. INEC must be made to work. That is the only way this democracy can be sustained.
That is the only way this nation can continue to exist. We do not build a nation based on injustice and trampling of other people’s rights as has been visited to the people of Rivers State by their non-representation at the Senate. Nigerians should rally round the National Assembly and see to it that the electoral umpire concludes all outstanding polls forthwith. Let’s not drag 2015 polls till 2019.