The much-anticipated and twice-postponed Rivers State rerun elections will finally hold today. Elections will be contested in 3 senatorial districts, 8 Federal constituencies and 10 state constituencies. It is virtually a state-wide election and the stakes are decidedly high.
Due to the violence and acrimony that attended the previous attempts to conclude the elections since March 2015, the state has been denied adequate representations at the National and state assemblies. This is unacceptable in our democracy.
For the peaceful conduct of the elections, therefore, the Nigeria Police has deployed about 20,000 men and officers, three helicopters and 20 gunboats to ensure that there is adequate security of lives and property in the state. Military and other para-military personnel have also been deployed to further secure the state. Sad as this heavy militarization of our elections may seem, these security measures are understandable.
There have been palpable fears in the build-up to today’s elections in the state that things could go wrong. The hate and violent rhetorics emanating from two of the leading actors and political parties in the state have not helped matters. There have been accusations and counter accusations, and the atmosphere is completely fouled up, and tension is high.
An election ought not put fear in people because it is supposed to be celebration of democracy. The right to freely choose one’s representatives in a free and fair election is inalienable and everything should be done to protect it. The right to life is sacrosanct and nothing should be done in today’s elections to breach it.
The last two attempts to hold the re-run elections have been unsuccessful and the process aborted mid-way. Both witnessed the maiming and killing of innocent citizens and the torching of houses and properties of INEC and politicians. A National Youth Corps (NYSC) member who served as an ad-hoc staff of INEC in the March rerun election was hacked to death. It was a disgraceful outing for the state and the country. We doubt if culprits in the last electoral violence have been apprehended and made to face the full wrath of the law. This is always important, if only to serve as a deterrent.
The INEC has a big responsibility to ensure that things go well today. In spite of unproven allegations of bias in the heated run-up to the elections, it must conduct itself in a manner that is transparently fair and seen to be fair to all the parties in the elections. The task will not be easy. It must not fail on this onerous assignment.
The security agencies deployed for the elections must live up to expectations. They know the rules of engagement and must uphold them. They must resist the temptation to be manipulated by desperate politicians for selfish gains at the expense of the state. They must not take sides, but rather act with fairness and firmness in the discharge of their responsibilities.
We implore all the stakeholders, political parties, contestants and their supporters and, indeed, the entire people of Rivers State to conduct themselves in the best traditions of democracy. There is the need to consolidate on modest gains of the 2015 general elections which earned the nation praise from local and international observers.
The contestants and their sponsors should know that there is life after elections and should not conduct themselves in ways that can hamper their long-term interests and that of the state. Elections come every four years, so there will definitely be another chance.
There should be adequate security for all INEC officials and ad-hoc staff, particularly NYSC members deployed for the elections. No harm should befall them. The experiences on previous occasions were not palatable and everything must be done to avoid a repeat this time. We wish the people of Rivers State a successful outing in the rerun elections.