The deployment of about 6,000 policemen in addition to other security agents ahead of today’s crucial National and state House of Assembly rerun elections in Rivers State underlines the deep concern about the possible outbreak of violence during the exercise. These fears are not for nothing. In recent weeks, the state has become a battleground of sorts for some members of the main political parties, with scores of lives lost in the process. This has made it clear to all that the state, as it goes to the polls today, may be sitting on a knife’s edge.
The nation cannot afford another bloodbath in Rivers. Which is why no room should be left for errors, and no stones should be left unturned to ensure violence-free, fair, transparent and credible polls today. The rerun became necessary following the decision of the Election Petitions Tribunal headed by Justice Suleiman Ambrose to nullify the elections of 20 members of the Peoples Democratic Party in the State House of Assembly and the National Assembly, including those of three senators and members of the House of Representatives. Consequently, the tribunal ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct fresh polls in the state within 90 days.
In the last one year, Rivers State has come to be pejoratively described as “Rivers of blood”, on account of its spate of politically-motivated killings. For instance, in the last one month alone, the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC), has alleged that over 30 of its members were killed in different parts of the state, just as the ruling PDP also claimed that many of its members were killed. Some of those killed were reportedly beheaded by unknown assailants. On Thursday, the military reported that it has lost two of its men posted to the state for the rerun today.
These developments have drawn nationwide attention to today’s re-run elections and there is grave apprehension over the exercise. The concerns over the polls have been heightened by the unending feud between the state’s two leading political figures, incumbent governor, Chief Nyesom Wike of the PDP and the immediate past governor and current Minister of Transportation, Chief Rotimi Amaechi.
The level of animosity between these two leading politicians from the same Ikwere ethnic group is largely unprecedented in Nigeria’s contemporary history. Their comments have fouled the waters of Rivers politics and pitched their supporters against one another.
Undoubtedly, the apprehension over today’s rerun election is the outcome of the no-love-lost relationship between Wike and Amaechi, who were previously in the same party – the PDP. Both men have unnerved many people in Rivers State with their inflammatory comments which have been inciting their supporters to take the law into their own hands, thereby precipitating violence.
Such unbecoming conduct should not be tolerated today. We urge them to temper their comments and actions in the interest of the state. They must hold their supporters in check. Their fearsome supremacy battle is needless if their objective is truly to serve the people of the state.
It is necessary to caution all the politicians in Rivers because any breach of the peace during the polls could unleash unpleasant consequences. They must recognise the fact that the essence of elections is to celebrate democracy and not to kill or maim anybody.
We, therefore, urge all politicians and their supporters to exercise utmost restraint in their comments. The usual desperation that has become the hallmark of Rivers politics should be discarded for good. Nothing should be done to prevent voters from exercising their civic rights. This can be done if security agents deployed to maintain peace and the orderly conduct of the election perform their duties diligently.
We call on INEC to live up to its promise to conduct free and transparent, hitch-free elections today. Nothing less is expected. Neutrality of the electoral umpire is essential for a successful and credible poll. The logistics for the elections should be in order, with all electoral materials, including voters’ registers, ballot papers, result sheets and card readers made available at the right time. It is expected that prospective voters should have received their Permanent Voters Cards (PVC). The card readers should be sufficient and functional. The nullification of most of the results in last year’s election was largely blamed on the shortage or unavailability of critical electoral materials.
All Nigerians, including the voters in Rivers, expect nothing less than a good, hitch-free poll today. INEC should keep its promise of delivering a credible and transparent results.
Indeed, the rerun in Rivers state is another litmus test for the Yakubu-led INEC. It is one exercise through which Nigerians will know if it has learnt useful lessons from the disputed rerun polls in Kogi and Bayelsa.
Let all the contestants see today’s election as one in which the voters have freedom of choice. They should eschew the do-or-die attitude that has given Rivers State a bad name. Let the people’s votes count.