By Gilbert Elechi
There is indeed no doubt that the way the nation’s electoral agency, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is handling the Rivers State rerun poll gives cause to worry. Many Nigerians and commentators have condemned the umpire’s attitude towards the poll, especially its continued postponement when the State is peaceful. It will be recalled that at the time of Prof. Mahmood Yakubu’s headship of the electoral agency, he promised, among others, to ensure credible and transparent polls in the country. Many Nigerians heaved a sigh of relief and believed him and thought that a Daniel has really come to judgement.
We had expected that Yakubu would bring innovations that would correct the extant lapses of the umpire in the conduct of elections generally in the country. We had hoped that the nightmarish electoral woes and sad experiences of the electorate are gone for good.
There are reasons to have such high expectations. For instance, Yakubu’s antecedents gave us that optimism. He is well educated and has proved himself well in office. While Prof. Attahiru Jega did his possible best to ensure free and fair polls in the country, the agency under him was faced with myriad of problems. These include electoral violence, rigging, thuggery, ballots snatching among others. In addition, we witnessed new electoral byword like ‘supplementary election’, which arose from inconclusive polls. Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State has had experience with inconclusive polls. His first gubernatorial electoral win in 2011 was through supplementary poll as the first one was declared inconclusive.
His second term gubernatorial bid suffered similar fate in the 2015 general elections. Owelle Rocha Okorocha had then wondered aloud why his elections are always inconclusive. No doubt, inconclusive poll has its own bad sides as well. Apart from increasing the tension the candidates pass through, it wastes the precious time of the electorate as well. That is why many reruns witness voter apathy.
I use Okorocha to illustrate this electoral ingenuity. If Jega’s era at INEC witnessed the advent of inconclusive and supplementary polls in the country, the Yakubu era has eminently entrenched them. Almost all polls conducted under him since he assumed office were inconclusive. Even his reruns ended up being inconclusive as well. Some of the rescheduled polls have had cause to be postponed. Kano, Kogi, Imo and Rivers are some of the states that have unfortunately witnessed such electoral hiccups in recent times. But that of Rivers State is somewhat peculiar and isolated. It is generally known that Nigerian polls since independence had been trailed by electoral violence, ballot snatching, rigging, killing and destruction of property and other electoral infractions. Operation ‘wetie’ of the ‘wild, wild, west’ that depicts such electoral horrors in the 1960s readily comes to mind. We saw such violence repeated in the 1983 general elections, especially in the South-West zone.
The 2011 general poll that was won by former President Goodluck Jonathan also witnessed a high magnitude of post-election violence and killings of youth corps members that served as INEC’s ad hoc staff for the poll. Prior to the 2015 general election, there were fears of violence and many people including our foreign friends thought that the country would disintegrate. Some prophets of doom had prophesized that the country was on the brink. Following the outcome of the poll where a sitting president accepted defeat and congratulated the winner even when the poll’s final result is being awaited, the country witnessed peace instead of anarchy.
Dr. Jonathan’s acceptance of defeat was said to have doused the built-up tensions in certain quarters and helped to bring post-election peace to the nation to the eternal surprise of our detractors. However, violence rocked the polls in Rivers, Kogi and some other states of the country. In the same vein, some rerun polls in areas with high political stakes like Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa and Rivers had been associated with some levels of electoral violence. The reason for such violence is not far-fetched. It is an ego war between the chieftains of the two dominant political parties in the country, the PDP and the APC. The result of the 2015 presidential poll shows that these states are predominantly PDP states. While INCE has conducted reruns in some of these volatile states, violence notwithstanding, it has since June this year being involved in a seeming Nollywood drama of rescheduling and postponing the Rivers State rerun poll. It has done that a record third time. Rivers rerun scheduled for July 31 was indefinitely postponed recently by INEC. Its reason for postponing the poll is sounding like a broken record. Such alibi is no longer convincing. And at each occasion, the umpire will blame the postponement on insecurity. It is not hidden that there is still general insecurity in virtually all parts of the country. While Boko Haram’s insurgency is in the North-East and other parts of the North, Fulani herdsmen have been fingered for the murderous attacks in the North Central and Southern Nigeria. In the South, kidnapping, armed robbery, militancy, cultism are major sources of insecurity in Southern Nigeria.
INEC should stop playing the ostrich over the Rivers rerun because the state is peaceful. That is the point the state government and other stakeholders in the state have expressed severally. That is why a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state, Felix Obuah, condemned the recent postponement of Rivers rerun. He is not alone as other parties in the state do not endorse the delay tactics adopted by the electoral agency on this matter. Many people in the state do not like what INEC is doing. Rivers State is as peaceful as any other state in the country comparatively speaking. It does not deserve the postponement of its rerun. People in the state go about their normal business. The state is attracting tourists and foreign investments. Many organizations are having their conferences and seminars in the state. The 12th All Nigeria Editors’ Conference (ANEC) is one of such conferences being hosted in the state capital, Port Harcourt.
*Elechi writes from Port Harcourt.