AT long last, Rivers people will soon have full representation in the Senate, the House of Representatives and the State Assembly courtesy of the rerun poll held in the state on Saturday. Beyond the symbolism of that exercise, it is shameful that despite the massive deployment of security agencies for the concluding poll, it still witnessed violence, killings and ballot snatching in some places.
We decry the mayhem, the killing, the ballot snatching and tampering of other electoral materials and molestation of voters and electoral officials during the poll. By conducting the poll, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has yielded to the deadline given to it by the Senate to conduct the poll before December 10, 2016.
We commend the people of Rivers State for participating in the poll despite the violence and harassment. Like other elections conducted by the electoral umpire under the leadership of Prof. Yakubu Mahmood, there is still more room for improvement. It appears the gains made in Edo and Ondo polls did not rub-off on Rivers rerun in terms of security and other logistics. It is a surprise that we are yet to find solutions against ballot snatching and problems arising from collation of results and announcement of election results and the alleged bias roles of security agents during elections.
What happened in Rivers State was not totally unexpected in view of the fact that the stakes are high for the ruling PDP and the opposition APC. The political temperature of the state was raised a notch higher by leading political actors by their inflammable comments. While the PDP boasted of the support of the people, the APC boasted of the Federal might.
With the clash of this conflicting interests, violence and ballot snatching became features of the poll that held only in 21 constituencies. The violence in Rivers poll and indeed any other poll in the country can be traced to selfish ambition of some politicians to be in power by all means even when it is clear that their party is not popular in the state.
When a party tries to win election where it is not on ground by hook and crook means, such election is bound to violence because the people on ground will do everything possible to resist it. Such was the scenario in Rivers State last Saturday where the people resisted the so-called Federal might.
The results released so far show that the PDP had two senatorial seats while the APC had one. The full results of the federal constituencies and state assembly poll are being expected as at the time of writing this article.
Nevertheless, the Federal might is alive and kicking. We have seen the Federal might maximally used in the gubernatorial polls in Edo and Ondo states to the advantage of the ruling APC. Edo poll was shifted to benefit the APC and the Ondo poll was not shifted because the status quo favoured the APC calculation. Does the winning of any election worth the blood of any Nigerian?
The answer is no. Former President Goodluck Jonathan has demonstrated that his ambition is not worth the blood of any Nigerian. That is why he conceded defeat and congratulated the winner of the 2015 presidential election. How many Nigerian politicians have imbibed the truth in that maxim? Did our politicians at State level learn any useful lesson from Jonathan?
If we really want the nascent democracy to endure, politicians should refrain from inflammable statements like “if they slap you, you slap them” or “a tooth for a tooth” and others that are likely to ignite political wars. We saw the elevation of such incendiary comments to high levels even by people who are supposed to moderate such views. If we want this democracy to last, we should stop the use of Federal might as conferring an advantage to any political party to win an election. Political parties should base their electoral powers on their support base and not on supposed federal might.
A party can only win election where it is popular. It will be an aberration if it is otherwise. A party becomes popular if it fulfills its promises to the people and improves on their welfare. A party becomes unpopular when it reneges on its promises and makes life uncomfortable for the masses.
If elections continue to be marred by violence, killings, ballot snatching and other infractions as witnessed in Rivers poll, the road to 2019 is indeed fraught with danger. If INEC cannot ensure a smooth poll in 21 constituencies in a state, how are we so sure that it can effectively carry out the 2019 poll that will involve the entire country?
There is need for reorientation of Nigerians, politicians and non-politicians on election issues and party politics. We should stop seeing election as a do or die affair. We should stop seeing politics as a means to acquire wealth and fame. If we regard politics as a vehicle to serve the people and develop the country, the craze for power and the killings will stop.
We should not make Nigeria a killing range because of party politics. Nigerians need not die because they want to participate in elections. We witnessed the recent election in the United States and how people voted peacefully on different days. Perhaps, we should change our voting system and make the exercise an enjoyable experience. At present, our voting system is cumbersome with unduly documentation and malfunctioning card readers. If we do not improve on our elections, the road to 2019 is bleak and gloomy.
There is the need to investigate the violence that trailed Rivers poll and prosecute and punish those behind it. That is the only way electoral violence can be stopped. The inability to apprehend and prosecute those that perpetrate electoral violence in the past is why such violence is repeated even on a larger scale. The allegation by Governor Nyesom Wike that some politicians sponsored the violence in Rivers rerun poll with certain hefty amount of money should be properly investigated too.
Now that the poll is over and Rivers people have elected their representatives in the Federal and State Assembly, we urge the governor to continue with his people-oriented programmes and treat all parts of the state as his constituency. Let all politicians in the state, no matter their party affiliation, team up with the governor and work in the best interest of Rivers people.