THE conduct of last Saturday’s re-run elections in Rivers State was a disaster foretold. The security chiefs had promised to avert the disaster. They deployed 6,000 police officers and thousands of soldiers, civil defence personnel and officers of the Department of State Security (DSS). There could not have been less than 10,000 security officials and law enforcement agents in Rivers State on the day of the poll, yet the exercise ended in a fracas that is unbecoming of a democratic dispensation. With four people including a youth corps member officially confirmed dead,(even though unofficial sources said the casualty figure was grossly understated), the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had no choice but to cancel the polls in eight local government areas and suspend the collation of results in some, pending the return of peace to the state. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was declared winner of one senatorial and eight House of Assembly seats while the All Progressives Congress (APC) won one seat in the state legislature.
Local and international observers, including envoys of the United States and of the United Kingdom, have condemned the violence that attended the exercise and expressed their utter disappointment at the turn of events.
The two most prominent political leaders in the state, Chief Rotimi Amaechi, immediate past governor and now Minister of Transport and the incumbent Governor of Rivers State, Chief Nyesom Wike, failed the test of democratic leadership by the incitement of their supporters to violence, by defining the election as a do-or-die affair, and taking actions that heightened tension in the state. The incendiary language of both men and their desperate approach to the poll question their commitment to the service of the people of the state.
Amaechi served eight years as Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly before ascending the governor’s seat where he also served for eight years, before his current appointment as Minister of Transport and Aviation. His speeches, remarks and behaviour are unbecoming of someone who has held and still holds such high offices. Governor Wike was Amaechi’s campaign manager in 2007 and chief of staff in 2011. Nigerians expect much better conduct from these two men. Their incitement of the violence that marred the elections is roundly condemnable.
Why are Nigerians so willing to die to win elections? It is clearly because the monetization of political office offers higher material rewards than any other pursuit in Nigeria. Our national legislators, for instance, are the highest paid in the world, in addition to sundry opportunities for self-enrichment.
The INEC assured the nation it was ready for the election. We did not see evidence of that preparedness. Neither did we see any evidence of institutional memory, experience and expertise. The elections held in only 22 local government areas in Rivers State and if security was properly organised and sensibly deployed, 10,000 officials ought to be able to secure the exercise.
Prof. Mahmud Yakubu, the INEC Chairman, should understand that Nigerians are running out of patience with the outcomes of recent elections. The most recent elections in three small states were attended by chaos. First, it was Kogi State, then Bayelsa, now Rivers.
Yakubu, on his appointment as INEC chair, said he would consolidate what Prof. Attahiru Jega left behind. This has not been the case. Instead, what we had in Rivers was an election that turned out to be an international embarrassment.
Let INEC, the security agencies, Amaechi, Wike and all the other stakeholders in the Rivers re-run polls sit up and conduct themselves in a manner that will make for credible elections in the state
The perpetrators of violence during last Saturday’s re-run polls should be brought to book to deter a resort to similar tendencies whenever the suspended polls are to hold. The INEC and all the security agencies should get their act together and ensure that the outstanding elections do not end in fiasco. All hands must be on deck to ensure that they are free, fair and conclusive.