Nothing is a better teacher than failure. It serves even much better in politics. In some democracies, it’s not something to be ashamed of. It’s an honour to sometimes stumble, as we say it in this clime, “to wobble and fumble”. But, such ‘wobbling and fumbling’ do make a lot of sense if it leads to getting it right the next time. That, of course, will entail drawing useful lessons from previous mistakes. Election is one area where failure can be a springboard for future success. Only if the umpire and other stakeholders can draw lessons from past mistakes.
Perhaps in no state of the Federation has the conduct of election in this present dispensation become so divisive, so crisis-ridden, so violent as in Rivers state. Killings, rigging, kidnapping are common horrifying features in that oil rich state. The sad memories of the March 19, 2016 rerun elections in that state remain unforgettable. Such was the outcome that some results were declared inclusive. It took four months for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to reschedule yet another rerun slated for next Saturday, July 30. But, has INEC learnt the necessary lessons? Is the commission ready and prepared to conduct a hitch-free, credible and impartial poll? Of course, this is INEC’s last chance to get it right in Rivers State.
The questions raised above have become necessary in view of the latest accusations against INEC by Governor Nyesome Wike. This is in addition to last Friday’s burning of the commission’s office in Bori, in Khana Local Government Area. Wike’s complaints shouldn’t be seen as crying wolf. They are necessary considering what politicians and their supporters in Rivers state are capable of doing.
Here are Wike’s complaints ahead of Saturday’s rerun election. First, the governor has alleged that the Chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmud Yakubu has been hobnobbing with the state chairman of the All Progressives Congress, Dr. Davies Ikanya. The governor also alleged that Yakubu met with Rivers South-East senatorial candidate for APC, Sen. Magnus Abe, in company of Ikanya on July 19, 2016. That’s not all. Wike also alleged plot to compromise security in the state during the rerun through some police officers recently posted to the state. Wike’s beef in this regard should not be waved aside. It was sequel to reports that some of the police officers who were transferred from the state in the heat of their alleged involvement in the last rerun election, have suddenly found their way back, in fresh postings made recently by the police high command. The governor said he has written several letters to this effect to the Inspector General of Police without response. The governor bared his mind while addressing stakeholders in the state. “They want to deny our people the peace we enjoy today by compromising our security network”, Wike said.
These are genuine concerns. Who is afraid of the rerun election on Saturday? Accusations are being thrown back and forth. Meanwhile, Wike says those who masterminded the burning of the INEC office in Bori are the ones afraid of the rerun election. He seems to know them. According to the governor, they are politicians who recently wrote INEC seeking the postponement of the election on the grounds of insecurity.
Although the leadership of the opposition APC in the state has denied that the INEC boss met with the state chairman, Dr. Ikanya and Sen. Abe, it has become necessary for INEC chairman to speak up. Did he indeed meet with the two APC chieftains or not? His response to the allegation is vital to save his name and that of the commission from perceived partiality for one party against the other. Wike’s allegations are damning enough. INEC must clear the air as quickly as possible. Meanwhile, the governor has shown maturity in leadership by directing the immediate rebuilding of the INEC office in Bori. This, Wike said, was to ensure that the spirit of INEC officials is not dampening ahead of the rerun. He however urged INEC not to use the incident as an excuse to postpone the election. That is how it should be in this season of anomie.
What does all of this teach us as it relates to politics in Rivers state? There are many. First, there is this far-reaching structural issues in the conduct of elections that many Nigerians are yet to understand, and that makes the allegations by Wike matters that should not be swept under the carpet: it’s the relationship between INEC and the Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) on one hand, and the alleged cosy relationship between INEC and the ruling party at the centre. The RECs are appointed by the President whom they owe their allegiance. That is why many Nigerians have condescending feelings about the electoral umpire. It’s not unkind to say that this suspicion of partiality has grown even more under the leadership of Yakubu as INEC chairman. Last weekend’s inconclusive rerun election in Imo state is yet inconclusive result too many. It is necessary to put the complaints raised by Gov. Wike in context. The police officers he has complained about are the same officers reportedly fingered in some wrongdoing during their official duties in Rivers state. Therefore, bringing them back at this crucial stage of another rerun could raise serious questions about their impartiality in the conduct of the election this Saturday. Conflict of interest is also another matter that the police authority need to look into in order to insulate itself from being dragged into the outcome of the election.
Anybody who thinks Wike was raising false alarm should look into what has led to the resignation of the chairwoman of the Democratic National Convention (DNC), Debbie Wasserman Shultz. It was her alleged involvement in favouring Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries against Bernie Sanders. When the party was supposed to be neutral. That again underscores the point made by Wike about both INEC chairman and the Police. Will they be neutral during the rerun?
The way forward for peace in the rerun is for the authorities concerned to give a listening ear to Wike’s allegations. Honesty, trustworthiness and impartiality are necessary in any democratic process. And to ignore the governor’s claims could stoke tension during the election on Saturday. It is also important for the sake of peace in Rivers that both parties accept the outcome of the rerun this time around. We know that the election is a fight for the soul of Rivers state, but the politicians should understand that there’s always life after politics.
Keen observers of Rivers politics maintain that APC is not the preferred party for the vast majority of Rivers people, PDP is. That is the reality that APC finds hard to swallow. And Saturday could prove this fact. Only if INEC and the security agencies won’t compromise the process and the outcome. All votes must count. The people should be allowed to freely vote. Let peace reign in Rivers state. This is at the heart of democracy.