WITH twenty-four days left before the December 10, legislative rerun elections in Rivers State, signs of trouble loom. There’s fear, even anger across the state. You can feel it, you can touch it. It’s a present danger that may implode as the D-day approaches. The anxiety is real. Two unpleasant developments have made this fear and anger a threat to the sanctity of the votes even before voters cast their votes
Over the weekend, the Minister of Transportation, Hon.Chibuike Amaechi returned to the trenches. He was spitting fire. He spoke like a bare-knuckle political brawler. Addressing a giddy crowd of party supporters in Bera, in Gokana local government area, in Ogoniland, Amaechi was quoted to have vowed to match the ruling PDP in the state, threat for threat.
He assured the APC supporters that the party will leave nothing to chance to win on December 10. Amaechi reportedly called Gov. Nyesome Wike “a thug”, a man unfit to govern. This is most unkind. His closing argument before the end of the rally portends danger ahead. Amaechi said: “anything he (Wike) wants to deploy, let him deploy. We will deploy our own”. Our politics doesn’t need this kind of incendiary comments.
Amaechi’s threat is one of those combustible comments that makes Rivers State Nigeria’s political battle front. By far the most threatening development to the rerun elections on December 10 is the recent startling discovery of sensitive electoral materials at a private printing press in Port Harcourt, the state capital. Gov. Wike who raised the alarm when he addressed journalists after a PDP stakeholders meeting at the Government House, displayed a video evidence of the fake printed electoral materials. The graphic designer in the printing press reportedly owned by an APC chieftain and former commissioner in the state admitted he was paid to do the job. He later recanted his confession.
But Wike insists on his claims. He noted that a day before the discovery of the fake polls materials, a team of police detectives attached to the Swift Operation Squad(SOS),based on a tip off had raided the building of the printing press. Result sheets and other sensitive electoral materials were reportedly seized.
According to the state PDP, the materials were for the eight local government areas where rerun polls will be held . These include materials for the three senatorial districts, House of Representatives as well as House of Assembly.
Wike said he immediately notified the state Police Command to ensure that the arrested suspects were prosecuted. He however laments that the Police may be reluctant to charge the culprits. The APC in the state has since denied that any of its members was caught in the crime.
The party’s spokesman in the state, Mr. Chris Finebone alleged that the PDP orchestrated the fake polls materials . INEC has also denied any involvement. Spokesman to the INEC chairman, Mr. Rotimi Oyekanmi said the allegation was “unfortunate and baseless”.
Regardless of these denials by the Rivers State APC and INEC, Wike’s complaints should not be ignored. The Police authorities must not shield those already arrested in connection with the offence. Section 117(1)(e)(2) of the Electoral Act 2010(as amended by Electoral Act, 2011) says that anyone who forges any ballot paper or official mark on any certificate of return is guilty of an offence. The offence carries a maximum of two years imprisonment.
Also, section 23(1) states that any person who is found with unlawful possession of voter’s card whether issued in the name of any voter or not (b) sells or attempts to sell or buy such voter’s card shall on conviction be fined N500,000 or imprisonment not exceeding two years or both.
Democracy and the sanctity of the ballot box will be the first casualty if the allegation of fake electoral materials is not thoroughly investigated.
Failure to investigate this will have many implications. First, it will likely make the outcome of the elections questionable. Secondly, it could set off a firestorm of violence, regardless of which party wins the elections. The consequence of such an outcome may be hard to handle.
I don’t think Gov Wike is crying wolf. He has provided evidence to support his claims. Therefore, the Federal Government owes the Rivers State electorate to ensure that their votes count, that the outcome of the elections is a true representation of the people’s votes, not otherwise.
We know that the December 10 rerun could be the last. The political actors in Rivers state are aware that the stakes in the rerun are high. For the opposition APC, there’s seems a sense of desperation to strike back. It shouldn’t be through the back door.
For months now, Wike’s voice has been strident that “there’s a grand conspiracy against Rivers State “. Time and again, he has lamented that some people are plotting to undermine the security of the state and the electoral process. We should not ignore his message. Rivers State has been wrongly portrayed as unsafe for a free and credible elections. But that is the picture painted by the adversaries.
Nothing threatens the peace and security of the state worse than to allow fake materials to be used to conduct the rerun elections. It is cheap to jump into conclusions that the governor’s allegations are wild and baseless. Investigation into this allegation is absolutely necessary .
Indeed, there are already many “yellow cards”, warning government and INEC to be extremely careful in handling the rerun elections in Rivers State. Wike’s complaints are damning enough to be ignored. The leadership of INEC that has been dragged into this ‘fake’ poll materials. The commission should see this allegation as another cloud of suspicion about its competence and impartiality in the conduct of free and credible elections in the country.