Ayo Oyoze Baje
“To finalize, the purpose of an election is to hear the will of the people, not to fabricate votes” – Lincoln Diaz-Bernet
Rivers of Sorrows, Tears and Blood (apologies to the great Afrobeat icon, Fela)! That was the description of the state under review from a concerned analyst. For me, that was apt, at least as far as the recently concluded 2019 general elections in the state were concerned. The demons of undemocratic forces were unleashed on the electoral sphere by power-poaching politicians. And they romped on unashamedly in full swing, for all the civilized world to see. That represented what an election in the 21st Century Nigeria should never be.
List them- from ballot box snatching by paid thugs to dare-devil shooting spree by armed hoodlums; from the crude invasion of private residences of some political bigwigs to the unconstitutional militarization of the electoral process. It was one sordid spectacle one prays should not have a replay in the unfolding drama of the absurd that Nigeria’s seasonal elections have been turned into.
Not that the movie-like, blood-letting spectacle was the first of its kind in the oil-rich state. No! According to the Human Rights Watch “the epidemic of violence that has plagued much of the Niger Delta in recent years has its roots in the corrupt, violent and unaccountable nature of politics in the region”. The seemingly intractable war between rival gangs was aimed at gaining access to patronage dispensed by state government officials. Yet, there is more to be done than said in combating the state’s disastrous levels of poverty and unemployment.
Of curious interest is the trend of the state always being turned into a theatre of war of attrition between two political bigwigs or rival gang leaders. For instance, back in 2003, it was between the then Rivers State Governor Peter Odili and the Federal Minister of Transportation Abiye Sekibo. Also, both the Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force (NDPVF), led by Asari Dukobo, and the Icelanders or Niger Delta Vigilante (NDV), led by Ateke Tom held the state’s security architecture by the jugular.
Ditto for the 2007 elections. Then Soboma George, a young man who has been involved in gang activity for many years, and a subordinate of Ateke Tom called the shots. During the 2007 elections some local election monitors reported seeing Soboma and several of his lieutenants traveling around Port Harcourt dispensing money to polling agents and a political party’s supporters. In July 2013 a nauseating drama in Rivers state House of Assembly that had some members exchanging blows and smacking another’s head with the mace took place. It was an off shoot of the rift between then Gov. Rotimi Amaechi and the former First Lady , Patience Jonathan.
The same Amaechi has allegedly played an ignoble role in the use of federal might in River state, during the recent elections, apparently to unseat the people’s governor, Nyesom Wike. He aligned his forces with the AAC candidate. But as far as the APC National Chairman, Adams Oshionmhole, was concerned Amaechi was on his own, worse still on a wild goose chase! This time around the pendulum of power has swung back in Wike’s favour and there is wild jubilation across the state and deservedly so!
According to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Returning Officer, Prof. Teddy Adias, Gov.Wike the PDP gubernatorial candidate won 19 out of the 21 local government councils with an astounding votes of 886,264. That is, against that of his rival, Awara Biok-poboma of the African Action Congress (AAC) who polled 173,859. As many as 249,324 votes were cancelled in areas where the election did not take place due to violence. The wide gap of 712,859 says it all! The difference, as the popular soft drink advert goes is clear. Good enough, Wike has wisely dedicated this hard-won victory to God and the good people of Rivers state. The PDP at the national level says it is the victory of good over evil while the state Chairman reiterates that Wike’s victory “should serve as a lesson and reminder to all political office holders, not to take the people, to whom power belongs for granted”.
That is the essence of democracy-the people, the people and the people-their wishes and aspirations, their dreams and desires, and for the leaders to set in motion, policies, programmes and projects that meet the people’s most crying needs. That brings us to the million-Naira question.
Does Wike truly deserve this resounding victory? Yours truly honestly believes that “Yes”,he does. From turning Rivers state into a vast construction site; with solid achievements in the critical areas of infrastructural development, including roads and water supply, health care delivery, sound education, transportation, economic development to tourism, the evidences abound making him the poster governor of the current dispensation. One has written on this while dedicating a piece to him at 50, and reflected in my book: ’Drumbeats of Democracy’. That these touch tellingly on the people’s needs makes them more profound and exemplary.
But there is more to be done. And that has to do with the healing process. He has to make the paradigm shift. Amaechi too should know that in democracy, the people’s franchise is what matters and should learn to sheath the long sword of acrimony. Who says that we cannot create a state where people are united for sustainable development, irrespective of their ethnic or political differences? If service is truly meant to benefit the people, then the citizens of Rivers state should be concerned about their corporate image. It needs to rebrand, because the public perception abut what Rivers state stands for is significant to its sustainable development. Must it always be violence, violence and more violence when it comes to elections? No, it should not be.
On the national platform, electoral reforms that conform with free, fair, credible, peaceful elections that align with international standards must come to full play. President Buhari should muster the political will to sign bills that benefit the people and ensure our stability. He ought to have signed the Electoral Amendment Bill into Law.
Had he done that perhaps, the lives of innocent Nigerians wasted across the land during the recently concluded elections would have been saved. Results as collated at the polling units would have been transmitted electronically. According to Dr. Nkwachukwu Orji and Nkiru Uzodi in their work, ‘The post-election violence in Nigeria 2011’ issues we have to frontally tackle include the cleavage structure, saliency of ethnicity in Nigerian politics and communal tensions. Others are: Doing away with the culture of impunity and the decline in trust and social capital among communities. The increasing erosion of trust in the electoral justice system is worrisome. The sanctity of our justice system must not be violated on the altar of the greed for personal gains or desperation for them. Kudos to Wike. One sweet victory leads to a new set of challenges. Brace up for them-all in the interest of your people.
Baje writes from Lagos