INEC: Concern over excuses on Rivers’ rerun, By Ifeanyi Omokwe
Posted by News Express | 12 September 2016 | 2,091 times
There is an evil being perpetrated by men of power against citizens in the 21-state and nine federal constituencies of Rivers State, and Nigeria in general. For the past six months, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has engaged in a dangerous game of Russian roulette, by denying the people of Rivers State their constitutional right to have representatives to advance their cause at both the state and federal legislatures.
Within the past six months, INEC has hinged its inability to conduct rerun election to fill vacant legislative seats on insecurity in Rivers State. It would be recalled that since it held the first rerun on March 19, 2016 the commission has continued to dilly-dally, giving excuses as ridiculous as they come, as to why holding elections in Rivers State is untenable now. In one of its press releases, the electoral body explained: “Some of the State/Federal constituencies and senatorial seats are inconclusive as a result of reports of election cancellations and elections not conducted for reasons of serious violence in some units and registration areas.”
One can vouchsafe that those that accuse the commission of pandering to certain interests in Abuja are not far from the truth. If it were not so, how can one reason that those behind violence in Rivers State, if any, are more powerful than federal might, that credible and fair elections cannot be guaranteed? The Rivers’ experience lends much credence to the fact that the INEC, as presently constituted, is an evil conclave that portends grave danger to democratic governance in the country. It is now certainty that those who fear losing out completely in the power matrix in Rivers State and have some measure of federal influence, because they are part of the present regime, are not bothered if millions of Rivers indigenes and Nigerians that live in the state - make their living and pay taxes both to the federal and state governments - do not have representatives that can represent their aspirations and help in making good laws for growth and development of the state.
Unfortunately, INEC has allowed itself to become part of the unholy alliance against a constitutional requirement and globally acclaimed democratic norm: representative democracy.
It will not be far-fetched to note that the posturing of the electoral commission on the imaginary insecurity in Rivers State could be one of the reasons that the United States recently listed some states in Nigeria as dangerous and should be stayed clear of by Americans, except for very critical assignments. While the conclusion of the United States is not entirely true, especially as it pertains to Rivers State and most part of the country except for the insurgency ravaged North- east, institutions of state such as INEC fuel such assumptions when they fail to carry out their constitutional functions.
It is a good thing the Federal Government came out to contradict the Americans on that ground, which one finds very interesting. If the Federal Government has given an assurance of safety in majority of the states, from where does the commission get its report that holding election in Rivers is untenable because of insecurity? The irony of INEC’s claim is that the more it holds to this untenable argument, the more conferences of notable associations are held in the Garden City (Port Harcourt), without the imaginary security breach, which has become the singsong of the commission. In the past few months, the Nigerian Guild of Editors, Nigerian Bar Association, judges and their likes have held their annual conferences in Port Harcourt without any major security breach.
To continue to use the insecurity angle as the excuse for denying the people of Rivers of full complement of legislative representation is an affront on their citizens’ rights to have representatives at the various assemblies. Besides that, this same INEC has held elections in Kogi State, which is known for some notorious crimes. If anything, Kogi has been constantly in the news for high-profile banditry, kidnappings, robberies and terrorism-related issues, yet the INEC was able to conduct rerun elections in the state. Come September 10, this excuse-giving INEC would be holding elections in Edo State even when newspapers have constantly reported of deteriorating security situation in the state. For example, doctors, nurses and some segments of the public have had to protest kidnapping of their members in Edo, yet this would by no means stand in the way of the commission to do what is right in the state.
All of these pale into insignificance when the Bayelsa poll is taken into cognisance. The evidence of how militarised the governorship rerun election was remains clear to all. According to reports, the level of violence was not orchestrated by the people, rather the security forces working in consort with the INEC in a bid to truncate the collective will of Bayelsans.
In a way, the electoral body may have conspired to abort the will of the Rivers people by continually insisting on not holding an already overdue poll in the 21-state and nine federal constituencies. In case the INEC has forgotten, it should be reminded that Nigeria runs a representative democracy. And this demands constituents to elect officials who should decide on their behalf. But not doing so is to deny the people their legitimacy to hold the present government accountable and ensure that their rights and privileges as citizens of Nigeria are guaranteed. It is also important to note that because of the unacceptable alibi, Rivers people have lost their ‘voice’ to engage with other parts of Nigeria in reaching a consensus on matters of federalism in a bid to move the country forward, simply because INEC has proved incapable of staying impartial.
The Prof Mahmoud Yakubu-led INEC, which has displayed a stark capacity for incompetence, still has an opportunity to redeem its already-soiled image by engaging robustly with security agencies, in order to set a firm date for the completion of election in Rivers State; so that the people can indeed have full representation and know they are part of a federal state.
If elections could be conducted in insurgency-ravaged North-east in 2015, why can’t elections be held in a state that has barely a fraction of the insecurity challenges in other parts of the country?
•Omokwe is a staff of The Gazetter Newspaper. Photo shows INEC Chairman, Prof Mahmoud Yakubu.