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Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Rivers re-run: INEC, enough is enough

Further excuses would not be entertained from the Independent National Electoral Commission on the Rivers State rerun polls, writes Ifeanyi Omokwe.
There is an evil under the sun against citizens in 21 state and 9 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.

Over the course of the past six months, the INEC had hinged the excuse for its inability to conduct rerun election to fill the 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 and make up excuses, as ridiculous as they come, as to why holding elections in Rivers state is untenable for now.

In one of its press releases, the electoral body explained that, “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 a 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 so, 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 off 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 like the 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 and this, one finds very interesting. If the federal government has given an assurance of safety in majority of the states, from where does the commission gets 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 without the imaginary security breach, which has become the singsong of the commission. Over the course of the past 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 citizenship 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.

Come September 10, this excuse-giving INEC would be holding elections in Edo State even when the newspapers have constantly reported deteriorating security situation in the state. Doctors, nurses and the general populace have had to protest the kidnapping of their members in Edo, yet this by no means would stand in the way of the commission to do what is right by the Edo people.

All of these pale into insignificance when the Bayelsa poll is taken into cognizance. The evidence of how militarised the governorship rerun election was remains clear to all. 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 has 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 as a representative democracy and this demands of it to allow 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.

Further, the Rivers people have lost their “voice” to engage with other parts of Nigeria in reaching consensus on matters of federalism and moving the country forward simply because the INEC has proved incapable of staying impartial.

The Mahmood Yakubu-led Independent National Electoral Commission, which has displayed a stark capacity for incompetence still has a golden opportunity to redeem its already soiled reputation by engaging robustly with security agencies and 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 state that has barely a fraction of the insecurity challenges in other parts of the country.

-Contributed by Ifeanyi Omokwe of The Gazetter Newspaper

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