WHILE the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, is yet to conclude the 2015 general elections in Rivers and other states where some of the legislative polls were voided by the various election tribunals, politicians all over the country are already strategising for the 2019 polls.
In our part of the world, most politicians think of the next election instead of what they can do for the people who voted them into office. However, we have some politicians who think of delivering their campaign promises.
Although there are other cases of inconclusive polls in the country but that of the Rivers State can be said to be the worst case scenario in the history of elections in the country. Therefore, the electoral umpire must quickly address this deliberate attempt to deny Rivers people of adequate representation in the National Assembly and the State House of Assembly. Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike has decried the deliberate non-conclusion of Rivers poll by the electoral umpire despite the bold steps the governor has taken to ensure security of lives and property in the state.
It will be recalled that in Rivers State, the outstanding polls include three Senatorial seats, eight House of Representatives seats and 10 State House of Assembly seats. Because of the inconclusive polls, Rivers has no representation at the Senate, yet decisions taken at the Upper Legislative House will also affect the people of Rivers State. In the House of Representatives, the story is almost the same as the State has only five members out of 13 it ought to have. In the same vein, it has 22 members out of 32 members it should have in the State House of Assembly.
That some constituencies in the state do not have representation in the Rivers State House of Assembly does not augur well for our nascent democratic experiment that began in 1999. The rate of inconclusive polls in the country has reached a worrisome dimension that the electoral umpire must do something to conclude them so that we do not carry some of these outstanding elections into the 2019 general elections.
If we do so, it will lead to a constitutional crisis. The crisis created by staggered polls is still with us. We have just managed to hold the Edo gubernatorial poll that was unilaterally postponed some hours to the exercise but later held on September 28 amid allegations of rigging by the Opposition parties in the state. Although the Edo governorship poll has been concluded, the credibility of that poll will soon be contested at the election tribunal as the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, candidate, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu has vowed to do.
While that is in the pipeline, we will soon be saddled with the Ondo State governorship poll. After Ondo, Anambra State gubernatorial poll and some others will be in the picture. Many Nigerians keep wondering how this present INEC with a long history of inconclusive polls will wriggle out of this quagmire.
The present INEC under the leadership of Prof. Yakubu Mahmood has used insecurity as an excuse to continue to shift the outstanding Rivers poll. But Nigerians are aware that the same INEC has conducted elections in more dangerous zones of the country than Rivers State. The electoral umpire conducted elections in the North-East, the hotbed of Boko Haram insurgency.
Therefore, its recourse to use insecurity to evade concluding the Rivers polls is self-serving and not altruistic. The umpire should assert its independence and stop acting a script seemingly written by certain highly placed politicians on when to conclude the Rivers poll. No doubt, the PDP and some other parties in the state are ready for the poll any day. The atmosphere in Rivers State is peaceful and conducive for free and fair poll. People transact businesses in Rivers State daily.
We believe that with enough security agents, Rivers remaining elections can be concluded. If the Edo poll which was postponed based on serious security threat can be conducted, that of Rivers should likewise be concluded. The best thing the electoral umpire should do now is to conclude this poll without any further delay.
The people of the state should not be subjected to non-representation in the State and National Assembly for no fault of theirs. Rivers should not be denied its representation simply because of the ambition of certain politicians, who are yet to come to terms with their colossal loss of the 2015 poll in Rivers State. Rivers should not be thrown into confusion because of this tiny cabal who has refused to accept the political reality on the ground.
The ‘change begins with me’ campaign recently launched by President Muhammadu Buhari should indeed begin with the electoral agency, INEC. It should begin with the conclusion of all outstanding polls. It should start with Rivers State. It is tragic that in our 56 years of independence and 17 years of continuous democratic rule, we still talk about inconclusive polls and credibility of elections amid other socio-economic ills. It is sad that the 2015 poll may not be concluded in 2016. The APC government should be worried that this is happening under its watch. It should be worried that this is happening in a regime that promised ‘change.’
Nigerians should prevail on INEC to conclude all outstanding elections, especially that of Rivers State. INEC must ensure that the outstanding Rivers polls are concluded without rigging. Governor Wike had while flagging off the construction of Bonny Jetty at the Bille/Bonny/Nembe Waterfront in Port Harcourt warned those alledged to be planning to rig the Rivers re-run elections to keep away from the state. Wike’s timely warning should not be ignored. INEC must improve on its performance in Edo elections. All politicians should play the game according to the rules. We are tired of seeing the same mistakes that were made in previous elections repeated in subsequent ones. INEC and the security agents must ensure a level playing ground for all the parties concerned. It should act as an unbiased electoral umpire. The security agents should also not be partisan in their conducts during the poll and after. All hands should be on deck to ensure a peaceful re-run poll in Rivers State.
Marcel Mordi, a political analyst, wrote from Port Harcourt, Rivers State.