Friday, December 9, 2016

Rivers Rerun And INEC’s Impartiality

IT is good and desirable that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will tomorrow conduct the remaining Federal and State legislative elections in Rivers State. Nigerians and indeed the people of Rivers State will heave a sigh of relief that at last this election will be concluded. Its conclusion will mean that they will be fully represented in the National and State Assembly.

It will also mean that Rivers State will have a say in decisions of the highest law-making organs in the country. For this exercise to be violence-free, fair and credible, the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) has deployed 20,000 police personnel, 3 helicopters and 20 gunboats. It is hoped that with this massive deployment of policemen, the issue of insecurity and electoral violence should not arise.
The electoral agency has deployed about 10,294 staff to ensure a seamless exercise and conclusion of the rereun elections in Rivers State. Therefore, there is no doubt that all is now set for tomorrow’s exercise, expected to conclude the poll which began last year. For months, the people of Rivers State had been denied representation in the National and State Assembly.
Now that INEC is set to complete the exercise and give them full representation in the National and State Assembly, all hands must be on deck to ensure that it is successful this time around. All the grandstanding by certain political actors concerning the exercise is unnecessary. Politicians and their supporters should be part of the effort to make the exercise succeed.
They should refrain from incendiary comments capable of stoking violence in the state. All the security agents must maintain absolute political neutrality in the elections. Their job is to provide adequate security in the state before, during and after the polls. They should not aid any party to rig the election or to gain any political advantage.

The issue of Federal might should not arise at all if we want this democracy to endure. For this democracy to survive, the Federal Government should not interfere in the nation’s electoral system. The electoral process must be seen to be clean and impartial. The electoral umpire should not be partisan in its conduct of elections. All the political parties participating in the polls should be given a level playing ground.
The rerun elections will be conducted across 3 Senatorial Districts; 8 Federal Constituencies; and 10 State Constituencies. It is no longer in doubt that the mobilization of large contingent of security agents has become part of our electoral system. We saw it recently in Edo and Ondo states gubernatorial elections. Conducting election in Nigeria is akin to going to warfare because the political field has become dangerous as politicians deploy all manner of arsenals to ensure victory.
And for a state like Rivers, the stakes are high hence, the tension. But the tension can be doused if the electoral agency conducts a free, fair and credible poll. It is public knowledge that the relationship between the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the state and its rival, the All Progressives Congress (APC), is frosty. The reasons for their combative posturing are legendary that it is needless to recount them in this piece. The utterances from leading political chieftains in the state are not helpful. They tend to overheat the polity with their inflammable utterances that do not in any way advance democracy.
As the Rivers rerun polls hold tomorrow, all eyes are on INEC to ensure that the elections remain credible and peaceful. All eyes are on security agents too. Like INEC, they too should do what is expected of them, to ensure the security of all participants and everybody in the state during the exercise and after.  The violence of previous ones will not be repeated in this exercise. Therefore, the massive deployment of security agents will ensure that the exercise is devoid of violence, ballot snatching and other electoral infractions common in our elections.
To ensure that there is no violence in the elections, all the eligible voters in the state must be allowed to vote according to their conscience. Nobody should be forced to do otherwise. INEC must ensure that the votes of the electorate count. The wishes of the people of Rivers State must be respected. Nigerians will not be told again that this exercise is inconclusive. INEC should put to rest the ghost of inconclusive polls. The electoral umpire must improve in its performance in Edo and Ondo states. We don’t want to hear of malfunctioning card readers again.
Although there are many political parties in Rivers State, tomorrow’s exercise is clearly a battle between the ruling PDP and the opposition APC. In the previous exercises, the PDP had won. In a fair, free and credible contest, it is likely that the PDP will consolidate its hold on power in the state in tomorrow’s exercise.
The indices are there for all to see. Governor Nyesom Wike has demonstrated sterling leadership qualities that the electorate should not ignore through his numerous works in the state. His road and other infrastructural renewal in the state are unprecedented. It is obvious that the electorate will be supportive of his administration and vote massively for the PDP candidates during the poll.
As Rivers State people cast the final ballot to end the 2015 general elections, we plead for a peaceful conduct of the exercise. We believe that a credible poll will reduce tension in the state. The security agents involved in the polls must ensure that there is adequate security. They must demonstrate utmost patriotism in their conducts. All politicians and their supporters must conduct themselves well and avoid acts capable of causing a breach of law and order in the state during the exercise. Leaders of all political parties in the state should not foment trouble. They should avoid provocative comments.
They should know that power belongs to the people. Therefore, the people of the state should be allowed to speak with their votes. Their votes must count. The burden on INEC is to ensure that the votes of the people really count in this election. Above all, let politicians put the interest of Rivers State people far and above their own.
*Robert Obioha is a commentator on public issues (robobioha@yahoo.com) 

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