THE free style bloodletting in Rivers State during last Saturday’s legislative elections in the state should be seen for what it is – politics of might. The state is embroiled in a supremacy contest between two political giants, who appear prepared to stop at nothing in their bid for the soul of the state.
The issue at stake here is ego. How could a Nyesom Wike ride roughshod over a Chibuike Amaechi and vice versa? That is the bone of contention. Wike and Amaechi are looking at each other eyeball to eyeball. Who will blink first? That is the scenario before us. It is simply and squarely an ego war.
We may not bother here about why Amaechi and Wike are at each other’s throat. But we must reflect on the failure of democratic institutions, especially as it concerns the processes that led to the bungled polls.
Let us note that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) under Prof Yakubu has not given us any reason to believe that the present order is capable of sustaining whatever gains we have made in the area of democratic governance. So far, the commission has messed up elections in Kogi, Bayelsa and Rivers states. In Kogi, for instance, the Yakubu commission made a mockery of our democracy when it produced a governor who was, strictly speaking, not a candidate in the elections. Because the commission was acting out a script handed out to it by the ruling party, it mocked our democracy to its face by awarding victory to a man who did not qualify to stand for the re-run election.
In fact, we appear condemned to rerun elections under the present electoral commission. A development, which was a rarity in the past, has become the order of the day. Under the present order, you can hardly have an election that does not dovetail into a rerun. After the very objectionable rerun exercise in Kogi, INEC was also to subject Bayelsa voters to the ordeal of a rerun. The commission could not conduct a hitch-free election in a state with eight local government areas. And as if to confirm that we cannot have an election under the present INEC without the component of a rerun, the commission has failed to conduct free and fair polls in Rivers State where only a fraction of the legislature was involved.
There can be no excuse for the commission’s inability to handle the Rivers elections. The signs were there that the elections could snowball into violent displays if the right thing was not done. Yet, the commission, in a most unabashed manner, chose to do the wrong thing. How, for instance, can Yakubu’s INEC explain the fact that the ballot papers with which it conducted the Rivers elections were not uniform? Field officers, as well as election monitors and observers have since confirmed that while some of the ballot papers had the coat of arms on them, some others did not have. We have also been told that the attention of the Resident Electoral Commissioner was drawn to this anomaly days before the election. But he had no acceptable solution to the problem. The eruption of violence at some polling centres have been traced to this shoddiness. The development also led to the abortion of elections in some local government areas. Because the ballot papers did not pass the test of integrity, the conclusion was that the election would not have produced a credible outcome if the questionable documents were allowed to be used. INEC is, therefore, to blame for the widespread violence that marred the polls.
What about the security agencies? Security operatives, no doubt, are a component of every election. They are usually posted to strategic locations in order to forestall the breakdown of law and order. This assignment is usually reserved for the police and other para-military personnel. However, many do not think that soldiers should be involved in the conduct of elections. The most common argument against the deployment of soldiers rests on the fear or belief that they could be used to intimidate voters. But whatever the argument for or against the deployment of soldiers during elections may be, they have become a regular and acceptable component of our national elections in recent years. They were used in some states like Imo during the 2011 elections. They were also engaged during the last governorship elections in Edo State. In fact, the 2015 general elections had its fair share of the deployment of soldiers. In all of this, there were no serious cases of brazen manipulations or violent eruptions that were capable of marring the electoral process.
Strangely, however, the Rivers scenario defied what we were used to. The deployment of soldiers notwithstanding, the elections failed in all ramifications. This brings to question the role the soldiers were detailed to play at the elections. They were supposed to be neutral. They were supposed to ensure that troublemakers and all those who have the potential for trouble-making were contained. But the soldiers failed abysmally in this task. Rather than guarantee law and order, the soldiers played the role of accomplices. The effort to reject and resist their willful acts of brigandage may have fueled the suspicion and mutual antagonism that attended the exercise.
Many an analyst are worried about the ineffectiveness of the soldiers deployed to monitor the Rivers elections. The perceived impression is that the military personnel, working in concert with certain interests, are not interested in peaceful polls in Rivers State. The game plan, it is believed, is to have the polls messed up, aid and abet wanton destruction of life and property so that the governor, who is the chief security officer of the state will be said to have failed in his duty as governor. This, according to some analysts, could be a ploy to induce the president into declaring a state of emergency in the state.
It must be noted that a number of people have been toying with the idea of state of emergency in Ekiti and Rivers states. I consider suggestions that border on that reckless and thoughtless. There is really nothing that has happened in these two states to warrant such suggestion. The skirmish in Ekiti State House of Assembly is not worse than what we have in Kogi State House of Assembly. Both are normal in any legislative setting. They are not even as serious as what obtained in Enugu State during the governorship of Chimaroke Nnamani when about two thirds of members of the State House of Assembly relocated to Abuja to seek safety while about eight members of the House remained in Enugu to work with Nnamani. The situation lasted for a reasonable length of time before normalcy was restored. Nobody ever suggested then that Enugu should come under emergency rule.
Since we are in the habit of cheapening everything, I suspect that we will soon make state of emergency as enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution look like a child’s play. State of emergency, as defined and envisaged by the constitution, can only come under a very serious national emergency. State of emergency recognises that law and order have broken down to the extent that the existing order cannot arrest it. When that is the case, an invocation of a higher order and authority to deal with the slide is usually introduced. The situation we have on our hands in Ekiti and Rivers States do not come anywhere close to this. Those who want state of emergency to be deployed for political reasons should look elsewhere for relevance. I do not think that anybody who wants our fledgling democracy to survive will be toying with this expensive tool.