That PHALGA 3 Bye-Election Fiasco

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The violence that led to the suspension of the bye-election to fill the Port Harcourt Constituency 111 Assembly seat in Rivers State, penultimate Saturday, is to say the least, condemnable. Also regrettable are the cases of ballot snatching, molestation of voters and other electoral offences allegedly perpetrated by thugs led by the factional leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Rivers State, Mr. Ojukaye Flag-Amachree, which marred the exercise.
While announcing the suspension of the poll, the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) assigned to supervise the election, Mr. Mike Igini expressed dismay that a group of people with the aid of security agents from different agencies moved round unhindered from polling station to polling station to unleash mayhem on both the electorate and officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The REC raised pertinent questions, as he outrightly condemned the disruption of the election and declared thus, “Why were they not arrested? Why were they not accosted? What happened is a tragedy. It is shameful. It represents the lowest level of electoral discredit”.
According to him, “INEC was ready, security on our own side that we engaged were ready”. He thanked the Commissioner of Police for all the numerous interventions to secure the lives of INEC officials and disclosed that the same thugs attempted to attack the State INEC office in Port Harcourt and almost took over the operational base of the commission the following day.
Unfortunately, security authorities seemed not to have been proactive to the alarm raised by the Governor of Rivers State, Chief Nyesom Wike, of plans by some failed politicians who do not believe in free and fair election, to use cultists and political thugs to disrupt the process.
While we commend the people of the Constituency for restraining themselves in the face of the violence that marred the exercise despite the hefty deployment of security agents, we expect that caution will be applied in addressing the problem to ensure that the people are no longer disenfranchised.
Besides the denial of the state Police command of complicity in the violence, we are worried that an election that involved only 142 units across eight wards in a state could be marred by violence of that magnitude as widely reported in the media and equally disrupted with the backing of heavily armed policemen from the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (F-SARS).
If the Rivers State House of Assembly poll can be that violent, how much more the 2019 general elections that will involve all parts of the country?
We insist that the violence, ballot snatching and other electoral infractions witnessed during the bye-election must be properly investigated and those involved tried and punished to serve as a deterrent to others who may wish to perpetrate such crimes in the future. These heinous electoral crimes should not be swept under the carpet. We say so because sweeping such serious incidents under the carpet is responsible for their reoccurrence.
While we ask for a change of strategy in future polls, we believe, the time is now to review the use of policemen, soldiers and other security agents during elections. In fact, there should be better deployment of intelligence mechanism in handling security during elections.
Also, politicians and their supporters ought to refrain from political violence. They should not turn elections into theatres of war. We decry the “do or die” approach to politics exhibited by the opposition in Rivers State.
On the other hand, it is high time the electoral umpire embarked on voter education. There is the need to enlighten politicians and their supporters on the need for peaceful and credible elections. They should stop being desperate for victory.
Politicians ought to be aware that in every democratic dispensation, elections are known and accepted as the basis for a stable polity, as they represent the vehicle for organised and peaceful transition from one rule to another. Infact, such an exercise should not be allowed to degenerate to violence.
We say with all sense of responsibility that never again should Rivers State be plunged into any form of political violence.