As Nigerians continue to live with the bitter pill of an incompetent but deeply partisan electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission INEC, it has become necessary again to predict the colour of the 2019 elections and the dangers that litter the landscape. Violence is central and so much of it is being cooked to be unleashed in Rivers State. Many Nigerians are satisfied with branding Rivers State a turbulent election area but only a few are asking the pertinent questions to understand the causes and the assailants.
A by-election was conducted in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, on August 18, 2018 for a seat in the State House of Assembly with just 8 wards and 142 polling units. But this was disrupted due to heavy violence leading to suspension or cancellation by the (INEC). The disturbing observation seems to be that most persons revelled in the fact of violence, especially those who started it or felt the violence favoured them. They prided themselves as testing the microphone of violence. The violence resulted in disenfranchisement of voters and bad taste to voting. Worse, there seems to be much joy now in denying people their much-given rights to freely choose who should govern them. Unfortunately, there is no other place this is more celebrated than Rivers State, as it were.
This threatening scenario is being dismissed by people who simply say it has been like that since 1999. The danger that it poses today and what the APC is telling us today by justifying today’s violence is that they have the apparatus of violence and that they are going to maximise it against their opponents, against the PDP, during the forthcoming elections.
The meaning of that is that everybody will have to be a victim of attack unless you allowed them to win. Also, the level that the APC is taking election violence in Rivers State has reached a very disturbing crescendo. It does not matter who is the perpetrator. No normal person can fail to see it so; that wrong remains wrong. Every well-meaning person should seek an end to what is not right and rebuild our society for the better.
It does not matter to me that something was wrong yesterday. If somebody was a victim yesterday, so, everybody must perish today, just for you to win an election? So, because things have changed, the victims of yesterday must visit wrong on the people? If that is allowed to stay, then we mean evil should have no end?
The police are constitutionally empowered to bear arms but it is not to maul over the populace. Violence, apart from discouraging people from voting, puts voters and electoral officers in danger. Imagine members of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) being harmed. Nigerians must wake up to that reality. The same evil that is being perpetrated in Rivers State is now being exported to other states like in Ekiti when the police was used to intimidate a sitting governor. At the end of the day, you wrestle him down and arm-twist him until he is unable to defend himself properly, taking advantage of the coercive power of the state.
So, it looks easy to interpret that all you need to do to win election now is to spend all the money on the security, raise thugs, and the police will give the thugs covering power, cart away sensitive materials, snatch ballot boxes, and take away card reader machines. With that, you have paralysed the voting process and you now come out with a result you have pre-written. Printing of INEC results is no longer a big deal. We saw it in Port Harcourt here and we shouted and arrests were made, but no person was punished. It is such impunity. The alert was not proved to be a lie, either. Instead, the case was transferred to police Zone 6, and the young man who was caught with the printed materials at 12, Isiokpo Street, D-Line, Port Harcourt, Mr Atonye Peterside and his accomplices, are walking the streets freely. They were all APC members.
When the re-run election involving Rivers East was held, the court relied on the result given to them by the police and rejected the one from INEC. So, where did the police get their own result? These came from the alternative results the APC printed. Nobody has been punished to this day. We are showing this example to Nigerians and that is why I am saying, there is a limit to how you can wrestle a man and bring him down in his house. A day comes when he can tell you, you cannot do that. Nigerians must look at this matter seriously.
To me, instead of wasting your resources to think you must win everywhere to retain your seat, you can still win without winning everywhere. A senator must not win everywhere to be senator. What is happening in Rivers State is the desire and wish of one man that wants to be seen as a pampered child; that wants to say he contributed so much to making somebody what he is today and must be so regarded and rewarded with a state. That is why they deploy SARS to obstruct elections in Rivers State and make it impossible for free and fair election to hold so they can declare for APC and claim that they won.
The Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS) and its State commander are the major problems in election rigging and violence in Rivers State. The Acting President (when the president was away) had said that SARS was going to be restructured. While we were still talking about that, the same SARS has come to demonstrate again that it truly is a satanic organisation by disrupting by-elections in Rivers State. So, where do we go from there? What it means is that anywhere you discover that elections are not going in their favour, SARS will surface with thugs, giving thugs cover to go and disrupt it, leaving even unarmed security men at the polling units running for safety.
Many people feel that if this is how it will go, why are they going to be bothered breaking their neck when the centre will not allow the elections to hold and when all you will do is to risk the lives of those who came to do elections. The people of Rivers State should be allowed to vote people of their choice and not be intimidated with the police just to do the bidding of the APC because the FG has control of the security agencies, and is in control of officers who have the power to bear arms. This will not solve Nigeria’s problem. This short cut to victory is slowly spreading to other parts of Nigeria because it met success in Rivers State. Despite that, the Rivers State Governor has continued to complain that the SARS we have in Rivers State and their Commander have remained in the state to do the things the Commander wants to do and the way he wants to do them as instructed, all to the detriment of the PDP.
Election violence does not just happen. The major cause is simple. Once you have this mindset and you set the stage where you will not allow people to vote freely to exercise their rights, people will resist you and there will be crisis. If they don’t, then thank your stars, but in 99.9% of the cases, the people will resist you. What will make a man do this is because he is not going to win election under fair conditions. If you knew you were going to win, why would you disrupt elections? It is like trying to enter into a house through the window when the door is open. It is very important to bring these things to the attention of Nigerians before it is too late. Nigerians need to know that we are heading towards the path of perdition.
Many people have asked what should be done about this. It is the centre that has to act because Nigeria is represented by the FG. The National Assembly must do something about it and find a mechanism that can stop this. They must come up with a mechanism that would make this kind of action unattractive. Laws are made to address the problems of man. The statutes must make it impossible for anybody to tow this line of ignominy and stand laughing. That is why the present amendment to the Electoral Act is overdue.
The way elections are conducted in Rivers State portends danger to our people. Deriving joy from election violence is going to bring bitterness in this country especially Rivers State because the consequences will surely be huge, for everybody. Violence can only beget more violence.
Okah is the Rivers State Commissioner for Information and Communications.