Nine months after the March 19, 2016, violence-ridden, inconclusive re-run elections in Rivers State, the obviously weary electorate will go to the polls tomorrow to elect their representatives in the upper and lower chambers of the National Assembly. One, therefore, expects that Saturday polls would bring to an end, the tortuous journey of people of Rivers State, electing their representatives, close to two years after the 2015 general elections.
Many are patiently waiting to see how the intrigues trailing the election would play out. For those who are familiar with the dynamics of the politics of the oil-rich state, the two power brokers to watch out for are the state governor, Nyesom Wike and his estranged friend and current minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi. Predictably, they are back to trenches once again even as their legion of supporters get set for a fresh test of superiority in the state’s turbulent political turf.
When the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared the National Assembly elections, held in Rivers State on March 28, 2015, and the April 11, 2015 House of assembly elections in Rivers inconclusive, citing violence, which culminated in senseless killings, electoral fraud and general insecurity in the state, some optimists thought the rerun elections of March 19, 2016, would have been devoid of acts which in the past, resulted in inconclusiveness of elections in the state.
But they were proved wrong as the exercise was again, suspended because of massive electoral fraud, violence and killings that even claimed the life of a Youth corps member, Okonta Samuel Dumebi, among others. So many issues have trailed the exercise in the oil-rich state.
Deluge of postponements:
Following serious complaints, mainly from politicians, INEC again, agreed to conduct the polls on June 30, 2016, after a meeting in Abuja on June 20, 2016, with the political parties, civil society groups and other stakeholders. The INEC, through Secretary to the Commission, Mrs. Augusta Ogakwu, explained that the postponement was as a result of reported violence in the state.
Ogakwu had said: “As a responsible organisation and conscious of the violence, maiming and fatalities which accompanied the previous election in March, as well as developments in the state since then, the commission cannot ignore such credible reports.
In the circumstance, therefore, it is compelled to further postpone the rerun legislative elections in Rivers State, as one of the principal conditions earlier stipulated for the rerun of the state for the conclusion of the election has, regrettably not been met.”
The Commission further appealed to the political gladiators in Rivers State, to make efforts to douse the tension, to pave the way for free and fair election.
The endless wait for Rivers re-run:
After the March 19, inconclusive rerun, and June 30, 2016, postponement, INEC appeared not ready to conduct any other elections in Rivers State in the nearest future. But this did not go down well with some individuals and political parties, especially the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which accused the Commission of plotting to deny it, its imminent victory at the rerun polls. Apart from accusing the electoral body of denying Rivers people of quality and full representation at the legislative arm of government, especially the National Assembly. According to Rivers PDP, the delay was also aimed at giving APC candidates, especially, the Rivers South East Senatorial District candidate, Senator Magnus Abe, edge over his PDP opponent, Olaka Nwogu.
The dust raised by INEC’s delay to conduct the legislative rerun election in Rivers State refused to settle, thereby, compelling the governor to raise the alarm and told whoever cared to listen that INEC and APC had a hidden agenda. The issues raised by the governor and others, attracted the sympathy of PDP across the country, including the National Assembly members.
Senators to the rescue:
The National Assembly, the Senate, precisely, decided to intervene in the Rivers re-run debacle, when, on Wednesday, November 2, 2016, it ordered the INEC to conduct the rerun election in Rivers State not later than December 10, 2016. The Red Chambers threatened to suspend plenary sessions, if INEC failed to conduct all the pending re-run elections into legislative positions in Rivers State. The order followed the unanimous adoption of a motion under matters of urgent public importance, sponsored by Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, PDP, Enugu East and Senate Leader, Mohammed Ali Ndume, APC, Borno South.
While moving the motion, Senator Ekweremadu explained that failure on the side of INEC to conduct the re-run elections in Rivers State within the time frame, as ordered by the respective Election Petition Tribunals/Courts was in total breach of the Electoral Act and Section 76 of the 1999 Constitution. According to Senator Ekweremadu, the action of the electoral umpire in Rivers State was endangering the nation’s democracy.
Ekwermadu had noted: “Non representation of the entire people of Rivers State in the Senate and some constituencies of Rivers State in the House of Representatives and State House of Assembly, is in breach of Section 14 (2) (c) of the 1999 Constitution, and endangers peace and order in the State.
“Failure of lNEC to conduct election in Rivers State has continued to deny the people of Rivers State their constitutionally guaranteed rights to be represented in the Legislative Houses where laws affecting them are being made, and has engendered palpable anxiety amongst people of the State.
“Aware that lNEC had successfully conducted elections in the North East of Nigeria, especially in the areas around Sambisa Forest in spite of the area having been acknowledged worldwide to be ravaged by terrorist activities.”
Senator Ali Ndume gave different perspective to the rerun day, while contributing to the motion. He said: “Imagine that we are about to discuss PIB without any member from Rivers State. Some of our colleagues here today thought that they won, while others believe that they did not win. Let us remember that any of us could be in that position. If for whatever reason, elections were not conducted in my state, I would not be here, let alone being the leader of the Senate. How will I defend my people, imagine the bill on the NEDC, how would we have brought it and passed it. Our colleagues are out there and it is not their fault, we have a new leadership in INEC and we know the history: inconclusive, inconclusive suspension and sometimes confusion. We have a capable government and we must get the voice from here.”
After the Senate’s order to INEC, to conduct the rerun elections in Rivers, not later than December 10, 2016, the Commission, on November 3, 2016, announced that it had fixed December 10 for the conduct of the outstanding national and state assembly elections in the state.
The Commission, in a statement signed by its Secretary, Mrs. Auguta Ogakwu, also said December 3 was approved for election to fill Ifako/Ijaiye seat of Lagos State in the House of Representatives.
According to the statement, the Commission would, the same day, conclude rescheduled councillorship polls in some area councils in the Federal Capital Territory.
“After months of intensive planning and wide consultations, INEC has approved the conduct of Lagos’ House of Representatives election on Saturday, December 3, 2016. Federal Capital Territory councillorship election will also hold on the same day.
Expectedly, the Rivers State governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, commended the Senate for rising to the occasion, in defence of democracy as it concerned the rerun elections in the state.
He restated the importance of the state, getting its full representation in the National and State Assemblies.
INEC to deploy 10,294 staff:
According to INEC, 10,294 staff would be deployed to conclude tomorrow’s re-run National and State Assembly elections.
The information was contained in its daily bulletin, issued in Abuja recently. It said 14 categories of staff would be deployed to make up the 10,294 figure.
According to INEC, the categories would include: three Returning Officers for the three Senatorial Districts (DC); eight Returning Officers for Federal Constituencies (FC) and 10 Returning officers for State Constituencies (SC).
The Commission explained that the categories included, 23 Local Government Areas (Collation Officers, 221 Registration Area (RA), Collation Officers; 57 Collation Officers (for Collation only at RAs and 231 Supervisory Presiding Officers.
Also to be deployed, the bulletin further disclosed, were 1,840 Presiding Officers; 6,609 Assistant Presiding Officers (I, II and III) and 661 Assistant Presiding Officers (APOs).
Others are 363 Reserve APOs; 21 Constituency Supervisors; 24 LGA Supervisors and 223 RA Supervisors.
The elections would take place across 21 constituencies which include, three Senatorial Districts, eight federal constituencies and 10 state constituencies.
The three senatorial districts are; Rivers East Senatorial District; Rivers West and Rivers South-East.
The eight Federal Constituencies are; Akuku-Toru/Asari Toru; Degema/Bonny; Okrika/Ogu-Bolo; Etche/Omuma; Ikwere/Emohua; Khana Gokana; Eleme/Tai/Oyigbo and Opobo/Nkoro/Andoni.
The Bulletin further disclosed that State Constituencies where election would also hold were; Eleme, Gokana, Asari-Toru I, Asari-Toru II, Andoni, Khana II, Etche II, Ikwere, Bonny and Degema.
Election in Tai local government area has been in contention and a subject of litigation. Since after the March 19, 2016 rerun elections, there had been claims and counter claims of victory in Tai, by the two major political parties, in the state, PDP and APC. While APC is laying claims to winning in majority of the wards and units in Tai, a claim which seems to have the endorsement of INEC, PDP went to the court to challenge the electoral umpire, asking it not to declare the results of Tai local government area rerun elections. INEC, on the other hand, said it would conduct tomorrow’s rerun elections in only three Wards and some Units in Tai local government area.
But the state governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, has rejected the decision by INEC to conduct elections in only three wards and some units in the local government area. “I will not accept INEC’S decision on Tai rerun,” he declared. As this was still going on, a Federal High Court in Port Harcourt, on Tuesday, December 6, 2016, ordered that the results of places where elections were suspended in the March 19, 2016, rerun elections be announced. The places included, Eleme, Gokana, Khana, Tai, Bonny and Andoni Local Government Areas.
The order was given by Justice Mahkmud Liman, in the matter instituted by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), against the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), on the results of the rerun election in Tai Local Government Area.
But the court was silent on whether fresh elections should be held in Tai or, whether INEC should only conduct elections, where they were yet to be concluded in the LGA.
In the judgment, Justice Liman said that the APC could not also claim victory, since INEC was yet to issue a certificate of return to its candidate, adding that only INEC could announce the result of any election. He also said the Law did not allow INEC to postpone election indefinitely without fixing a definite date.
The trial Judge also berated INEC for shady organization of elections in the country, urging the electoral umpire to improve on its conduct of elections, devoid of controversies.
Justice Liman, however, urged all parties in the matter to be guided by the constitution and the Electoral Act.
The judgment has again raised dusts, as different persons, political parties, lawyers, among others, are giving it different interpretations.
While those in the camp of PDP are saying that the judgment implied that a fresh election be held in Tai local government area, and the result of election emanating from tomorrow’s election, those in the camp of APC are not seeing it that way. To APC, it is only the Election Tribunal that could decide on Tai March 19 rerun election and not the Federal High Court.
No doubt, the case of Tai local government area may be a potential danger to the conclusion of tomorrow’s legislative rerun elections in Rivers State.