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How inconclusive legislative polls short-changes Rivers

By Kelvin Ebiri, South-South Bureau Chief
07 September 2016   |   3:09 am
There is growing frustration in Rivers State over the inability of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to expeditiously conclude National and State legislative elections ...
INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu

INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu

Tendency to win at all costs responsible
There is growing frustration in Rivers State over the inability of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to expeditiously conclude National and State legislative elections, a development that has denied some constituencies a voice in government.

Since December 2015 when a Federal Court of Appeal in Abuja nullified elections of all three Senatorial, 12 House of Representatives and some State House of Assembly seats won by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), it has been uncertainty all through.

The March 19, 2016 rerun polls meant to fill the vacant seats was marred by violence. This caused the election to be declared inconclusive. Another rerun slated for 30 July, was postponed indefinitely due to arson attack on INEC office in Bori.

Presently, Rivers has no Senators in the Senate. It has just five out of 13 members in the House of Representatives. There are also only 22 out of 32 members in the State House of Assembly. All
belong to the PDP. Two All Progressives Congress elect-members are yet to be sworn in by the State House of Assembly due to pending court cases.

Both the ruling PDP and the opposition, APC have since 2013 been mired in fierce power tussle. But when in May 29, 2015, PDP government replaced the APC after an odious electioneering campaign, many had hoped for peace. The nullification of all the National and State Assemblies seats won by the PDP reignited the bitter political rivalry.

Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike, lamented recently that the lack of the state’s representatives at the National Assembly has denied the state the opportunity to contribute to deliberation of key national issues. He said the State has been denied legitimate representation at the National Assembly because of the illegal quest to save the dwindling political relevance of some individuals.

He expressed sadness that the State has been shut out on the deliberation of the crucial national issues, which interactive and decision-making mechanisms such as the National Assembly offers.

According to him: “Can Rivers State legitimately be bound by legislation or resolutions from the 8th National Assembly passed without our representation and input?”

Sharing same sentiment, a political analyst, Wilfred Tombari, told The Guardian that it was regrettable that elections, which are established mechanisms that citizens elect their representatives and hold office-holders to account, have been turned into warfare in Rivers State.

Tombari who hails from the Rivers South East Senatorial district, regretted that it was heartrending that desperate politicians have failed to realize that the state was losing so much as it has been denied a voice in key national deliberations before the two chambers of the National Assembly.

“I am seriously worried that there is no Rivers Senator in the Senate, and at the House of Representatives, I understand there are currently five instead of thirteen. This is not good for the image of Rivers state. This has never happened before. The political tussle between the two major parties for control over Rivers State is destroying the very foundations of the state. Rivers state politics has never been this contentious and dismally divisive” he said.

A member of National Conscience Party, Tonye Diri, said the much needed political stability, resulting in economic growth and development is being compromised by the continued lust for power by the two main parties, thus, denying the state her due representation at the National Assembly and even some state constituencies.

“Peaceful elections have the potential to deepen the quality of democratic governance, but desperate politicians are through their antics denying the citizens the benefits. Rivers state people are growing increasingly frustrated with lack of representations in the National and State Assemblies. While the gladiators in Abuja and Port Harcourt continue to resort to their divisive politics, creating unwarranted tension, the people of the State are suffering undue representation. This is uncalled for,” he said.

INEC has said it was ready to conclude the rerun elections in Rivers State if the political parties would guarantee peace. But the state governor has said there is no reason for the perpetual postponement of elections in Rivers State.

“They say there are security challenges in the State but even in the height of the vicious violence by the Boko Haram insurgency, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) supposedly conducted elections in Borno and other affected States. The excuse of insecurity is therefore a farcical political contraption. Again, if we may ask INEC and its collaborators: who is fooling who?” Wike queried.

Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi

Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi

The APC, which governed Rivers state between 2013 and 2015, following the decamping of former governor, Chibuike Amaechi, from PDP to APC, failed to catapult itself back to power at the state level in the 2015 general elections, having suffered a crushing defeat.

The APC fears that if the PDP succeed in consolidating their grip on power in the next four to eight years, it will be excluded from the largess of governance forever. Hence, due to the inability to increase its strength in any significant way in the March 19 rerun 2016 State and
National Assemblies polls, the party is battling to grab some of the legislative seats if it has to be relevant in the state.

Amaechi who is the APC leader in the state and minister of Transportation, enjoys considerable popularity in the State due to his achievements as a governor. The APC had hinged its hope of wresting some of the legislative seats on Amaechi’s influence. But the expectation has not come to pass.

However, it appears that PDP dreads Magnus Abe’s (the APC Rivers State South East senatorial district candidate) political clout and in a bid to neutralise him and curry favour for the PDP in his home base, Governor Wike, has awarded contract for the dualisation of the
Sakpenwa – Bori – Kono Road. To counter the antics of the governor, the APC has repeatedly flaunted its party’s central government commitment to implement the UNEP report on Ogoniland where Abe hails from, even when there is no budgetary allocation for the clean up in this year’s budget.

The PDP is determined to completely dislodge APC from the state’s political sphere. According to Wike, Rivers state belongs to the PDP and any attempt to use force to collect it, will lead to political upheaval because people are bound to resort to resistance.
“That was what happened  during the March 19 rerun elections. They came to rig us, so that they will have the percent of the Assembly seats and
everything for the National Assembly. So they came to rig the elections. I told them to have a rethink because it would not be easy to do that in Rivers State.

“Do the elections 200 times, it will be the same results. They are only postponing the day of reckoning. They are trying to cover the political inadequacies of one man. They say they don’t want him to be embarrassed. But there is no embarrassment. It is the voice of the people that matters. Elections are the prerogative of the people. It has nothing to do with the political image of anyone,” he said.

Meanwhile, Abe has assured that his party would adhere to the rule of law in the rerun and urged PDP to do same as it is only through the election that the public will know whether Rivers is PDP or APC. “It is the vote of the people that will determine the political affiliation of a state. Anybody who wants to know the political affiliation of Rivers people should allow our people to vote,” said Abe.

A businessman, Mr. Richard Njoku regretted that Rivers politicians have failed to realise that Nigeria is an extraordinarily diverse and complex country, with people everywhere grabbing opportunities to express their views in a multitude of ways to influence policy and decision-making processes.

According to him, the failure to resolve the rerun election is portraying the state before the entire world as politically and economically unstable place. This perception, is hurting investment and economic growth.

“With this kind of political situation, foreign investors will be reluctant to spend money in Rivers state. Domestic industries are facing a lot of challenges due to the political situation in the state. I think the real crisis in Rivers state is tied to the existential survival of these politicians. They have so conditioned themselves to living off the state; hence, they want to remain in corridors of power to ensure that regular flow of patronage passes through them. They don’t mind whether the state is sinking or not,” he asserted.