The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) last week yielded to pressures mounted by the Senate to fix a date for the outstanding re-run elections for the state and National Assembly seats in Rivers State, declaring that it would conduct the election on December 10.
In a statement by the Secretary to the commission, Mrs. Augusta Ogakwu, INEC said it had consulted widely and was ready to conduct the outstanding re-run elections in the state on December 10.
Both the Election Petitions Tribunals and Court of Appeal had between November last year and January this year nullified all the legislative elections conducted in 2015 by INEC into the state and National Assemblies in the state. The tribunals consequently ordered the commission to conduct the rerun elections within 60 days.
But since then, the commission has been dilly-dallying, citing insecurity as an excuse and consequently leaving the people of the state without adequate representatives in the national and state assemblies.
Though the commission last March tried to conduct some of the rerun elections, it however cancelled those of the three senatorial districts and some federal and state constituencies. So far, the outstanding polls in the state include three senatorial seats, eight House of Representatives seats and 10 state assembly seats.
While the state currently does not have a senator in the upper legislative chamber, in the House of Representatives, the story is almost the same as it has only five members out of 13 it ought to have. In the same vein, it has 22 members out of 32 members it should have in the state assembly.
While INEC under the leadership of Prof. Yakubu Mahmood has consistently used insecurity as an excuse to shift the outstanding polls, most indigenes of the state feel that the excuse is self-serving and not altruistic. They have wondered why the same commission has conducted elections in more dangerous parts of the country than Rivers State. Specifically, they had criticised the electoral umpire for conducting elections in the North-east, the hotbed of Boko Haram insurgency and leaving their state considered to peaceful.
For them, they feel that INEC is acting a script seemingly written by certain highly placed politicians on the polls. They are of the view that with enough security agents, the remaining elections can be concluded without hitches. They argued that if the Edo State governorship poll which was postponed based on serious security threat could be conducted, that of Rivers should be as easy.
The people wondered why they should be subjected to non-representation in the state and National Assembly for no fault of theirs or why they should be denied representation simply because of the ambition of certain politicians in the state
It is was against this background that the Senate last week threatened to suspend sitting indefinitely if by December 10, INEC fails to conduct the outstanding rerun elections in Rivers State. Moving a motion on the floor to the upper legislative chamber to drive home his point, the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, alleged flagrant breach of constitutional and Electoral Act 2010 provisions as well as disobedience to court orders by INEC’s failure to conduct outstanding elections.
He expressed dismay over the decision of the electoral body to act on the resolution of the Senate on September 27, 2016, which implored it to conclude all pending rerun elections in the country. He said it was appalling that INEC had continued to act in breach of Sections 14(2c) of the 1999 Constitution which he said guaranteed the participation of all parts of Nigeria in the governance of their country.
He said INEC’s perceived recalcitrance against the conduct of the elections also violates Section 76 of the constitution which orders INEC to conduct elections into the Senate and House of Representatives on an appointed date.
The deputy senate president, who lamented the non-representation of the senatorial districts of the state in the activities of the Senate for almost a year, described INEC’s action as not only an affront to various laws of the land but also unfair to the entire people of the state.
He said: “We observe that in spite of Senate resolution 016/02/16 of 27th day of September, 2016 calling on the INEC to immediately conclude all pending rerun elections in the country, INEC has failed, refused and or neglected to conduct rerun elections in Rivers State into the Senate, House of Representatives and State Houses of Assembly.
“We also observe that the failure of INEC to conduct the rerun elections in Rivers State within the time frame ordered by the respective elections tribunals and the courts is in breach of the Electoral Act and Section 76 of the 1999 Constitution and is endangering the nation’s democracy.
“Further observe that 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 Houses of Assembly is in breach of Section 14 (2c) of the 1999 Constitution, which enjoined the participation of every part of this country in the governance of Nigeria and this endangers peace and order in Rivers State.
“Further observe that failure of INEC to conduct elections in Rivers State has continued to deny the people of Rivers State their constitutional guaranteed rights to be represented in the legislative houses, where laws affecting them are being made and endangered probable anxiety among people of the state. Accordingly resolves that INEC should conduct the elections on December 10, failing which the Senate will suspend plenary.”
Supporting the motion, Senate Leader, Ali Ndume, lamented that Rivers State had been denied involvement in various important decisions affecting them including the debate on Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) which passed second reading yesterday.
He lamented that if INEC was grappling with inability to conduct election in only one state, it would be problematic to expect the same commission to conduct a successful election in 2019, observing that the elections conducted so far by the current leadership of INEC has either been inconclusive, suspended or characterised by confusion.
It is not only the Senate that has expressed bitterness over the non-conclusion of the rerun elections in Rivers State. Recently, the House of Representatives too urged the commission to immediately conclude all outstanding elections into national and state assemblies in the state, Anambra and other states.
The House also mandated its Committees on Legislative Compliance and Electoral Matters to ensure compliance with the House resolution of June 23, 2016, and that INEC concludes all elections in Rivers State and revert within two weeks with a confirmed date for the election.
Adopting a motion sponsored, the Minority Leader, Hon. Leo Ogor, Hon. Kingsley Chinda (Rivers PDP) and four others, the House accused INEC of disregarding a December 2015 order of the Court of Appeal, which directed that re-run elections in Rivers state should be conducted within 60 days.
“But INEC has since consistently failed, neglected and/or refused to do so, apart from the one it conducted on March 9, 2016 in only four out of the 12 federal (and few state) constituencies that re-run elections were ordered in December 2015. Yet, the present leadership of INEC has consistently neglected, failed and/or refused to conduct elections in only about eight local governments of Rivers State, citing security concerns,” Ogor added.
Contributing to the motion, Majority Leader, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila said INEC is shortchanging the senatorial districts and constituencies by not concluding the elections.
Before the Senate outburst last week, Governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike of the state, while speaking at a forum in the state stated that the fact that INEC can successfully conduct elections in Sambisa forest, but not in Rivers State was an indication of the negative plot against the state. He said the non-conclusion of the rerun elections in the state was the fallout of the grand conspiracy to rig the polls in favour of an unpopular party.
The governor noted that it was ironic that INEC which conducted successful elections in the North-east and Sambisa forest could not conduct election in Rivers State. He maintained that the state is far more peaceful than other major states in the country, hence it has played host to series of international and national conferences.
He said once elections approach, desperate opposition politicians and their media collaborators induce negative propaganda on insecurity, adding that deliberate anti-development programmes have been slated against Rivers State, pointing out that the state has successfully overcome these plots.
“Because people want to illegally seize power in Rivers State is the reason you are hearing all this. This plot is to take Rivers State. Why do you want to take Rivers State when it is not your own? Between March 19 and now, they planned to do elections so that they can get the number of seats to impeach me and put their own man. Since March, every day they postpone the elections, from May to June, July and August, then September. They said October ending, still no election. Now, they said December 10 and when we get to December 10, they may shift it to next year.
“Election took place in Borno; election took place in Yobe; election took place in Adamawa, where you have deadly insurgency. They were able to conduct elections and votes were counted. They were able to conduct election in Sambisa forest and votes were counted. But they cannot conduct election here in Rivers State.
“They continue to postpone the elections in Rivers State. The Senate will be discussing the Petroleum Industry Bill, they will be having the constitutional amendment and the state that produces the oil has no senator and cannot to be part of the discussion. Nobody will defend Rivers State in the senate. Nigerians are not worried. Why? Rivers is a minority state,” Wike said.
Election took place in Borno; election took place in Yobe; election took place in Adamawa, where you have deadly insurgency. They were able to conduct elections and votes were counted. They were able to conduct election in Sambisa forest and votes were counted. But they cannot conduct election here in Rivers State