By Ducor Handel
The outcome of the March 19 elections in Rivers State has brought into a sharper focus the contest of supremacy between former governor, Chibuike Amaechi and the incumbent governor, Nyesom Wike. Before now, both have been embroiled in a battle of wills. During the 2015 general elections, Rivers was one of the few states controlled by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that did not fall to the All Progressives Congress (APC) after the defeat of President Goodluck Jonathan in the presidential elections of that year.
The then governor, Amaechi, was up in arms against Wike who was flying the flag of the PDP at the elections. Amaechi had a lot of issues to worry about at that time. He was the incumbent governor who needed to do everything possible to install his successor. For him therefore, a Wike who was the candidate of a rival political party was not an option. That was not all. Amaechi was so neck-deep into the succession battle because he had defected from the ruling PDP to the opposition APC. As an incumbent governor, Amaechi needed to prove to his new friends in APC that he has electoral value in Rivers State. The only way he could demonstrate that was to ensure that the APC won the elections in the state. Much more was even expected of him when the APC named him the Director General of the Buhari Campaign Organisation. It became a matter of to whom much is given, much is expected. This was how things stood until the elections came. But Amaechi was disappointed. His new party lost all the elections in Rivers State. Wike emerged victorious. This was how the battle of supremacy began.
Having lost at the polls, Amaechi and his party tried the courts, where the Election Petition Tribunal and the Court of Appeal annulled Wike’s election. But the governor was lucky with the Supreme Court. The apex court affirmed him as the validly elected governor of Rivers State. Amaechi’s loss was Wike’s gain. But the battle moved to another level.
What is the issue at stake? Following the mass cancellation of the results of the legislative elections that held in Rivers State last year by the tribunal and the court of appeal, re-run elections were scheduled to fill the spaces created by the court judgement. That was what we had on March 19.
Going by the results announced so far, Wike’s PDP is on top of the situation. But the outcome came at a grave cost. There was wanton destruction of life and property. This is in spite of the fact that soldiers were deployed to maintain law and order.
From the available evidence, PDP is the party to beat in Rivers State, being the choice of the people. But the APC does not seem to acknowledge that they do not have the grassroots support needed to win elections in the state. The evil plot to subvert the will of the people has led to the deployment of fake ballot papers, while the military harassed and intimidated voters. Under normal circumstances, the military personnel who were sent to Rivers State were supposed to protect voters and ward off hoodlums. They were supposed to prevent ballot box snatching and other undemocratic acts. But their attention was somewhere else. That is why the election was marred by widespread violence in spite of their presence.
Amaechi and Wike may have their personal scores to settle. The people of Rivers State have since left that to them. But what is of interest to one and all is the integrity of the electoral process through which the representatives of the people emerge.
So far, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has not discharged its duties creditably. It was instrumental to the breakdown of law and order in some parts of the state because it failed to produce uniform ballot boxes. While some had the coat of arms in them, others did not have. Such a discrepancy was a recipe for rigging and manipulation. The detection and rejection of this anomaly by the vigilant electorate led to the fisticuffs and violence that ensued. INEC is, therefore, to blame for this show of shame.
As if this infraction is not enough, INEC is holding on to results of elections where the process has been completed. Here we are talking about results that were collated and announced at the polling units down to the wards and to local government areas which the commission has refused to announce. The action of INEC in this matter beats the imagination. Nobody can understand why INEC is arrogating to itself such enormous powers of withholding the results of elections that have been concluded. Someone needs to call INEC to order.
In all of this, the APC needs to call the minister to order. He is giving the party a bad name. Amaechi was appointed the minister of the Federal Republic. He has a lot of work to do in repositioning the transport sector. But the supremacy contest he is involved in with Wike has diverted his attention. The party for whom he is shooting randomly should tell him to redirect his energy to serious matters of state. Chasing shadows as Amaechi is doing is clearly unhelpful.
Since the PDP has demonstrated that it is the preferred party in Rivers State, what the APC should do is to go back to the drawing board. It must begin to reach out to the grassroots and present them with its own agenda. In the Rivers State of today, the APC appears to be non-existent because its leaders have not appreciated the fact that the people matter. The party’s modus operandi at moment appears to be its resort to the use of federal might. The government of Muhammadu Buhari should shun this brigandage. It should, instead, roll out programmes that will appeal to the people. If the PDP is believed to have fallen short of expectation in 16 years, the APC should be able to make a difference. If it fails to do this, it will continue to have problems across the states such as the one it is having in Rivers State at moment.
Handel is of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka.