WHEN former President Goodluck Jonathan “prophesied” that Nigerians would miss him when he left office, he was laughed to scorn in many quarters. Just seventeen months after he peacefully handed over to a new President, General Muhammadu Buhari, and his new ruling party, the All Progressives Congress, APC, you can decide for yourself if our democracy has improved. The two regimes have had the good fortune of appointing new National Chairmen of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC. Jonathan deferred to public opinion in appointing a person of integrity, Professor Attahiru Jega, to replace Professor Maurice Iwu as the National Chairman of INEC. Jega went on to deliver elections that largely met the expectations of Nigerians.
The ruling and opposition parties won elections across the country and they stood. Jonathan always congratulated the winners, irrespective of which party they belonged to. Eventually, the INEC conducted general elections in which Jonathan and his party were voted out. Jonathan lost because of a coalition of conspiracies within and outside the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, which swept the carpet from under him; the kind of thing that happens when a ruling party and its leadership are no longer in tune with majority of the people. The entry of Buhari into Aso Villa also coincided with the end of Jega’s five-year tenure as INEC Chair. Nigerians expected the new President, touted as a “man of integrity”, to consolidate on the independence of INEC by either giving Jega a second term or appointing another person of integrity to replace him. But they were in for a series of shocks. Perhaps, the new Buhari regime felt that Jonathan lost because he put a person of integrity in the INEC chair, and decided not to make the same “mistake”. First of all, a female National Commissioner who calls Buhari “Uncle”, Hajiya Amina Zakari, was made the Acting Chairman, brushing aside Ambassador Ahmed Wali, whom Jega had handed over to. Then, without the public input, Buhari appointed Professor Mahmood Yakubu on 21st October 2015.
Since then, the credibility of INEC has returned to the negative axis. Yakubu’s INEC has conducted elections in Imo, Kogi, Bayelsa, Rivers and Edo States. The first four elections were declared “inconclusive” and redone. The Edo election was mysteriously postponed following unfounded “security threats” which INEC was forced to succumb to. Some say the postponement was staged to allow the ruling party more time to perfect its “winning” strategies. The most notorious case of inconclusive elections happened in Rivers State. While the inconclusive elections in Kogi and Bayelsa have been concluded by INEC, the Rivers State case remains unattended to for “security” reasons. The APC leaders in the state have constantly painted the picture of Rivers as a place where people are being killed like chickens, while the Governor of the State, Barrister Nyesom Wike, has maintained that the security situation there is no worse than what obtains in other states. There is no doubt that the APC Federal Government and the PDP state government are locked in a battle royale to control Rivers State. The PDP had won the governorship election and all but one of the 32 seats in the State House of Assembly in the 12th April 2015 elections. It also swept all three senatorial seats and won twelve of the 13 state seats in the House of Representatives. But the Court of Appeal, on 11th December 2015 sent all three senators, 12 House of Representatives and State House of Assembly legislators home. Reruns were ordered in the affected constituencies. Today, only one member of the House of Reps from Rivers is in the National Assembly. In the State House of Assembly, which is of particular concern to Governor Wike and his APC opponents, the Court of Appeal in its December 2015 verdict, sent all the lawmakers home.
A new permutation entered the calculation: if the APC could, somehow, find a way to win a commanding majority of the vacant seats at the rerun, they could still be in a position to impeach Governor Wike. But the rerun election that ended on 21st March 2016 produced 10 PDP victories compared to APC’s one with 21 seats outstanding. Though Wike’s PDP is well ahead, the Governor’s position still leaves him much room for anxiety. But the main issue in the Rivers State inconclusive polls is not just about “safety” for anyone’s position. It is about the right of the Rivers State electorate to be represented by their chosen leaders in the state and federal parliaments. Mahmood Yakubu’s INEC says Rivers remains unsafe for the elections to be concluded. But he has been repeatedly reminded that Jega’s INEC managed to conduct elections in Borno State when Boko Haram was still in control of its fourteen local government areas and maintained presence in Yobe and Adamawa States.
The perceived security challenge in Rivers State does not come remotely close to what Jega weathered in Borno. That excuse does not hold water anymore. It is sad that Rivers, the nation’s foremost oil producing state, will not be represented in the Federal Parliament when the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB, Buhari’s Economic Emergency Plan, the controversial $30 billion President Buhari foreign loan proposal which has implications for all Nigerians of today and tomorrow, will be debated. They will not be able to have their say when Buhari comes forward with his plans to sell national assets, many of which are in Rivers State. They will not participate in approving the 2017 budget. And these will all be due to the incompetence of Yakubu’s INEC or deliberate plots to use state institutions to manipulate the political situation in Rivers State against the wishes of the vast majority of its electorate. Mahmood Yakubu’s INEC must tell us when he intends to complete the elections in Rivers State and allow its legislators to take their rightful, constitutionally-guaranteed places in the Nigerian political space. We are waiting.