By Elizabeth Chukwuma
Barely 36 hours after the close of the March 9, 2019, governorship and states Assembly election in 29 states of the Federation, Mahmood Yakubu, a Professor and Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, has suspended the electoral process in Rivers state. Nyesom Wike, the People’s Democratic governor of the state who is seeking re-election and the party leadership may have played into the hand of the leadership of the Commission.
Unknown to them the Commission officials and the security operatives deployed to monitor the election may have watched what was going on in the state without challenging anybody to avoid disrupting the electoral process. They were said to sent their reports to INEC. Note that Wike, had described the election in the state as very peaceful . He was said to have told those that cares to listen that PDP will” win the election very well” .
Signs that there was problem with the conduct of the election in the state emerged when the Resident Electoral Commissioner, REC, in the state suspended the Collation of results from the local government Areas in the state. The INEC REC, had given the impression that that they would reopen the Collation centre by 9 a.m on Monday, March 11, 2019. The REC, may taken the decision to douse tension in the state. closure of the collation centre was at the instance of Yakubu, the INEC, Chairman, because of reports of widespread allegations of disruption of the elections , which Wike the state governor had described as very peaceful.
Given an insider information, Festus Okoye, a Lawyer and National Commissioner disclosed that the decision was taken because there has been reports of widespread disruption of the governorship and states Assembly election conducted in the state on March9, 2019.
In a Statement released by Okoye, the Commission Spokesperson, the initial reports had suggested that ”violence occurred occurred in a substantial number of polling units and Collation centres in the state”. According to him, a number of the Commission Staff were taken hostage and electoral materials including result sheets were either seized or destroyed by hoodlums. He disclosed that the electoral umpire has no option but to suspend the electoral process in the state because the life of the Staff were in danger.
In taking the decision , INEC officials at the instance of Yakubu, the Chairman, were said to have an emergency meeting on the conduct of the Rivers state election on Saturday, March 10, 2019, where they decided to suspend to suspend all electoral processes in the state until further notice. Okoye, the Commission Spokes person said the decision was in line with section 26 of the Electoral Act, 2010, as amended and Clause 47 of the Regulations and Guidelines of the Commission.
Aware that the decision may trigger off a major crisis in the state, Yakubu, the INEC boss was said to have set up a fact finding Committee to assess the situation the state and report back to the Commission within 48 hours. The report of the Committee, according to sources may determine whether the governorship and state Assembly election would be cancelled or only the affected local governments would be cancelled. and the election rescheduled. Appealing to the people of the state to be calm and for their understanding, the tough talking Yakubu, assured that the Commission will surely look into the ”circumstances of the alleged disruptions of the election and what further action to be taken.
Efforts to speak to speak to Felix Obuah, the PDP Chairman in the state and Emma Okah, the state Commissioner of Information did not materialise. It was learnt that the Wike, the state governor and the party officials quickly went into closed door meeting when the INEC made the decision public.
While PDP supporters in the state wore gloomy look on hearing the news, Supporters of Lulu Briggs, the Social Democratic Party, SDP, governorship Candidate and those of his counterpart in the Labour party are jubilating over the INEC decision. The APC Camp in the state were not left out in celebrating the INEC decision. They have every reason to mock Wike, the PDP Candidate, who be coasting home victory in the governorship because he had mocked the party for not fielding a governorship Candidate during the election.
Rotimi Amaechi, a former governor of the state and minister of Transportation had backed Tonye Cole, a Lagos based oil magnate to be the party governorship Candidate bu Magnus Abe, a Senator of Federal Republic of Nigeria, who many believes won the party primaries rejected the Amaechi, the APC leader in the state. The case was dragged on to the Supreme Court and the duo were stopped from contesting the election, forcing INEC , to remove Cole, which was originally on its list from contesting the election.
There are fears that President Muhammadu Buhari might be forced to declare a state of Emergency in the state which may force him to appoint a Military Administrator to take over control of the state on the expiration of the current governor of the state until INEC was ready to organise a fresh election to elect a substantive governor and members of the state House of Assembly
Recall that former President Olusegun Obasanjo had declared a state of emergency in Plateau and Ekiti states during his tenure where he appointed Military Administrators to oversee the two state.
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