The administrative panel of enquiry set up by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), to investigate the December 10, 2016 rerun legislative elections in Rivers State, made its report public penultimate week. The major trust of the report was a damning revelation of the involvement of the security operatives who participated in the poll. The report detailed the complicity of the security operatives in the snatching of electoral materials, intimidation of voters and deliberate refusal of the operatives to accompany electoral officers to their duty posts.
According to the report, “One of the low points of the Rivers rerun elections of December 10, 2016 was the flagrant intervention of security operatives in the process. This was widely identified by staff of the Commission and independent observers alike, as one major factor that led to the failure of the process in some local government areas. Ironically, security operatives, who were expected to protect the process, turned on it. There were reported cases of willful obstruction of the process by security operatives, including snatching of materials and intimidating voters. In other cases, they refused to accompany and protect men and materials for elections.”
The INEC administrative enquiry, like the police panel of investigation and the probe ordered by the Rivers State Government, including the on-going election petition tribunal all aim at the same purpose and subject matter, which is to unravel the reasons behind the failure of the last parliamentary election in Rivers State. Therefore, we condemn the multiplicity of investigations into the same election. It is our position that a more neutral, representative, unbiased and centralized investigative body should have been more appropriate to inquire into the outcome of that highly flawed Rivers State congressional election rather than this series of charades in the name of probe panels that we are witnessing now. This is also why we add our voice to the call for the establishment of an election violence commission, that will independently handle all election related crimes and ensure that perpetrators are brought to book without let.
To all intents and purposes, these inquiries are self-serving, i.e., targeted at exonerating selves while at the same time pointing accusing fingers at others and perceived enemies. Like the police investigation, which veiled intention was obvious from the onset, it ended up exonerating its officers and men who incidentally openly compromised themselves during the process while demonizing the Rivers State Government headed by Governor Nyesom Nwike. No wonder the Rivers State Government was quick to dismiss the police report as, “patently false, politically motivated and cooked by the police to justify the violence they visited on the people of Rivers State during the re-run poll.”
The truth of the matter is that during the last parliamentary polls in Rivers State, both the INEC and the police got themselves thoroughly messed up with the election. Both got highly compromised in the process. As a result, the least we had expected both the police and INEC to have done was to set up in-house probe of the activities of their officers and men following the wide condemnation and indictment of their roles in the election by both the local and international observers, as well as other monitors. This is with a view to sanctioning their erring personnel and not to exonerate them.
Unfortunately, the elections that have taken place so far in Bayelsa, Edo, Kogi, Ondo and Rivers States since the new INEC headed by Professor Mahmood Yakubu came into being after the 2015 general elections do not inspire enough confidence in Nigerians as the polls have all, without any exceptions been characterized by one form of electoral malfeasance or the other. Our concern is that the inability of INEC to get it right during individual states’ elections, is unwittingly speaking volumes to what would very likely happen when general elections would be conducted in about 32 states of the federation in 2019.
Finally, we believe that the role of the police, and indeed, all other security agencies during any election is specifically to provide security and ensure the smooth conduct of the polls. If in the process the security agents catch people perpetrating violence and other electoral offenses, including their officers and men, it is in their place, especially the police to ensure that such perpetrators or offenders are arrested and prosecuted and not for the security agencies to turn around to exonerate themselves and apportion unsubstantiated blames. There are worrying concerns that the security agents are being increasingly used by the Government and politicians to perpetrate electoral violence and compromise the electoral process. Government must act fast to halt this untoward trend especially as we inch very close to the 2019 general elections. This is one of the critical ways Government can inspire confidence in the people in the coming elections.