By Oke Umurhohwo
There are few things that provoke unifying resistance of the people like an attempt to usurp their rights and foist a leadership on them. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared Nyesom Wike as the winner of the March 9, 2019, governorship 26 days after ballots were cast in Rivers state.
According to the electoral umpire, Wike who contested on the platform of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) polled 884,264 votes to beat his closest rival, Biokpomabo Awara of the African Action Congress (AAC), who had 137,859 votes. This victory is significant for Wike not because he edged out Awara with over 700,000 votes but that undemocratic forces failed to thwart the will of the people.
It was not a coincidence that collation of results was stopped midway and took more than three weeks after the ballots were cast before the electoral umpire resumed the process and declared Wike as winner. While the electorates were focused on exercising their franchise and making their votes count, it was a battle of supremacy for some contending forces.
Former governor in the state and incumbent Minister for Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, was averse to the choice of Wike as his successor in 2015 but his opposition was not enough to stop his (Wike) emergence. In fact, Wike not only trounced Amaechi’s anointed candidate, Peterside Dakuku, but edged out the former governor from power considerations in the state.
The race for control of the state shifted to the 2019 governorship election, with Amaechi not relenting his push to oust Wike and seize power in the state. Even though his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) was not on the ballot for the election, Amaechi threw his resources and structure behind the AAC to tussle the top seat of the oil producing state with Wike. It was a struggle for power but the former governor underestimated the depth of support Wike enjoyed from Rivers people.
Let’s get certain facts straight– Rivers people are politically savvy and understand when their interests is under threat. Those who abandoned them for political expediency cannot turn around to manipulate them for power. It did not take them long to make their choice and it was Wike they made their rallying point. It was not surprising that Rivers people stood firm with Wike in the face of intimidation and oppressive forces unleashed on them. Rivers people trooped out and massively voted and defended the mandate they reposed in Wike.
The story of Rivers governorship election was a sad tale that would not be forgotten in a hurry in the history of the state. Violence and manipulations were brazenly deployed to alter the choice of the people but Rivers people stood their ground and ensured their will wasn’t subverted.
From polling units to collation centres, videos and pictures littered the internet on how gun wielding men tried to manipulate the process and forced party agents and electoral officials to abscond. Even the country’s electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was not pleased with the role played by the military in the electoral process, expressing its “displeasure played by some soldiers and armed gangs in Rivers State in disrupting the collation process and attempting to subvert the will of the people.”
During this time, there were several confrontations with the anti-democratic forces that led to the killing of some Rivers people, as they insisted that their votes must count. Dr. Ferry Gberegbe, a lecturer of a Polytechnic, paid the ultimate price when he fell to a bullet shot by the notorious FSARS, who had invaded the Khana collation centre, where the deceased was keeping guard as the PDP collation agent.
There were other casualties but that didn’t break the resolve of Rivers people, who maintained vigilance to avoid been robbed by the desperate power mongers. The consensus was that Wike is their choice and nothing should alter that. He was a potent symbol of their might and those who tried to foist themselves on the people misjudged the strong affinity between Wike and Rivers people.
This became more pronounced as Wike dedicated his victory to Rivers people, who he noted came together to resist oppression. While he expressed regret that “Some of them (Rivers people) lost their lives during the election, he added that “I never knew Rivers people can come together and say they would stand with us. We thank some Rivers people who are not here today; we dedicate this victory to them.”
Wike stressed that “By your peaceful conduct in the face of provocation, you have demonstrated truly that democracy is in your DNA and this we will continue to exhibit until all non-democrats pretending to be one are flushed out of our polity. The ruling All Progressives Congress should hide its head in shame that after four years in the office it had to use the combined team of gullible members of staff of INEC and military operatives to hang on to power after stealing the people’s mandate.”
Nigerian democratic experiment has passed through several phases and that of Rivers state confirmed the strength of the people’s might. From the events that led to the eventual declaration of Wike, it is obvious that oppression can be defeated and manipulation of mandate can be foiled if the people offer unifying resistance. Rivers people proved quite vigorously that in the political field, it’s almost impossible to push aside the symbol of their might and deny him their mandate.
Oke Umurhohwo is a Political Analyst and Strategist. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org