Yesterday, for the first time in the history of the resource-rich Rivers State, a debate was held for the top contenders for the office of the Governor. Unlike the presidential debate, the three leading candidates took this debate serious enough to be present. The debate marked a watershed moment in the state, hopefully heralding the dawn of a new era.
Rivers State, the “Treasure Base of the Nation”, had always been in the news for the wrong reasons during past election seasons. Lying in the heart of the Niger Delta, the hotbed of militant agitation provided a slew of weapons for use during elections. Reports abounded of voter intimidation, snatching of ballot boxes and other electoral materials, stuffing of ballot boxes with ballot papers thumb-printed by a select few, killing of opponents and voters. Anything possible was done to subvert the people’s will.
Today, things are changing. The campaigns for the 2015 elections have witnessed a paradigm shift from the past. The different contestants have all made efforts to win the hearts of Rivers voters (by hook or crook). This election season has seen door-to-door campaigns, phone calls to sell candidates to voters, the use of opinion polls to gauge public opinion and determine whether campaign tactics are working or need to be changed. The campaign handbook has been revised.
PVCs. The fear of PVCs is the beginning of wisdom. Kudos to INEC for this innovation that is helping to put voters where they belong—at the heart of the electoral process. Voters are now being courted—like a real bride, “toasting” and all of that. The candidates have recognised that if PVCs are used effectively as INEC has outlined, rigging would be an arduous task. It is smarter to woo the voters, rather than rely on rigging, especially when at least one other candidate has access to resources to fairly match yours.
Expectedly, the debate was taken with the seriousness it deserved—four years to make or mar the state. Thanks to the organisers for giving Rivers people a chance to physically gauge the intellectualism of the candidates before heading to the polls. We only hope that the best man wins, and that he will incorporate useful ideas from other candidates.
Are we there yet? No! There is still some voter intimidation. The dark spectre of violence still lurks around. However, I have never been more proud of being a Rivers man. A better Rivers State lies just beyond the horizon. As we take one step after the other, we can gladly exclaim, “Yes! We’re getting there”.