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Fresh Fears Over 2023 Polls

  • Potential Threats to INEC Installations Persist

  • 53 Attacks Recorded at INEC Facilities in 15 States

  • Enugu, Anambra, Imo, Osun, Others Are Hot Spots

  • Commission Rules Out Postponement of Elections

THEWILL APP ADS 2

The fearful headlines triggered by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC’s conditional statement about possible insecurity-induced cancellation of the 2023 general elections is yet to subside ten days after, despite reassurances to the contrary.

On Friday, January 20, almost a fortnight after the Commission alerted Nigerians on the dangers the 2023 polls face due to insecurity and its boss, Mahmood Yakubu and the Federal Government restated their commitment to conducting the polls on schedule, the issues have finally taken a front burner.

That day, the European Union, the United Kingdom and Australia issued fresh security alerts, a little alarming than the ones issued in October last year alongside the United States of America, Canada, Germany and Bulgaria.

According to the Australian Government, whose statement is representational, “Nigeria is scheduled to hold national and state elections between 25 February and 11 March. The risk of election-related violence is high. You should avoid all political gatherings and election related sites in the lead up to, and during and after this period.

“Offices of the Independent National Electoral Commission across the country have already been targeted and should be avoided. Politically motivated murders and kidnappings have occurred, and the threat of further incidents remains high.”

The threat of further incidents indeed remains high.

“The Commission is concerned about the attacks in our facilities. The Commission has recorded over 53 attacks in its facilities in 15 states since the conclusion of the 2019 general elections,” INEC National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Committee, Mr Festus Okoye, told THEWILL on Thursday.

He is however optimistic that the Commission will conduct the 2023 polls as scheduled.

“Nigerians are therefore entitled to look forward to a good election and be concerned if there are signs of any potential disruption of the process,” he said.

An Non Governmental Organisation, Election Monitors, said, according to its record, 300 incidents of election violence took place between party primaries in June and July 2022 as well as on January 15, 2023, posing grave dangers to the conduct of the polls amid widespread insecurity in the country.

To underscore the nature of the threat to the conduct of the poll resulting from attack on INEC facilities, gunmen who have been violently engaging the state in the southeast, on January 12 attacked the Commission’s office in Owerri, the Imo state capital and on the January struck 15 at Ahaizu Local Government office, where the attackers burnt the office. On the 16th, another attack took place in Enugu South Local Government. Policemen on guard at the office were overpowered. One of them was killed while another sustained injury. The Commission’s building was razed. But for the army personnel from the 82 Division who responded quickly, INEC’s materials would have been burnt as had happened in many other places where similar attack took place.

The gunmen in the Imo state attack whom the Police Spokesperson in the state, Mike Abatam, described as members of the Eastern Security Network, ESN, the armed group of the proscribed Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, IPOB, were said to have shouted “No election in Biafra land,’ after shooting to death a man they suspected had come to the Commission’s office at the local government to collect his Permanent Voter Card, PVC.

In the past three months, Enugu, Anambra, Abia and Imo in particular, plus Akwa Ibom, Ondo and Osun states, have witnessed some forms of attacks on the Commission’s office in the past six months.

Supporting Okoye’s optimism about the forthcoming polls, President of Association of Political Consultants in Africa, Mr Kehinde Bamigbetan, told this newspaper that what the statement on feared poll cancellation made by INEC official, Abdullahi Zuru, at a function where he represented his boss penultimate week, should be seen for what it was, a mere alert to the people and stakeholders that there are indeed threats that might undermine the polls, adding that security agencies, the media and Nigerians should take up the challenge.

THE CHALLENGE

In Bamigbetan’s thinking, the sources of the threat to the upcoming polls are not being properly defined and addressed by stakeholders. In as much as he agrees that there is ongoing cross-country discontent because of bad governance coupled with widespread insecurity that peaked with the agitation for self-determination in the southwest geo-political zone of the country and secession in the southeast, he submits that the real issues are wrongly placed.

He said; “the component units that make up our federation are free and have some autonomy. The question is, are the elected representatives of the people at whatever level using the autonomy to respond to the needs of their people? We are no longer in a military regime. In the contest of a federation, are the agitators saying that their local government, states and their elected representatives are useless to the development of their places? States collect allocation from the federation account monthly. Who is asking them what they use the allocation for and how? Where is the money going? This is what I mean that the agitators are placing the issues wrongly and it is our duty to ensure they do not disrupt processes in the country.”

In the southeast where there is real danger owing to sustained attacks and killings at the Commission’s offices, Bamigebtan sees two forces at play, which, according to him, has to be handled properly to ensure the threat to conduct of the poll in that geo-political zone goes on with fewer hitches.

“I think the emergence of Peter Obi as Labour Party candidate has doused tension there to a reasonable degree and has caused a split in the agitation into two. That of IPOB and others who want to vote to affirm their belief in Nigeria,” he said, adding that the voting figure of 10 million plus for the Southeast shows an increase over previous year’s figures, and a confirmation that people want to vote during the election. “This scenario would boost INEC Chairman, Yakubu’s determination that the poll must hold as scheduled,” he explained.

ALERTED TO GET READY

While anxiety remains over the potential threat of violence to INEC facilities persist, the Commission has continued to reassure Nigerians that it is prepared and ready to conduct the polls as scheduled. Speaking on this again in the interview with THEWILL, Okoye said Section 132 and 178 of the Constitution have circumscribed the period for the conduct of elections in Nigeria. Sections 134 and 179 of the same Constitution have also delineated the periods for the conduct of a second election if no winner emerges on the first ballot.

“These periods are constitutionally and legally circumscribed and the Commission will not tamper with these periods.

“The Commission has taken proactive steps to ensure and guarantee electoral continuity. The Chairman of the Commission, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, has assured the nation that the period assigned for the conduct of the 2023 general elections is fixed and firm and the Commission is committed to those days. The issue of postponement or rescheduling of election is not on the table. The security agencies have assured the nation and the Commission that they will secure the nation and elections will hold and hold on schedule.

“We assure the nation that elections will take place on the 25th of February 2023 and 11th of March 2023. The Commission has taken delivery of the full complement of the BVAS for the conduct of the election. Non-sensitive materials are daily moving to locations and training is ongoing. We are confident that we will get things right,” Okoye said.

He called on security agencies, the media, relevant NGOs and other stakeholders to join hands with the Commission to assist it discharge its commitment.

On its part, the Nigeria Police Force, which is the chief security organ in civil matters such as election, has started educating the rank and file on security for the election. Last Thursday , the Inspector General of Police, Usman Alkali Baba, ordered the distribution of more than a million copies of a handbook produced by the Nigeria Police Force on “Revised Standard Operational Guidelines/Rules for Police Officers and Other Law Enforcement Agents on Election Security Duties ahead of the 2023 General Election.”

According to the Force Spokesperson in Abuja, CSP Olumiyiwa Adejobi, the manual “could act as a standard in holding policemen and other security agencies accountable in the line of their electoral duties, as all hands must be on deck to actualise the mandate and commitment of the NPF to have free, fair and credible elections in Nigeria.”

SOLUTION

The Conference of Nigerian Political Parties, CNPP, says the position of President Muhammadu Buhari on the conduct of the election is enough assurance that the perceived threat posed by insecurity generally and particularly with respect to attacks on the Commission’s facilities will not stop the conduct of the polls.

According to the CNPP General Secretary, Willy Ezugwu, in a chat with THEWILL, President Buhari’s recent charge to the security agencies to ensure nothing stands in the way of the conduct of a free and fair poll is a big plus for the upcoming polls.

“President Muhammadu Buhari was clearly on point when he disclosed that he has charged security agencies to do away with anything that will soil the nation’s democratic process, saying that, “Under no circumstances should they get involved in anything that could compromise the democratic process, or bring disrepute to their institutions and to Nigeria. We also stand with President Buhari on his charge to Nigerians to resist attempts by politicians to disrupt the forthcoming polls,” Ezugwu said.

Bamigbetan thinks that no matter how bad the prognosis is, a deal can always be struck to have the polls go ahead if the security threat were to persist.

“One of the off-season elections took place in Anambra state. In spite of the treaty of IPOB, a deal was struck to allow the conduct of the poll to go on,” he said and called on the security agencies, the media, NGOs to work with INEC in order to ensure the general election is conducted.

“It is the responsibility of all and sundry to ensure the federation of Nigeria survives,” he said.

Reacting to the security alert of UK, EU and Australia, CSP Adejobi, on Friday, reportedly said “Since this is a foreign relations matter, I wouldn’t like to comment on it. However, Nigeria is safe, and this isn’t the first time that foreign countries are giving such alerts to their citizens.”