Alarm hallmarked remarks by the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Mahmood Yakubu, at the end of last Friday’s meeting of the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES) held in Abuja.
Coming a day after the Commission’s offices in Ogun and Osun States witnessed simultaneous attacks at a time officials had started moving electoral materials to its offices nationwide, 107 days to the 2023 general poll, the meeting was a wake-up call to ICCES whose members include the Nigerian Navy, Nigerian Army, Nigeria Air Force, Department of State Security (DSS), Nigerian Police, Nigerian Customs Service (NCS), National Youths Service Corps (NYSC).
Other members are the National Drugs Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) National Security and Civil Defense Corp (NSCDC) and INEC.
“As we all know, a peaceful campaign heralds a peaceful election. We need to take decisive steps to stem the ugly trend,” said the INEC boss, who co-chairs the body with the National Security Adviser (NSA), General Mohammed Monguno, while speaking about the upward trend of election-related violence since the beginning of electioneering towards the 2023 general poll.
“Nigerians expect decisive action from ICCES. It is important that we move swiftly to apprehend perpetrators, prosecute them as required by law and reinforce security around election officials and electoral infrastructure around the country.”
Reeling of current figures on election violence, Yakubu stated that, “50 cases of attacks have taken place at campaigns of various parties and candidates in 21 states since the commencement of campaigns ahead of the 2023 elections.”
He however restated the determination of INEC to conduct a free and fair election in 2023.
Taking a general view of the situation, criminologist and a former military officer, Balogun Okelana, said actual events may be different from reality.
“These are all political gimmicks to distract the electorate and to also allude that 2023 general election may not be a reality,” he told THEWILL Friday, adding that, given the prevailing insecurity in the country, government at all levels (federal, states and local government) must work in synergy with security agencies to restore order and instill confidence in the electorate during campaigns, at elections and after polling.
He explained Mahmood’s fears against the backdrop of increasing electoral violence in the country involving the recent attack against the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) during campaigns in Kaduna and Borno States, as well as attacks on INEC offices in Ogun and Osun States.
According to INEC’s National Commissioner and Chairman of Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, the Commission’s office in Abeokuta South Local Government Area of Ogun State was last Thursday vandalised and set ablaze by some “unidentified persons, who overpowered security personnel on duty.”
He disclosed that in the wake of the attack, “904 ballot boxes, 29 voting cubicles, 30 megaphones, 57 electoral bags, 8 power generators and 65,699 permanent voters card,” were destroyed, including the main building. On the same day, the Commission’s office in Ede South Local Government Area in Osun State was attacked and set ablaze.
“These attacks will continue as long as proactive actions are hardly taken and past experiences seem to offer no guidance,” said Chief Willy Ezugwu, in his assessment of the situation.
Ezugwu, who is Secretary-General of the Conference of Nigeria Political Parties (CNPP) told this newspaper that if previous attacks on INEC offices in the South-East were investigated, culprits arrested and prosecuted, the likelihood of future attacks on the Commission’s offices would have been prevented or anticipated, at the least.
He said, “Things are likely to get bad before elections, if no serious action is taken by the relevant authorities to curb violence. The INEC office in Enugu was put on fire several times. Where were the police and DSS? Now, it has moved to the South-West and most likely, it will soon go to other geo-political zones before Election Day in February 2023.”
SOURCE OF THE PROBLEM
“Who are those perpetuating this violence?” the Chief Press Secretary to INEC Chairman, Rotimi Oyekanmi, asked at the weekend. Oyekanmi, who said the Commission’s officials were yet to know why its offices were always attacked, gave a hint. “When the INEC Chairman met with politicians recently, he urged them to speak to their manifestoes so that their members and Nigerians would know what to vote for.”
The PDP presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, who had been the subject of the most recent attack at campaign rallies, seems to agree.
Speaking to journalists in Minna, Niger State, during a visit to former military Head of State, General Ibrahim Babangida (retd.), Atiku, who bemoaned the lack of adherence to the spirit and letter of the Peace Accord signed by candidates of political parties ahead of the upcoming poll, blamed the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) for the attacks he described as “most unfortunate.”
Ezugwu sums it all up. “Desperate politicians will employ deliberate attempts to sabotage the process, if it is not going their way.”
Even the reactions of the major political parties to the Borno attacks speak volumes about the role of the parties in the saga. While the PDP blamed the APC over the attack, APC said it was the result of in-fighting within the opposition party in the state.
“Our party has information about how agents of certain APC leaders mobilised the thugs with the aim to escalate violence in Maiduguri and prevent the PDP from holding its presidential rally in the state.
“Nigerians witnessed with horror how hundreds of APC’s armed thugs stationed at major roundabouts and intersections in Maiduguri unleashed violence on the PDP presidential campaign convoy and innocent citizens going about their lawful activities in a gruesome attack that left over 70 persons gravely injured and hospitalised,” said PDP National Publicity Secretary, Debo Ologunagba.
But Bayo Onanuga, APC Presidential Campaign Committee spokesperson, disagreed. He said, “I learnt the police and Borno APC had issued reactions to the attack. It is a local issue and not part of our campaign. Our assumption is that it must be from the rival party group.
“You know the PDP is factionalised in that state. It could be as a result of in-fighting within the party, but it is certainly not an APC affair.”
Not amused by the antics of politicians, Inspector-General of Police, Usman Alkali Baba, waded in and promised to probe the matter, especially in the face of inconclusive report by the Police Commissioner in the North-East state, Abdu Umar.
Clearing the air on the investigation of the Borno attack, Force Police Public Relations Officer, CSP Olumuyiwa Adejobi, told THEWILL that the IGP decided to probe because of the inconclusiveness of the reports as part of the police work to prevent recurrence in other occasions. He said that although his office did not prepare a speech for the IGP for the ICCES meeting, the police boss had further pledged his support to INEC and the need to ensure adequate security for Nigerians during the upcoming polls.
Chief Ezugwu of the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties, CNPP, thinks that a combination of security and political action will do the trick. He called on the Inter Party Advisory Committee (IPAC) to step into the matter, while urging the security agencies to deepen their intelligence gathering efforts in order to be one step ahead of criminals.
“IPAC for its advisory role must interface with INEC regularly to bridge the information gap between the electoral umpire and politicians. For security purposes, the police and DSS must do more. They are closer to the civil society and must evolve more humane ways to get information from Nigerians. For now, that level of trust between the police and Nigerians, I am sorry to say, is still low because the people fear they would be intimidated or framed if they give information. Cases of violence must be prosecuted to the end and culprits jailed to serve as a deterrent or nothing will change.”
For Balogun, a criminologist, “Technology must be deployed to aid the efforts of security agencies because many criminals will hide under cover of the widespread insecurity in the country to perpetuate their criminalities.”
Oyekanmi appealed to Nigerians to see attacks on INEC facilities as attacks on their collective assets.
He submitted that the aspirations of many Nigerians were shortchanged and their aspirations thwarted when items like Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) were destroyed in attacks as it happened in Ogun State where 65, 699 uncollected PVCs were burnt.
The National Security Adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari handed down a warning to promoters and executors of election violence in Nigeria on Friday.
He said, “I want to give a clear warning to anyone, regardless of their party, including the President’s party. So long as your desire is to scatter the electoral process, you will be visited by the long arm of the law.”
INEC boss, Yakubu, said, “As we have stated on several occasions, an election is a multi-stakeholder activity involving not just INEC and the security agencies. The political class plays perhaps the most critical role in ensuring peaceful elections. We must all rise to the occasion.