The February 25, 2023 Presidential and National Assembly Elections have come and gone, but the violence that characterised the events in many parts of the country will continue to cast dark shadows on the electoral process in this part of the world.
Despite the assurances of the Nigeria Police Force, which coordinated the entire 400,000 security personnel deployed for the presidential poll, and the sanctions spelt out in the Electoral Act 2022, violence reared its ugly head in some polling units across the country, sometimes in the presence of Police officers who were more often inclined to look the other way.
In a bid to disenfranchise voters, armed thugs disrupted voting exercises and snatched and burnt ballot boxes, attacked women and electoral officers, sometimes with the aid of desperate government officials bent on rigging the poll.
Some states, such as Bayelsa, Borno, Delta, Edo, Imo, Kaduna, Kogi Rivers and Lagos, witnessed one form of violence or the other during the elections. Notorious cases that exemplified the violence took place in Kogi State where a young man identified as Akayama at Anyigba, in Dekina Local Government Area of the state, was killed by thugs who invaded the town to cart away electoral materials. In Edo State, a lady was killed by a gang of gun-toting assailants who shot sporadically at her polling unit during the counting of votes.
At Polling Unit 18, Ward 8, in Marte LGA of Borno State, women were physically assaulted and prevented from voting. Similarly, a young woman was attacked and stabbed by unidentified party thugs in the Surulere area of Lagos State. Some ad-hoc staff of the Independent National Electoral Commission deployed to some polling units in Rivers State were shot for failing to compromise the process.
In Akwa Ibom State, thugs suspected to be the supporters of a particular party, inflicted machete cuts on two voters before carting away with one Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) for polling units 11 and 12 at Oniong West Ward 1 in Onna Local Government Area of the state. Similar incidents occurred in Obiakpo area of Rivers State and Safana Local Government Area of Katsina State, as well as in the Oshimili area of Delta State, leading to the loss of BIVAS machines.
Surprisingly, the security agencies and authorities had been forewarned about the impending danger several months before the election and practically did nothing about it. Many months before voting commenced, thugs had invaded, burnt and destroyed many offices of the INEC while voter registration exercise and Personal Voter Card, PVC, collection, activities were disrupted by separatist and self-determination agitators. Yet, nothing concrete was done by way of arrests, prosecution and imprisonment.
Not surprisingly, violence still continued after results had been declared and campaign for the March 18, 2023 poll commenced. That was why, for example, armed thugs audaciously invaded and razed markets in Lagos State, where perceived opposition persons owned shops, leaving millions of property to waste and their owners in desolation.
We find this form of violent intimidation of voters, destruction of property and the killing of perceived rivals barbaric and condemnable. It is time for the security agencies and the law courts to put a full stop to this kind of anti-democratic descent to primitive conduct.
We urge the authorities to make examples of enablers of thuggery with people in high places. A case in point, which we applaud, is the removal of the Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, Alhasan Ado Dogowa, earlier arraigned at a Magistrate Court for arson and murder, from the list of winners in the just concluded polls by INEC for intimidating and forcing the Returning Officer to declare him winner of the election in Doguwa/ Tundunwada Federal Constituency, which he lost by 34,798 votes to 39,778 votes polled by Yushua Abdullahi of the New Nigeria Peoples Party, NNPP.
Hopefully, the Inspector-General of Police, Usman Baba, has admitted to the enormity of the problem. In a post-election meeting with strategic police officers, he disclosed that the police recorded and responded to 185 major incidents after it arrested 203 electoral offenders during the election.
According to Baba, the cases are at various stages of investigation at the Nigeria Police Electoral Offences Desks, adding that they would be concluded and processed to INEC’s Legal Department for prosecution in due course.
He said the police have identified gaps and perfect the action plan for the forthcoming March 18 elections.
We welcome the stand of the police boss and his move to work with INEC in seeking an end to electoral violence. In the same vein, we urge our justices to expedite action in cases involving electoral violence brought before them.
One of the high points of any democratization process is the freedom to unfettered participation and expression of choices. Violence in any form has grave implications for the process because it reduces the whole thing to a public circus.