As Nigeria marches towards the February 25 and March 11 general election, the mixed messages coming from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) are the last distraction the electorate needs at the moment. Nigerians were perplexed when the Board Chairman of INEC’s training arm, the Electoral Institute (TEI), Abdullahi Abdu Zuru, warned that the growing insecurity and attacks on the commission’s facilities, if not curbed, could cause the cancellation or postponement of the elections. Such a panicky statement goes a long way in feeding the fantasy of merchants of violence, making them believe they indeed have the capacity to thwart Nigeria’s democracy.
“If the insecurity is not monitored and dealt with decisively, it could ultimately culminate in the cancellation and/or postponement of elections in sufficient constituencies to hinder the declaration of elections results and precipitate a constitutional crisis”. These strong words were delivered by Zulu while representing the INEC Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu at the validation of election security training resources in Abuja on Monday. It instantly provoked nationwide outrage and apprehension since they were uttered on the authority of the Commission’s boss. Again, Zuru didn’t speak extemporaneously but read from a prepared speech that would ordinarily have been endorsed by his principal.
A forceful pushback of the sentiment expressed by the INEC official barely 44 days before the conduct of the 2023 polls came from members of the House of Reps, Afenifere, civil society, and other critical stakeholders. Against the backdrop of the vigilance by these Nigerians who will not allow the alarming statement to slide, the Federal Government and Yakubu himself came out with assurances that the elections will hold as scheduled. According to the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, “The position of the Federal Government remains that the 2023 elections will be held as planned.
“We are aware that INEC is working with security agencies to ensure that the elections are successfully held across the country. The security agencies have also continued to assure Nigerians that they are working tirelessly to ensure that the elections are held in a peaceful atmosphere. Therefore, there is no cause for alarm.” On his part, Yakubu said, “The repeated assurance by the security agencies for the adequate protection of our personnel, materials, and processes also reinforces our determination to proceed. The 2023 general election will hold as scheduled. Any report to the contrary is not the official position of the commission”.
These assurances aren’t enough, considering that the feared postponement or cancellation of the all-important elections isn’t out of logistic concerns as was the case in previous instances when the polls were shifted. The issue at stake is the state of insecurity which is not within the remit of the electoral umpire. What really can INEC do if there isn’t adequate security for its men and materials to function optimally in the build-up to the election or on D-Day?
It’s not a wonder that both Mohammed and Yakubu predicated their assurances on the critical intervention of security agencies. Before now, the Arewa Consultative Forum had warned that unless the security situation improves, elections may not take place in northern states such as Zamfara, Katsina, parts of Kaduna and Niger State, and even almost every part of the South-East!
It’s common knowledge that INEC facilities have come under relentless attacks across states of the federation in recent times. Yakubu disclosed that 50 INEC facilities in 15 states have been attacked in the last four years, that is, between 2019 and 2022. There is also the threat by some separatist groups that they won’t allow the conduct of elections in their part of the country. This poses grave danger to the lives and limbs of INEC permanent and ad hoc staff, who will be deployed for election duties. There is a section of the country where sit-at-home orders are arbitrarily imposed with unknown gunmen as enforcers.
Nigerians must therefore heap pressure on the appropriate quarters: the armed forces and law enforcement agencies. Just when President Muhammadu Buhari said he has decimated Boko Haram terrorists as promised, a group of scholars under the auspices of Conflict Research Network West Africa (CORN West Africa) reports that “the evidence we have gathered so far shows Boko Haram still has the capacity to block the distribution of election materials in some flashpoint areas, ostracizing voters for fear of attacks, and killings and destruction of properties during the forthcoming 2023 Election”.
A false sense of security bears a dire consequence on the elections. Let it not be that after the electorate is led to believe that everything is being done to ensure successful elections, they eventually discover that security arrangements were lax all along. It is for this reason that Naija News expects security agencies to do more in showing their preparedness for the polls. This shouldn’t be too much to ask, although they’ve not bothered to speak up to defray current concerns over widespread insecurity in the country. The constitutional crisis to be precipitated by the failure to conduct the general election within the stipulated timeframe requires a collaborative strategy that prevents arsonists and sundry criminals from disrupting the country’s democratic process.
Naija News believes that attention needs to be focused on security since INEC appears to be doing well with other critical loose ends. According to Yakubu, “At no time in the recent history of the commission has so much of the forward planning and implementation been accomplished 44 days ahead of a general election”. The security agencies must therefore meet the Commission halfway so that the fast-approaching election can be successfully conducted.
If general elections could hold in hotbeds of the Boko Haram insurgency in 2015, insecurity shouldn’t hold the country to ransom this time around. Those who have been causing mayhem and violently disrupting the electoral process are apparently playing out a script authored by their sponsors. It’s quite disturbing that these criminals and their sponsors have been allowed to run riot without being brought to justice.
It is a crying shame that despite Buhari’s directive that security agencies stamp out insecurity by December, attacks by elements contesting the authority of the Nigerian state have continued even in erstwhile safe locations. A case in point is last week’s attack on the train station at Igueben, Edo State by armed bandits who went on to kidnap dozens of passengers. This and other acts of violence preceding the general election demand that the President urgently convenes a national security meeting with the service chiefs given a marching order to ensure that citizens’ exercise of their franchise doesn’t become a risky or elusive venture.