The constant attacks on the facilities of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and their destabilising effects on the forthcoming general elections are creating panic in the minds of Nigerians. In this write-up, TUNDE THOMAS examines the danger ahead and the need to combat it on time for the country to have a credible poll
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has been doing everything within its power to ensure good conduct in the 2023 general elections.
The various reforms carried out by the electoral umpire which include the use of Bimodal Voter Accreditation System, (BVAS) and the electronic transmission of results used during some recent elections in states like Ekiti and Osun had also led to people having more hope that the result of the 2023 elections will reflect the wish of the electorate.
However, the efforts of INEC towards ensuring a credible election are being threatened by the constant attacks on its facilities across the country, most especially in the Southern part.
The fear being expressed is that the hoodlums’ activities, if not checked may mar the smooth running of INEC’s operation and thereby stall the plan for credible elections.
Political analysts and watchers of political events who spoke with Saturday Sun across the country are of the opinion that the successful conduct of the 2023 election is very important for the survival of the nation and therefore that all hands must be on deck to ensure that the election is well conducted and is free, fair and credible. They also agreed that if the current trend of attacks on INEC facilities is not curbed and on time too, it may affect the conduct of next year’s general election
One of the latest attacks on INEC facilities is the attack on INEC Headquarters in Iboko, Ebonyi State and this is coming less than three months before the February 2023 Presidential election. This latest incident was confirmed in a statement by INEC National Commissioner and Chairman of, the Information and Voter Education Committee, Barrister Festus Okoye.
According to him, the Resident Electoral Commissioner for Ebonyi State, Mrs. Onyeka Ugochi, reported that the incident occurred around 10.00 am when some unidentified persons set the entire building ablaze.
Okoye said that although no casualty was recorded in the attack, the main building, including all movable and immovable items, was destroyed. He said these include 340 ballot boxes, 130 voting cubicles, 14 electric power generators, large water storage tanks, assorted office furniture and fixtures, and yet-to-be-determined quantities of Permanent Voters’ Cards (PVCs).
“The attention of the Nigeria Police Force and other security agencies has been drawn to the incident and has commenced an investigation”, Okoye further disclosed.
It would be recalled that two offices of the INEC were attacked and set ablaze in Ogun and Osun States by suspected hoodlums three weeks earlier before the Ebonyi attack.. The suspected hoodlums were said to have in the wee hours of the day, a Thursday, set INEC offices at Iyana Mortuary, Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital on fire, while its Ede South Local Government Area office in Osun state was attacked and some portions burnt by the hoodlums.
Speaking after the incidents, Okoye listed items destroyed to include 904 ballot boxes, 29 voting cubicles, 30 megaphones, 57 election bags, eight electric power generators and 65,699 uncollected Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs). Continuing, Okoye also said the Resident Electoral Commissioner for Osun State, Dr. Mutiu Agboke, reported that INEC’s office in Ede South Local Government Area was attacked and set ablaze.
According to him, the incident occurred in the early hours when some unidentified persons attacked the building and set a portion of it ablaze. Fortunately, he said, “the damage to our Ede South Local Government was limited to a section of the building and only some furniture items were destroyed. With just 106 days to the 2023 General Election when the Commission has commenced the movement of materials to our offices nationwide, these simultaneous attacks are very worrisome indeed”.
It would also be recalled that the INEC last year said it had recorded 41 deliberate attacks on its facilities across the country between 2019 and 2020. INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu said the attacks on the commission’s facilities should now be treated as a national security emergency. He said out of the 41 incidents involving deliberate attacks on the commission’s facilities, nine of these incidents happened in 2019 and 21 cases in 2020. He further said the majority of the attacks – 29 out of 41 – were unrelated to election or electoral activities.
“In fact, 18 of them occurred during the #EndSARS protests in October 2020 while 11 attacks were organized by “unknown gunmen” and “hoodlums.”
Yakubu said although the commission was assessing the loss of materials during recent attacks, its preliminary assessment so far indicated that it lost 1,105 ballot boxes, 694 voting cubicles, 429 electric generating sets, and 13 utility vehicles (Toyota Hilux).
He said by working together with the security agencies, INEC could stop these attacks and the wanton destruction of critical electoral assets. Political analysts and observers believe that these attacks, which initially appeared as isolated and occasional actions, have now become more frequent and systematic, targeted at demobilising and dismantling critical electoral infrastructure in the country. They also believe this is not only undermining the INEC’s capacity to organise elections and other electoral activities but will also damage the nation’s electoral process and democracy if it is not checked.
Worried by the ugly unfolding developments, INEC summoned an emergency security meeting under the auspices of the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES), which INEC chairman, Yakubu, co-chairs with the National Security Adviser, Maj.-Gen. Babagana Monguno (retd).
At the emergency ICCES meeting held in Abuja, Yakubu said: “The commission is worried that if no urgent and decisive steps are taken, the attacks will intensify as we approach the election date. As we all know, a peaceful campaign heralds a peaceful election. We need to take decisive steps to stem the ugly trend.”
As a body, according to Yakubu, ICCES brings together agencies responsible for securing the process and ensuring peaceful elections in Nigeria.
“Understandably, 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,” he said
Monguno at the meeting also read the riot act to those bent on disrupting the electoral process through the destruction of INEC facilities.
He said: “We’re all aware of the fact that the President, as far as he’s concerned, is committed to upholding and safeguarding democracy. This is what the people want. The President has also given his directives through me to all the operational intelligence and law enforcement agencies to ensure that the 2023 elections are held in an atmosphere devoid of rancour.
“Those people who have gangsters working for them, I want to send a very, very clear warning, a categorical and unequivocal warning to each and everyone, regardless of whichever political party, including the party of the President, for as long as you decide to scuttle the electoral process, the law enforcement agencies will equally be uninhibited in reacting to whatever actions you have taken,” he warned.
Also, while speaking on the incidents three weeks ago, INEC has restated that the commission would recover from recent attacks on its facilities. The body’s Chairman, Professor Yakubu made this disclosure while speaking at a retreat organised for Resident Electoral Commissioners, RECs in Lagos.
He said, “In the last four months, five of our offices were attacked, buildings damaged, and materials destroyed across the country.
“It was worrisome for us because we lost over 1990 ballot boxes, 399 voting cubicles, 24 generators, and quite a number of PVCs, among many other items. “These attacks must stop and the perpetrators prosecuted. Our responsibility is to conduct elections and I want to assure Nigerians that we will recover from these attacks and that the lost materials will be replaced.
“We will continue to work with security agencies, traditional and community leaders, and well meaning Nigerians to stop the attacks. But the ultimate solution is to arrest and prosecute the culprits. One of the most painful is the recent attack in Ebonyi State. Staff relocated to the office on Friday and on Sunday the facility was attacked. “We are confident that we will recover but there’s a limit as to how much we can recover if the attacks continue within 86 days to the general elections. “We are committed to ensuring that nothing will stop the election from going ahead as scheduled”.
The Sultan of Sokoto and co-chair of the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC), His Eminence Saad Abubakar, agreed with the INEC’s position and said the 2023 general elections must be held despite attacks on facilities of the INEC. He stated this last Tuesday in Abuja during the 4th quarterly meeting of the NIREC themed: “Peaceful and Credible elections for National Renaissance”. He said President Muhammadu Buhari has promised to deliver credible elections in 2023 and that anyone who tries to sabotage his effort should be dealt with.
He said: “Before the elections, we will see the opportunity of bringing service chiefs to a meeting so that we can discuss with them people’s feelings and apprehension about the election. A lot of people have made comments about the 2023 general elections being make-or-break elections and I don’t believe in that. I totally disagree with them. It is an election in that people will go and cast their votes in peace and whoever almighty Allah decides will win and Insha Allah be the leader of this country, leader of the states where we all come from.
“Let us not play into the hands of the people who think the election is made or break. Let us all go out there and campaign peacefully. All the countries that are saying these things have their own serious problems. Just last year, something happened in the USA where a sitting president lost his seat. I don’t want to go into that because we all know what happened. Countries in Europe have their own problems”.
Also, the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) has condemned in strong terms the recent attack on the INEC office in Ebonyi State by yet-to-be-identified arsonists. The union warned that the attacks on INEC facilities across the country, if not quickly tackled, is capable of adversely affecting the conduct of the 2023 general election.
The President of the union, Chris Isiguzo, stated this in Gombe at the opening of a two-day capacity-building workshop for journalists and civil society organizations (CSOs) in the North-East zone on ‘Conflict Sensitive-Reporting, 2023 General Election and Countering Fake News’ organised by Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) in conjunction with NUJ and INEC. Isiguzo described the development as totally unacceptable, especially when Nigerians are preparing for a crucial election, just as he charged security agencies to rise to the occasion by ensuring adequate security for officials and facilities of the electoral body.
“I want to appeal to security agencies to up their game by providing adequate security for INEC officials and their facilities across the country. If there is any time the election management body and media professionals need adequate security, it is now. Anything short of this would adversely affect the 2023 general election.”
Observers are of the opinion that the damage being wreaked on the assets of electoral body infrastructure may impact negatively its preparations for elections and that seems to be the objective of those behind the attacks.
Yakubu had warned last year that these attacks “are no longer freak events but appear to be quite orchestrated and targeted at INEC.”
He added that the violence on the commission’s property was “targeted at demobilising and dismantling critical electoral infrastructure in the country” and to undermine INEC’s capacity to organize elections.
Speaking with Saturday Sun on the attacks, a former Minister for Transportation, Chief Ebenezer Babatope said the commission’s worries can’t be dismissed with less than 90 days to the 2023 general elections when INEC has commenced the movement of materials to its offices nationwide. He implored the federal government to take necessary measures to check the ugly developments.
Another analyst, Dr. Tuyi Olowu called on the Federal Government to treat the issue of attacks on INEC facilities as a national emergency that must be urgently addressed.
A careful appraisal of the attacks shows particularly that they are of great consequence to the success of the forthcoming elections because the financial implications of replacing lost or damaged items in the present economic situation are huge.