An exercise threatened by insecurity

    DIRISU YAKUBU writes on the much talked about general election, which is now a handful of weeks away, and the fear of insecurity that poses a threat citizens’ high expectation

    In its over two decades of experimentation with democracy, Nigeria again has a date with history as millions of her citizens take off a day to exercise their civic responsibility of electing a new president on February 25th this year. Like in the past, a good number of Nigerians living within and abroad see the election as an opportunity to reposition the country which continues to be in the news for the wrong reasons.

    Unlike previous elections held from 1999 to 2019, the 2023 elections offer a ray of hope to the hopeless. For the first time, election results will be transmitted in real time electronically, making it impossible for any returning officer to be cajoled to manipulate figures in favour of moneybags. The Bimodal Verification Accreditation System simply known as BVAS, which replaces the card readers of old, is expected to impact positively on the character of the elections. All these speak to the determination of the Independent National Electoral Commission to deliver credible elections to Nigerians, as promised not only by its Chairman, Professor Mahmud Yakubu, Inspector General of Police, Usman Alkali, but the President himself, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.).

    Speaking on the uniqueness of the 2023 elections recently at an event in Abuja, Yakubu, represented by the Chairman, Board of Electoral Institute, Abdullahi Zuru, said, “We are aware that there is a new Electoral Legal Framework that will guide the 2023 election as a result of the enactment of the Electoral Act 2022, which prompted the review of the INEC Regulations and Guidelines for Conduct of elections 2022.

    “Sections 47(2), 60(1, 2 & 5), 62(1), 64(4a & 4b) and 64(5) of the Electoral Act 2022, which confers INEC with the power to use any technological device to transmit or transfer election results electronically are instructive in this regard.

    “Emboldened by these legal protections, the commission introduced new innovative technologies and procedures and made commitments to the Nigeria People that (a) Continuous Verification, Accreditation and Voting will be conducted at the polling units using BVAS, and (b) Real-Time Polling Unit-level results will be uploaded on to the INEC Results Viewing (IReV) Portal using the same BVAS,” he noted.

    Despite the optimism that technological innovation is expected to play in this year’s exercise, a dark cloud hovers around the polity in the form of insecurity.

    The INEC boss at the same event was quoted to have said, “We all appreciate the fact that election security is vital to democratic consolidation through provision of an enabling environment for the conduct of free, fair, credible, and inclusive elections and thus strengthening the electoral process.

    “Consequently, in preparations for the 2023 general elections, the commission is not leaving anything to chance in ensuring that intensive and extensive security is provided for election personnel, materials, and processes.

    “This is particularly significant to the commission given the current insecurity challenges in various parts of the country and the fact that members of the National Youth Service Corps constitute the core of the polling unit election officials,” adding however that “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 declaration of elections results and precipitate constitutional crisis. This must not be allowed to happen and shall not be allowed to happen.”

    If that is not worrisome enough, INEC has in its own independent report, published on its website, noted that about 50 attacks have been launched on its facilities from 2019 till date. The 50 attacks, according to INEC, occurred in 15 out of the nation’s 36 states, a development that has left many Nigerians wondering if the commission will be ready for the exercise in line with its electioneering timetable.

    In a tell-it-all conversation with Saturday PUNCH, former Commissioner of Police in charge of the Federal Capital Territory, Lawrence Alobi, noted that the irreducible minimum expected of the outgoing administration is to do everything possible to deliver credible elections. To do this, the ex-police boss called for intensive training of security agents on election security, even as he called on sister agencies to assist the Nigeria Police in manning polling units across the federation during the exercise.

    He said, “The wish of INEC and every patriotic Nigerian is that the elections should hold in a peaceful and violent-free environment where people can exercise their franchise without any form of intimidation. Elections are all about democracy and good governance. When elections are peaceful, the electorate will be responsible when casting their votes and they are likely to be politically knowledgeable to elect leaders of their choice. When elections are not done in a credible manner, democracy is threatened.

    “President Muhammadu Buhari should know that this is a challenge he must address to bequeath a lasting legacy to Nigeria. He has promised Nigeria, the United Nations and the rest of the international community that he will conduct credible and transparent elections. He can do this only if he has the political will.”

    According to the retired former police officer, the political will entails that “all security agencies should be mobilised and trained on election security management. There should be collaboration among the security agencies with the police as the lead agency. They (security agencies) should be neutral in their responsibility and say no to violence, vote-buying and election rigging.”

    While calling for a replication of the 1993 presidential election won by the late billionaire businessman, Moshood Abiola, Alobi charged citizens to collaborate with security agencies in the maintenance of law and order before, during and after the elections.

    Joining the conversation is a security expert and retired Army Captain, Aliyu Umar, who argues that Nigerians’ resolve to head to their various polling units to elect a new government is the biggest security they can hope for, stressing that Nigerians should expect the President Buhari-led government to protect them during the elections.

    “This government is at its wit’s end to protect Nigerians. The government has repeatedly embraced all manner of solutions proffered to boost security particularly at the grassroots. The government feels antagonised when people approach them with solutions. So, nobody knows how to help this government anymore. Nigerians’ resolve to go to the polling units to vote is the confidence we have that all will be well.

    “The government cannot protect them. If the government cannot protect their own, how can they possibly secure the thousands of polling units in the country? Nigerians have resolved to vote, and they will make sure that their votes count. This is our only hope. It is not about the Army, Air Force, Police of Civil Defence. If they could, they would have protected INEC by now,” Captain Aliyu (retd.) told our correspondent.

    Also speaking, Jackson Ojo, a certified golden member of the International Security Association, Switzerland, blamed what he called the federal government nonchalant attitude to security threats across the country. While noting that continuous dialogue must be deployed to quell agitations across the land, Ojo urged Nigerians to remember that those bent on causing security crisis during the polls were not interested in any other election but the presidential.

    His words, “The level of insecurity in this country is a big threat to the elections particularly the presidential election. The people behind this crisis are not concerned about the state elections. Their interest is the presidential election, but it appears that government does not take them seriously.

    “We have heard agitators in the South-East saying that there won’t be election and to prove to everyone that they mean what they are saying, they have been launching attacks here and there. There are agitators in the South-West who are also threatening that there won’t be elections in their area. These people are highly sophisticated, and they may not need to make noise but they have in their minds what they want to do. The Federal Government is merely looking instead of engaging these people.

    “Most of the governors in the South-East are not respected by the agitators in that zone and that is why they can declare sit-at-home against the orders of the state governors. Non-state actors are giving laws and order and people are obeying them.”

    On what can be done to address the spate of security challenges in the zone, Ojo urged the Federal Government to deploy some notable intellectuals to get the agitator to a negotiating table.

    “There are some known intellectuals in the South-East that the Federal Government can engage to speak with these people. There must be a way out. We can’t be underrating these people because we are seeing them burning INEC offices, kidnapping, and killing innocent people. We hope they don’t declare sit- at-home on Election Day because already, they have succeeded in creating fears in the minds of the people,” he added.

    He warned, “If the Yoruba agitators come out to say nobody should come out on election day, nobody will come out. So, if there is no election in the South-East and South-West, there is nothing anybody can do to become President of Nigeria because 25 per cent in at least 24 states of the federation must be met. If 11 states are taken out of 36, there is no way any candidate will meet that constitutional requirement.”

    To ensure violent-free polls, the National Security Adviser and Inspector General of Police must give the nation an election risk management plan before the end of January. This is the submission of Dr Kabir Adamu, Managing Director, Beacon Consulting Limited, an enterprise security risk management and intelligence solutions firm in Nigeria and the Sahel region.

    In an interview with our correspondent, Adamu said, “The President should task the Office of the National Security Adviser and the Inspector General of Police who are the co-chairs of the Inter-agency Consultative Committee on Election Security, to produce an election risk management plan before January 31, 2023.  The Inter-agency Consultative Committee on Election Security should hold regular meetings at the federal, state, and local government levels with action points aligned to the election risk management plan and there should be the administration of criminal justice to ensure the arrest and prosecution of all offenders including those involved in political violence and all armed non state actors who played or attempted to play a part in compromising the electoral process.”

    Continuing, the security expert urged the Federal Government to “provide a safe and secure atmosphere to give Nigerians the confidence to come out to vote. In the 2019 elections, voter turnout was about 34 per cent. This does not augur well for Nigeria’s democratic aspiration. Therefore, the government should ensure people have the confidence to come out en-masse to vote.”

    Apart from attacks on INEC facilities, some political parties have had cause to cry out for help over alleged attacks on their campaign convoys or rallies. The Peoples Democratic Party, fingered thugs allegedly procured by the ruling All Progressives Congress, for the disruption of its campaign rally in Kaduna State in October last year. A month later (November 18, 2022), the major opposition party also raised an alarm when scores of vehicles in its campaign convoy were allegedly vandalised in Maiduguri, the Borno state capital. Spokesperson for the PDP Campaign Council, Senator Dino Melaye, put the number of damaged vehicles roughly at over 100. Again, a fortnight ago, the National Publicity Secretary of the party, Debo Ologunagba, said its campaign train was attacked in Idanre, a community in Ondo State, South-West Nigeria.

    That’s not all, In December 2022, a bus conveying journalists to the campaign flag-off of Bola Tinubu, the candidate of the APC, was attacked in Lagos. Recounting the sad experience of his party to our correspondent, Vidiyeno Bamaiyi, the National Secretary of the Young Progressive Party, said, “We had our own share of politically motivated assassinations. Senator Ifeanyi Ubah’s convoy was attacked in Anambra State and two of his aides were killed. Senator Albert Bassey Akpan’s two aides were attacked and killed in Imo State enroute Akwa Ibom State. Our Imo State Youth Leader was shot and killed this January (2023) by Ebubeagu vigilantes in front of his house in Imo State. Our National Chairman was attacked in his residence in Abuja in December 2022 by heavily armed men in police uniform. There was no casualty, but his money was stolen.”

    From the foregoing, it is obvious that this year’s election has already come under serious threat as the infractions committed in the build-up to the election were never addressed. While the Federal and state governments appear to be helpless in dealing with those behind the killings and kidnappings in some parts of the country, the electorate may also be afraid to come to exercise their franchise in order to stay alive.

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