Violent attacks on the facilities of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as well as on political opponents are threatening the conduct of next year’s general elections, writes ONYEKACHI EZE
It was not the first time facilities of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) were coming under attack. Between 2019 and 2021, the Commission said it recorded 41 attacks in 14 states of the country. This occurred in Enugu, Kaduna, Taraba, Osun, Ondo, Ebonyi, Anambra, Imo Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Borno among others
INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, said the list did not include damage to facilities as a result of fire accidents, natural disasters such as flooding or rain/windstorms, the snatching/destruction of electoral materials during elections, burglary and attack on election duty officials.
He gave the breakdown of the to include 18 attacks during the EndSARS protests, 11 by gunmen, six by party thugs during elections and four were post-election violence. This also included 20 cases of vandalisation and 18 arsons during the period.
The attack two weeks ago at Abeokuta South Local Government Area in Ogun State affected the entire building, 904 ballot boxes, 29 voting cubicles, 30 megaphones, 57 election bags, eight electric power generators and 65,699 uncollected Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs).
The attack at the commission’s office in Ede South Local Government Area of Osun State, affected a section of the building and only some furniture.
Prof. Yakubu said the Commission was taking urgent steps to repair the damage to the building and replace the facilities in the Ede South Local Government Area so that the office becomes functional again immediately, but added that INEC has relocated its staff in Abeokuta South Local Government Area office, to the annex office in Oke-Ilewo area of Abeokuta.
This included the coordination of the 15 registration areas and 445 polling units in Abeokuta South Local Government Area, while the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) for Ogun State has been directed to compile the Voter Identification Numbers (VINs) of all the 65,699 Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs) lost in the attack from its database and submit the record for immediate reprint.
At a meeting INEC of Inter-agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES) last week, Prof. Yakubu told the security chiefs that “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.
“As we have stated on several occasions, election is a multi-stakeholder activity involving not just INEC and the security agencies.”
INEC National Commissioner Festus Okoye regretted that the attacks occurred when the commission has commenced the movement of materials to its offices nationwide.
The United States and the United Kingdom said the recent attacks on INEC facilities portends grave danger to the 2023 elections.
The UK Development Director, Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office, Chris Pycroft, and US Consul General, Mr. Will Stevens, also condemned violent rivalry among political parties in the country.
At the Northern Peace Conference on the 2023 general elections in Abuja organised by the 2Baba Foundation in partnership with the J-Dev Foundation and the Child Protection and Peer Learning Initiative, Pycroft said the survival of democracy in Nigeria is critical to Africa and the world at large.
“As we approach the polls next year, attacks on INEC facilities and personnel, violent clashes between opposing members of political parties or broader security challenges are all factors that threaten the peaceful and inclusive and successful execution of the elections.
“The largest democracy in Africa occupies a critical place in efforts to consolidate democracy elsewhere across the world. Credible, useful elections will deepen citizens’ trust and reinforce the foundations for democratic consolidation in Nigeria,” he added.
Attacks on political opponents are also assuming heightening proportion, despite peace accords signed by political parties and their candidates.
Chairman of the National Peace Committee (NPC) Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar (retd.) and the convener, Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah, in a joint statement last week, noted the “increasing tone of desperation, if not incitement, among some of the contestants and members of their parties.”
The committee regretted that “Intra and inter-party wranglings still persist, with occasions of violence. In desperation, some selfish political actors use these strategies to pursue their frivolous ambitions in the courts.
“When all the presidential candidates and their party chairmen signed the peace accord, they were committed to infusing a sense of decency, civility and nobility in the political process.
“The political actors cannot pretend to be oblivious of the content of the peace accord that they signed.”
INEC and the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), said they have identified 50 and 51 respectively, of such attacks in 21 states of the federation and Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), in just a little over a month since the campaign started.
Prof. Yakubu at the ICCES meeting, regretted that “These unhappy occurrences are coming just a little over one month into the election campaign which is scheduled to last for about five months. As we all know, a peaceful campaign heralds a peaceful election. We need to take decisive steps to stem the ugly trend.”
Despite the concerns expressed, the attack continued. Just two days after the ICCES meeting, hoodlums suspected to be party thugs attacked members and supporters of Labour Party (LP) in Olamaboro Local Government Area of Kogi State and destroyed the campaign billboards of the party’s House of Representatives candidate for Ankpa, Omala and Olamaboro federal constituency, Chief Peter Ameh. News reports said the incident occurred last Monday in Ibana, Ikeje and other areas in the local government area of the state.
Ameh who was in the area with his supporters to canvass for votes when the hoodlums attacked them, described it as “a new adverse chapter in the political history of Ogugu people, who have, from the first republic through the years, demonstrated a high degree of political sophistication, plurality and maturity.”
The attacks were coming in torrents, and have affected the major parties. The main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and the strongly contending Labour Party (LP), seemed to be mostly affected. But while PDP was accusing the ruling All Progressives
Congress (APC) of sponsoring attacks on its members, the party is as wellbeing fingered in the attacks on the Labour Party. The All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), though, has not recorded any attack on its members, and accused PDP of perpetrating attacks on Labour Party supporters especially in the South East.
APGA Chairman in Enugu State Ndubisi Enechionyia, said the attacks were to keep PDP perpetually in power as ruling party in Enugu State.
Enechionyia said PDP is sponsoring attacks and carrying dirty campaigns against the supporters of Labour Party presidential candidate Peter Obi in Enugu State, “pretending to be Biafra agitators.
“We received the news that members of Obi support groups were attacked by thugs at Nenwe in Aninri Local Government Area, and at Awgu in Awgu LGA. “We, in the APGA, have always believed that democracy allows freedom of association and expression.
“It is condemnable that while the rest of the country is working to create a better democratic culture, Enugu State seems to be trying to fully return to the days of political violence, murders, and full suppression of opposition and alternative opinion.
“In the past, Enugu State PDP has sponsored attacks like the ones at Awgu and Aninri against their own members and similar incidents occurred during the last local council election in the state.
“The elections of 2023 in Enugu will be for who the people choose, and no longer the usual jamboree of favoritism. The parties should focus on selling their candidates, instead of disrupting the activities of other parties in Enugu.”
Labour Party National Chairman, Julius Abure, also accused the police, members of regional security outfit and thugs of some political parties of attacking members of the party during peaceful solidarity marches in some states. He expressed surprise that the perpetrators have not been arrested and persecuted in line with the laws.
Abure called on the Federal Government and the law enforcement agencies must as a matter of duty, fish out these hoodlums and get them prosecuted.
The PDP said it was compiling evidence of attacks on its supporters, with a view to filing a formal report to security agencies and the Abdusalami Abubakar-led National Peace Committee. Director of Strategic Communications of PDP Presidential Campaign Council (PCC) Dele Momodu told journalists that the party members were attacked in Kaduna and Borno State, despite the peace accord signed by most of the presidential candidates.
“We plan to report formally to the security authorities; we plan to report to the peace committee because democracy is not by force, it is a game of choice. “If I choose to support my candidate, there shouldn’t be any problem about that. Firing den guns, throwing stones and all manner of weapons, for me, is a very unfortunate development,” Momodu argued.
Opposing parties were equally denied access to public facilities for campaigns, which INEC said, was “not only violations of the Electoral Act 2022 but also negate the voluntary commitment by all political parties and candidates to the letter and spirit of the Peace Accord signed about three weeks ago under the auspices of the National Peace Committee (NPC).”
PDP said it was denied the use of Ahmadu Bello Stadium Kaduna as venue for its campaign last month. The Labour Party also suffered the same fate in Nasarawa State where it flagged off its presidential campaign.
The NPC was formed in 2015 to avoid a repeat of 2011 post-election violence that led to loss of many lives. The move helped to stem violence in the 2015 and 2019 general elections.
At the signing ceremony by 11 presidential candidates at that time, which was supervised by members of the international community, including former Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, the candidates promised to: “Run issue-based campaigns at national, state and local government levels.
In this, we pledge to refrain from campaigns that will involve religious sentiment, ethnic or tribal profiling, both by ourselves and all agents acting in our name.