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INEC and security challenges ahead of 2023 polls

From Romanus Ugwu, Abuja

In almost all his official functions on election security, chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Mahmood Yakubu, never fails to acknowledge and highlight insecurity as one of the biggest challenges facing the conduct of the 2023 general elections.

He has constantly acknowledged that; “ensuring the safety and security of voters, election personnel, materials, candidates, party agents, observers, the media and transporters are enormous. This responsibility has become more challenging in the context of the current security situation in the country.

“I am glad that the Nigeria Police as the lead agency in election security has once again demonstrated its leadership role. With about a few months to the next general elections, there is time for proactive measures to ensure that the entire country is secure for elections to hold nationwide,” he charged recently at a workshop on election security organised by the Nigerian police.

The electoral umpire boss was not alone in expressing such apprehension. An average Nigerian politician, the various security agencies and even the international community, seem to be in unison that security is such a big concern ahead of next year’s polls.

Already, such anxieties and panic buttons have come from INEC Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) from vulnerable states, leaderships of registered political parties, civil society organisations, clergies, and several concerned Nigerians, including former INEC chairman, Attahiru Jega.

From Imo State REC, Prof Francis Chukwuemeka Ezeonu, and his Zamfara counterpart, Prof Saidu Ahmed, it has remained one gloomy picture of uncertainty ahead of the polls.

While Zamfara REC hinged his fears on the activities of bandits, the Imo REC caustically warned that 2023 general elections may not hold in three Local Government Areas (LGAs) of Orlu, Osu and Njaaba due to security challenges

According to him; “Talking about violence and violence-prone areas that is prevalent in the state, I can say that there are three LGAs we may find it difficult to conduct the forthcoming general elections. They are Orsu, Njaaba and Orlu LGAs.

“In Orsu, particularly, people are no longer staying there like that because the area is very volatile. It has a boundary with Anambra State, especially around the Izombe axis. Our office there has been completely burnt down.

“The situation is even worse in Izu Njaaba because it is a no-go area most of the time. Our staff can no longer go to work there because it is sometimes inaccessible in addition to an understandable fear of the security of their lives.

“The third LGA is Orlu. We are experiencing almost the same situation there. Olu is fair compared to Izu and Njaaba seriously facing security challenges due to the actions and inactions of the unknown gunmen.

“However, like my colleague in Zamfara said, it is not a completely bad situation because sometimes it will improve and everywhere will look very peaceful while at other times, it will deteriorate and become very highly volatile,” he hinted.

There are myriads of other challenges facing the polls, which ranged from skepticism on the negative effects of the newly deployed technology in the conduct of elections to the teething difficulties in accessing certain terrains.

Credibility doubt on the sincerity of the electoral umpire in the whole process, and the previous problems of voter apathy are also part of the challenges. However, none rivaled the palpable anxiety of security concerns including pre-election litigations, election conflict mitigation, management and resolution.

And decrying the disturbing number of pre-election cases in the law court, the INEC chairman, recently confessed that; “the commission has been inundated by numerous pre-election cases arising from the conduct of primaries by political parties for the 2023 general election.

“So far, 334 pre-election cases were filed at various divisions of the Federal High Court across the country by aspirants challenging the nomination of candidates or their exclusion from the list submitted to the commission.

“Although these are purely intra-party issues, the commission has been joined in all these cases. With the publication of the personal particulars of candidates for governorship, deputy governorship and State Assembly elections, the number of cases has risen even higher.

“Sadly, the issue of internal democracy in political parties remains a sore point in our electoral process. The commission will continue to engage with political parties while standing firm against any transgression by strictly enforcing the provisions of the law and extant regulations and guidelines,” Prof Yakubu had noted recently.

Enumerating other challenges confronting next year’s poll, he also admitted mixed feelings in introducing technology into the electoral process, confessing that technology is a combination of blessings and curses.

His words: “The truth is that in the last one decade or so, the conduct of elections in particular and the management of the electoral process in general has become more complex. Voting populations have become larger and more diverse in terms of their voting needs and expectations.

“The introduction of technology has made elections and the electoral process more transparent. Electoral commissions are subjected to greater public scrutiny and under increasing pressure to adequately respond to the diversity and complexity of the needs of various electoral stakeholders,” he explained.

However, all these constraints are child’s play to the apprehensions over insecurity in the conduct of next year’s poll. The intensity of the deafening drum of warfare in almost every part of the country ahead of the poll portends danger. There are palpable tension, visible concerns and uncertainties in all the six geopolitical zones over escalating and worsening insecurity ahead of the elections.

Kidnapping, banditry, insurgency activities, crimes and criminalities, insurrection, and inter-communal strife, among many others, have combined to overwhelm both the conventional security and the innocent citizens in every part of the country few months to the conduct of next year’s crucial polls.

Already, in the build-up to the elections, tension has started mounting with clear evidence of politically motivated attacks, and killings. Political campaigns have been disrupted and participants molested to the point of the situation relapsing into killings, just as assassination attempts have been recorded across the country.

The commission was not alone in expressing worries about the possibility of insecurity affecting next year’s polls. Former commission’s chairman, Jega, was poignant in his warning that unless the insecurity challenges ravaging the country are tackled, the 2023 general election may not hold.

Jega said, “Unless elections are conducted in an environment that is peaceful and secure, its integrity and even the legitimacy of the outcome of that election will be questioned.

“Security challenges undermine electoral integrity. It constrains or disrupts preparations and conduct of elections and it leads to partial or totally illegitimate electoral outcomes.

“As we look forward to the 2023 general elections, there is increasing apprehension that the pervasive insecurity situation in the country may present a formidable obstacle if not an obstruction to that election.

“If not appropriately and effectively mitigated, security challenges would pose the most serious danger to the integrity of the election process if it eventually allows the election to be conducted,” he noted.

Similarly, former presidential candidate and chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim, recently urged the Federal Government to do more to tackle insecurity challenges in the country before the 2023 general elections.

His words: “the political leadership of the country must not concentrate only on permutations on the 2023 elections to the detriment of urgent national security concerns. We must have a country first before election and our people must be alive and safe first to be able to vote.

“The Barbarians are at the gate of the capital, our Republic is under threat, our tested ways of life, pluralism, democracy, state secularism, are about to be imperiled. The clock is ticking; time is running out, the forces of evil are set to take the capital.

“Presently, it is an understatement to say we are at a turning point in our history when terrorist forces have technically surrounded our nation’s capital, highlighting the severity of our national security challenge,” he feared ahead of the polls.

Of course, incidents of insecurity evidently playing out in the build-up to the 2023 polls are certainly not an isolated case having experienced worse situations in other previously conducted general elections.

In the 2014, the situation was that bad with threats of Boko Haram insurgency grounding the country to a standstill, as a big security challenge to contend with.

Students of history will recall that the precarious situation was replete with evidences of bombings across the country, including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja, that foreign mercenaries were hired by the then President Goodluck Jonathan, to curtail the situation for the elections to be conducted.

However, despite the severity of the security challenges facing next year’s polls, messages of assurances had come from the relevant security agencies and even the commission to convince Nigerians next year’s election will be peaceful and secure.

The most reliable assurance came from the National Security Adviser (NSA), Major General Babagana Monguno (rtd), who promised that 2023 general elections will hold without hitches.

“The President is committed to delivering an election that is completely transparent and which will command the general acceptance of the Nigerian population. This election, as far as the president is concerned, will be devoid of any wuru-wuru in Nigerian parlance.

“Now in furtherance to this, the president has charged the military, police, DSS and all security agencies to synergise effectively, review the operational strategies and optimally deploy all their operational assets towards addressing current and revolving general security threats ahead of the forthcoming general elections.

“I am confident that the presidential directives will be achieved and 2023 general elections will be conducted peacefully in a stable security environment.”

In what appeared like matching words with action, both the Department of State Services (DSS), and the military have told the Nigerian electorate that based on security reports and intelligence, the security situation will not pose any threat to the 2023 general elections.

While the military assured that it has made every arrangement to deploy personnel 50 to 100 metres close to all the volatile areas discovered by intelligence, the DSS said: “We assure everybody that the forthcoming elections will be peaceful and secured.”

The chairman of the electoral umpire, Yakubu, was not also left out in revealing that part of the measures to conduct a peaceful poll will be to align the revised code of conduct and training manuals with the provisions of the Electoral Act 2022.

“In addition to physical security, police will also focus on deepening the capacity of the security personnel to imbibe and comply with the global standard of election security management.

“Already, the commission, under the auspices of Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES) has produced and periodically revised the code of conduct and rules of engagement for security personnel on electoral duty.

“The code of conduct, as well as our training manuals, will be revised to align them with the provisions of the Electoral Act 2022 and to consolidate on the professionalism displayed by the security agencies in the recent off-cycle elections. We will also intensify our cascade training for security personnel ahead of the 2023 general election.

“I wish to reassure the Inspector General of Police, heads of other security agencies and all members of ICCES that the commission will continue to work in synergy with you to ensure a safe and secure environment for the 2023 general election. It is a critical election and we must all continue to work together to protect the will of the Nigerian people,” he assured.

The INEC chairman expressed his gratitude to the Inspector General of Police (IGP), for conducting the very important Workshop on security management training for Police and other security personnel ahead of the poll.

“I am also glad that the initiative does not begin and end here in Abuja but extended to the six geo-political zones. The commission supports this laudable initiative and will fully participate in the training workshops nationwide,” he promised.

Regardless of the security challenges, Nigerians have indicated readiness to be part of a possible peaceful poll next year. It was evidenced in many of the eligible electorate sleeping at registration centres or even patiently spending long hours in the queues to enroll and get their Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs) in readiness for the polls.

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