CHIBUZO UKAIBE writes on the recent spate of fire incidences at INEC offices in Nigeria ahead of the polls.
Beyond the outbursts of hate speech and fake news, the burning of card readers and Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) at Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) offices gave, perhaps the clearest indication of how fierce the general election would be.
The fire incident started from Isiala Ngwa, Abia State. As the polity reeled from the shock of that fire attack, two separate attacks were to follow in Qua’an in Plateau State and in Awka, Anambra State. The attacks took place in a space of 12 days.
INEC’s national commissioner and chairman Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, listed some of the items destroyed in Isiala Ngwa South LGA to include 2979 PVCs and other materials.
He said at the Qua’an Pan office, items destroyed include 5987 uncollected PVCs, 380 voting cubicles, 755 ballot boxes, 14 generators, election forms and official stamps.
In Plateau State, he said its initial assessment confirms that a total of 4695 of the Smart Card Readers were destroyed in the inferno.
Okoye explained that the commission had directed the Resident Electoral Commissioner (RECs) for Plateau to open a register for all those in the affected LGA who approach the commission to collect their PVCs within the specified period.
“The commission will print the PVCs and make them available for collection in good time before the election. Reprint and deliver the PVCs of the affected registered voters in Isiala Ngwa South LGA in Abia state,” he said.
He noted that temporary arrangements were made for the relocation of the burnt offices of the commission for the conduct of the February 16 and March 2, election.
“The commission will proceed as planned in the affected LGAs and all the burnt materials will be replaced in good time and as such will not affect the conduct of the election.”
For Anambra State, Okoye assured that while this is no doubt, a setback to our preparations for the smooth conduct of the elections in Anambra State. the Commission has taken immediate measures to ameliorate the situation. by mopping up some of the spare Card Readers from other States to deploy to Anambra State.
“With the steps so far taken the Commission remains confident that the election in the state will proceed as scheduled.”
Okoye said the commission had notified the acting inspector general of police, Mohammed Adamu, of the emerging trend of burning its LGA offices close to the conduct of the election.
He added: “ All relevant security agencies have been requested to arrest and bring to justice, persons or groups involved in the attacks on the offices of the commission.”
Besides the PVCs and card readers that were destroyed, the implication of such fire attack on the electorate was yet to be fully measured.
As investigation into the causes of the fire outbreak got under way, the opposing political camps were locked in exchange of accusations over plots to cause violence and disrupt the forthcoming election.
Before the fire outbreaks the federal government had raised the alarm that the opposition was plotting to obstruct the elections. The minister for information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, “Having realised that their fortunes have dwindled badly ahead of the polls, the desperate opposition is orchestrating widespread violence with a view to truncating the elections, thus triggering a constitutional crisis that could snowball into the establishment of an interim government.
“Before you accuse the government of crying wolf, let me tell you, gentlemen, that we have credible intelligence that armed bandits and Boko Haram insurgents have been mobilised to engage in massive attacks and other acts of violence in several states across the country, including Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Benue, Kano, Kaduna, Nasarawa, Plateau, Taraba and Zamfara.”
Days after the Abia fire attack, the federal government reiterated its concerns over threats to creation of violence and disruption of the election.
President Muhammadu Buhari further underscored how precarious the times had became ahead of elections.
Buhari, citing the Economic And Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), revealed that those who have looted Nigeria’s treasury, now with huge resources at their disposal were planning to undermine the credibility of the election through vote buying.
In a statement he personally signed last Sunday, the President urged Nigerians to participate massively in the forthcoming presidential election.
According to him, “By way of their looting, the corrupt have powerful resources at their disposal. And they will use them. For when you fight corruption, you can be sure it will fight back.
“It even threatens to undermine February’s poll and – by extension – our democracy. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has raised concerns over laundered money being funneled into vote buying.”
But the PDP reacted to the claims by the APC led government, saying no amount of fabrications, false alarm, blackmail and resort to violence can sway Nigerians or help their plots to rig the 2019 Presidential election.
The PDP while stating that Nigerians are aware that it has been campaigning for the general elections, said violence, death threats and plot to disrupt the elections have become an official policy of the Buhari Campaign Organization, having realised that President Buhari has no chance in the February 16 Presidential election.
The PDP, in a statement by it’s national publicity secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, said the Buhari Presidency’s “fresh attempt to use its minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, to lay further false allegations on the PDP has failed, because Nigerians already know those plotting to scuttle the elections by inciting violence and issuing death threats against others.”
But the CUPP directly accused the APC of being behind the fire outbreaks at the INEC offices.
The opposition political parties under the aegis of CUPP accused the ruling APC of burning election materials in the INEC offices having recognised such areas are where the opposition is strong.
CUPP said that the latest fire that erupted in INEC office in Anambra State was meant to stop election in that area in order to deny the PDP of victory.
Spokesperson of CUPP, Ikenga Imo Ugochinyere, further alleged that there are plans to burn INEC offices in order to make the election inconclusive and weaken opposition base properties in Rivers, Kwara, Adamawa and some local governments in Kano.
The opposition parties demand that elections be conducted manually in areas where election materials have been burnt.
“We have it on good authority that they are planning to burn down more INEC offices and materials, so that election can be declared inconclusive in the affected areas and therefore weaken the opposition.
“Part of their strategy is to either make elections inconclusive in the affected places and hold rerun elections on separate days so that they can use security agents against opposition members.
“Why is it that military and policemen attached to these offices cannot stop these wicked people from burning down these offices if they are not part of the plan?
“We are aware that they are planning to carry out similar act in Rivers, Kwara, Adamawa and some local governments in Kano.
“The opposition hereby demand that elections be conducted manually in areas where election materials have been burnt.
“We also ask that security agencies should rise up to their responsibilities and secure all INEC offices and election materials nationwide.
“We plead with the international community to continue to note these acts of desperation by the ruling,” Ugochinyere said.
With the presidential and National Assembly elections barely days away, it remained hazy if there were any suspects much less arrests arising from the fire attack. Beyond confirming the attacks and orders to deploy more security presence around the INEC offices, there were still no arrests.
What’s more, the Anambra State attack happened after the acting inspector general of police, Mohammed Adamu, shortly after the Plateau incident, “ordered a comprehensive, round-the-clock” security in all offices and facilities of INEC nationwide.
He had directed all commissioners of police in the 36 states and Abuja to put in place “adequate, functional and purposeful” security arrangements aimed at “protecting all INEC offices and materials from all forms of crimes and mischief before, during and after the elections.”
As it stands its early days yet to know whether the burning of those electoral materials and gadgets will substantially affect the outcome of the last election. Clearly, a proper interrogation of whether now that first round of elections have been held, expectations that the security operatives will ensure INEC offices are protected for the governorship and state Houses of the Assembly elections remains rife.
But the onus is not only on the security operatives alone. Analysts already opine that the desperation displayed so far ahead of the polls could possibly have led to the burning of the INEC offices.
“Agreed that the security agencies have a lot of work to do, the political actors too, by that I mean the candidates should be cautioned against directly or indirectly instigating crisis to that could lead to such attacks on state institutions like INEC,” Banjo Olamilekan, a political analysts said.
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