There seems to be a deliberate plot by some misguided and anti-democratic forces to sabotage the efforts of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct a free, fair, and credible election next year. The regrettable attacks on offices of the commission, in parts of the country in recent months, are a pointer to sad situation.
Last week, INEC’s office in Ogun state was set ablaze when some yet to be identified persons overpowered the security personnel on duty and set the entire building ablaze. According to reports, the main building and all the commission’s movable assets in the office were destroyed. These include 904 ballot boxes, 29 voting cubicles, 30 megaphones, 57 election bags, eight electric power generators, and 65,699 uncollected Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs).
Similarly, the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) for Osun, Mutiu Agboke, reported that the INEC office in Ede South Council was attacked and set ablaze. We also recall that, in July, some suspected arsonists razed the office of INEC in Igbo-Eze North Local Government Area of Enugu State in Nigeria’s South east.
The commission then said that although no casualties were reported, 748 ballot boxes, 240 voting cubicles, office furniture, and equipment were destroyed despite the best efforts of the Enugu State Fire Service deployed from Nsukka to contain the inferno.
In April this year, INEC announced that it has lost nothing less than 99,836 smart card readers in over 42 attacks on its offices and staff in three years. Also, INEC, in its violence timeline, reported that as of May 2021, there were 41 attacks on the commission’s facilities across 14 states in the country between 2019 and 2021. In 2019 alone, the electoral body recorded nine incidents in four states, in 2020, it recorded 21 incidents in nine states and in 2021, 11 incidents occurred in seven states. In the report, INEC indicated that the nature of attacks includes arson and vandalism.
The frequency of these attacks on INEC offices, and the vicious intentions of those behind them, are beginning to heighten tensions in the country and generate apprehension about the credibility of the 2023 general election. In the considered opinion of this newspaper, the attacks, obviously, are deliberate, coordinated and meant to disenfranchise some voters even before the first ballot is cast.
On their part, the United Kingdom and the United States of America have expressed concerns over the attacks and destruction of INEC facilities across the country, warning that this portends grave danger to the 2023 elections and democracy itself.
While the commission is not resting on its oars to make the election sufficiently credible by introducing the electronic transfer of votes and the BIVAS machine, some politicians are also devising means of sabotaging the process. Part of this mischievous intent includes attacking INEC materials in areas believed, rightly or wrongly, to be the stronghold of their opponents.
Added to this worrisome development, is the pervasive fears regarding insecurity in some parts of the country. We consider these two scenarios as a dangerous combination and decidedly unhealthy for a peaceful conduct of the forthcoming polls.
Already, there are reports of over 686 communities across the country living under the shadows of atrocious activities of armed non-state actors. We recall that in June this year, the Ansaru terrorists had banned political activities in the Birnin Gwari Emirate in Kaduna. Also, the insecurity in the north has resulted in millions of citizens being displaced from their ancestral homes. President Muhammadu Buhari had directed security agencies to ensure stability before December 31. We hope they succeed in bringing the situation to normalcy.
It is, however, gratifying to note that the Inter-agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES) has deployed Joint Security and Safety Teams to all INEC assets and facilities nationwide to forestall more attacks.
The team, according to the commission, will include, among others, the Police, Army, Directorate of State Services (DSS), Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps and the Federal Fire Service. Similarly, the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Usman Alkali, had directed all state commissioners of Police to scale up security arrangements in and around INEC offices nationwide.
In view of the foregoing, we call on security agencies to arrest and prosecute the perpetrators of the attack on INEC offices. They are certainly not spirits. They must be identified, exposed and punished. The attacks have continued, unabated, because no arrests have been made. In our view, if some politicians and not their hirelings are arrested and prosecuted, it would serve as a deterrent and would go a long way in reducing the spate of attacks.
As a newspaper, we are committed to the enthronement of credible and peaceful polls for the 2023 election and beyond. Furthermore, we appeal to all Nigerians, across the spectrum, to cooperate with INEC so as to make the election reflect the will of the people. One of the ways of achieving this, in our view, is to ensure that the electoral umpire, its operatives and assets, are safe and secure.