Worried by recent attacks on its facilities, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) recently summoned an emergency security meeting under the auspices of the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES), which INEC chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, co-chairs with the National Security Adviser, Maj.-Gen. Babagana Monguno (retd).
Recall that INEC’s local government offices in Ogun and Osun states were recently attacked almost simultaneously by yet-to-be-identified hoodlums who overpowered security personnel guarding the facilities.
The incident in Ogun occurred at the Abeokuta South Local Government Area, where INEC office was set ablaze, thereby destroying the commission’s main building and movable assets, including 904 ballot boxes and 65,699 uncollected Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs). In Osun state, the attack was on INEC office in Ede South Local Government Area.
At the emergency ICCES meeting, Yakubu said: “The Commission is worried that if no urgent and decisive steps are taken, the attacks will intensify as we approach the election date. As we all know, a peaceful campaign heralds a peaceful election. We need to take decisive steps to stem the ugly trend.”
With less than 100 days to the 2023 General Elections, and when INEC has commenced the movement of materials to its offices nationwide, the commission’s worries cannot be dismissed.
Unfortunately, the dust on the incidents in Ogun and Osun had barely settled when suspected arsonists, again, set INEC office in Izzi Local Government Area of Ebonyi State ablaze, destroying moveable and immovable items, including PVCs and ballot boxes.
However, NSA Monguno has read the riot act to those bent on disrupting the electoral process.
“We’re all aware of the fact that the President, as far as he’s concerned, is committed to upholding and safeguarding democracy. This is what the people want. The President has also given his directives through me to all the operational intelligence and law enforcement agencies to ensure that the 2023 elections are held in an atmosphere devoid of rancour.
“Those people who have gangsters working for them, I want to send a very, very clear warning, a categorical and unequivocal warning to each and every one, regardless of whichever political party, including the party of the President, for as long as you decide to scuttle the electoral process, the law enforcement agencies will equally be uninhibited in reacting to whatever actions you have taken,” he warned.
The NSA’s stern warning is coming on the heels of rising incidents of attacks on supporters of various political parties since the commencement of campaign and the extremely disturbing use of hate and incendiary language by some politicians. Also disturbing is the data reeled out by the NSA at the emergency meeting that Nigeria recorded 52 acts of political violence across 22 states between 8 October and 9 November.
On the part of the ICCES, it continues to play its role in securing the entire electoral process towards ensuring the smooth conduct of free, fair and credible elections in the country. As demonstrated in previous elections, it has played a vital role in ensuring the safety and security of all persons and properties that will be involved before, during and after voting exercise; adhering to strict enforcement of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and other extant laws; and ensuring that traffic and crowd management at venues of political parties’ conventions/congresses, campaign/rallies and other activities relating to the elections are maintained.
Judging by the success recorded during the conduct of off-cycle elections in Anambra, Ekiti and Osun, as well as the Area Council elections in the FCT, largely due to the introduction of technological innovations and enhanced co-ordination of security arrangements, there are reasons to be optimistic about security come 2023. Indeed, there has been increased and deepened inter-agency collaboration on election security through ICCES. Already, the Inspector-General of Police (I-G), Mr Usman Baba, has ordered Commissioners of Police (CPs) nationwide to activate the Inter-Agency Consultative Committees on Election Security. Also, information flow among agencies and between them and the public has improved and peer learning on election security has expanded tremendously.
There has also been capacity development for election stakeholders, such as security agencies, the media and civil society organisations (CSOs). For instance, an Election Security Management Seminar was organised by the Police for security agencies, aimed at developing the capacity of security and law enforcement agencies to deal with the emerging electoral security threats. Also, the Department of State Services organised a Brainstorming Session with the media and CSOs ahead of the 2023 general elections.
Politicians, political parties and other stakeholders in the electoral system should, therefore, note that political security is an integral component of national security and a threat to the political process is a threat to national security; to which the state is expected to respond robustly.
To this end, it is important to stress that freedom of expression, which is the beauty of civil rule, and the foundation upon which democratic tenets are built, can be abused. This is manifested in misrepresentation of facts, rumour peddling, sensationalism, unguarded utterances and hate speech. As observed by NSA Monguno, the use of inciting statements by politicians and their followers has become a regular feature as 2023 approaches. One of the ways to mitigate this trend and curb electoral violence, therefore, is for the media to continue to scrutinise politicians’ and newsmakers’ utterances against moral discretion and call them out when they err.