WITH less than 40 days to the general elections, the dire security situation across the country has continued to provoke apprehension about the possible subversion of the polls by criminal elements and their sponsors. The Federal Government must, therefore, assuage the concerns of Nigerians regarding security and public safety. This is an important guarantee to hold hitch-free elections.
Violence has amplified in many areas, an indication that the exercise may not hold in the crisis areas. This could lead to a constitutional crisis if polling failed to hold in a significant percentage of constituencies. Instructively, the Independent National Electoral Commission has consistently raised the red flag regarding the security situation and its consequences for the polls.
“If the insecurity is not monitored and dealt with decisively, it could ultimately culminate in the cancellation and/or postponement of elections in sufficient constituencies to hinder declaration of elections results and precipitate constitutional crisis,”the Chairman, Board of Electoral Institute, Abdullahi Zuru, said. “This must not be allowed to happen and shall not be allowed to happen.”
Between October and November 2022, Nigeria recorded 52 incidents inter or intra-party violence across 22 states, says the National Security Adviser Babagana Monguno. On January 15, the commission’s office in Enugu South Local Government Area suffered an attack, which caused the death of a police officer. INEC recorded 50 attacks on its facilities across 15 states between 2019 and 2022. Imo State recorded 11, the highest number. The violence has also hit Osun, Akwa Ibom, Ebonyi, Cross River, Abia, Anambra, Taraba, Borno, Ogun, Lagos, Bayelsa, Ondo, and Kaduna states.
If not tamed quickly, this may compound the already immense logistics challenges presented by the 2023 elections. The first ballot for the presidential/National Assembly holds on February 25. No fewer than 93.4million eligible voters are listed to participate in the elections holding in 176,846 polling units across 774 LGAs in 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory. INEC says 1,265,227 external hands will man the elections, in addition to 530,538 police and civil defence officers. This massive logistics challenge cannot be underplayed, as logistics has plagued past elections. In 2019, a last-minute postponement invariably affected voter turnout.
The violence may translate into citizens not showing up to cast their votes, contributing to an even lower turnout than the 34.75 per cent figure in 2019. This could prevent the emergence of a clear winner in national or some subnational polls, given the constitutional provisions that require a winner to secure 25 per cent of the votes in two-thirds of the 36 states for the presidential race or districts in the case of governors.
A potential runoff could also heighten tensions, aggravating the violence.
Violent incidents have become higher in the North-West and South-East where banditry, terrorist activities, herder-farmer conflicts and secessionist agitations are exerting huge human and economic impacts. The South-East, where the Monday sit-at-home restriction is still enforced by criminals, is highly volatile. In Niger State, a Catholic priest was burnt to death at the weekend. This is concerning and efforts should be multiplied to bring the criminality under control as quickly as possible.
However, after initially raising security concerns, INEC has assured Nigerians that the elections would go ahead as scheduled. For this to be comforting, the security agencies must deescalate attacks by bandits, terrorists and separatists. The fear of violence alone will dampen voter turnout.
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Kidnapping is a growing menace and increasingly lucrative enterprise for its perpetrators. The recent abduction of train passengers in Edo State is a frightening example of the worsening insecurity that may undercut the electoral process. New strategies are required to tackle the perpetrators.
Getting the support of locals in areas with high crimes and infiltrating the marauding gangs is one way of combating the security challenge. The security response needs to be supported by surveillance. This would require building public trust, improving and scaling data collection and profiling exercises, and having sufficient capable hands in the law enforcement and military agencies to follow-up on intelligence gathered. The Inspector-General of Police, Usman Baba, should withdraw the large army of officers attached illegally to VIPs immediately and deploy them for general security.
Analysis by the Varieties of Democracy Project funded by the University of Gothenburg, European Research Council, and others, shows a correlation between countries experiencing high levels of conflict during elections and lower levels of electoral fairness. Bandits have reportedly held on to territories in the North-West.
Data from the Nigeria Election Violence Tracker indicate that election-related violence claimed nearly 60 lives in Nigeria last year, almost double the number of election-related fatalities that occurred in the same period prior to the 2019 elections. Election violence has generally taken the form of violent protests and clashes between rival political party supporters, including recent high profile incidents in Kaduna and Zamfara.
A report by the Tony Blair Institute stated that no fewer than 1,525 people were killed in election-related violence across the country in the last five election cycles. The institute raised fears that the 2023 elections may be characterised by serious disruption by Boko Haram, the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, and bandits.
Insecurity undermines elections in several critical ways, starting with lowering voter turnout and eroding public confidence in the electoral process. The 2019 elections saw the lowest voter turnout in two decades, which significantly undermined popular perceptions of credibility – a real and growing concern for 2023 elections.
High levels of internal displacement also threaten to undermine the upcoming elections. The United Nations says there are more than three million internally displaced persons in at least six states.
Nigerians are entitled to vote without putting their lives at risk. There should be regular information on what is being done to restore law and order in regions beset by violence.
The security forces should identify in advance the areas that are particularly vulnerable to the use of strategic election violence and take added measures to prevent such criminal disruption while implementing strategic actions to checkmate insecurity, protect the electorate and safeguard the electoral process.
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