The ongoing violence in Nigeria has been a major concern to citizens and stakeholders alike but a recent troubling trend has greatly heightened calls for an immediate solution to the menace.
Over the last few weeks, unknown gunmen continue to systematically attack offices of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in the South-east and South-South. No fewer than 10 INEC offices have been attacked in Akwa Ibom, Abia, Ebonyi, Enugu, Imo and Anambra states.
While it is unclear who is responsible for these attacks, the electoral body on Monday, said the development has undoubtedly become a national emergency. The attacks greatly hamper the commission’s ability to conduct free and fair electoral exercises.
This follows the burning of its collation centre in Anambra. The state will be having its gubernatorial elections on November 6th, 2021.
The collation centre in Anambra alongside two of the commission’s facilities in Imo and Enugu were burned down at various times on Sunday, May 23rd.
“In what is a major blow to our preparations for the Governorship election scheduled for 6th November 2021, two stores housing electoral materials were burnt down,” Festus Okoye, INEC spokesperson said.
“New and old (but serviceable) electric generating machines numbering 376 for all the Electoral Wards and the extra numbers for backup were completely burnt. The electric generators were recently relocated from the Local Government Areas (LGAs) to the State HQ in the belief that it is more secure than the LGA offices.”
“Similarly, as part of the Commission’s proactive measures to ensure the success of the Governorship election later this year, about 50% of the non-sensitive materials required for the November 6, 2021 Governorship election already delivered to the State have also been lost in the fire. In addition, seven utility vehicles (Toyota Hilux) were burnt,” Mr Okoye said.
Analysts told POLITICS NIGERIA that the incident could spread throughout the country if not contained early enough and could mar the effective conduct of Nigeria’s next general elections scheduled to hold in February 2023.
Idayat Hassan of the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), believes that the attacks on INEC offices cannot be disconnected from the incessant security challenges rocking the nation.
Police have blamed the members of IPOB for the indiscriminate attacks but the group has denied involvement. Also, President Muhammadu Buhari on his part has ordered security operatives to beef up security in the region as he described the events as an “act of terrorism” that requires swift actions before “the country slides into anarchy.”
Speaking further on the matter, Ms Hassan said the recent spate of attacks demonstrates that “the Nigerian state is under attack, not democracy.”
“This is so because the Nigerian democracy has not delivered the development people desire in terms of corporate sincerity for the public good.”
What to be done
A group known for monitoring elections in Nigeria and Africa at large, Yiaga Africa, in reaction to the attacks on INEC offices expressed worry, saying the act is “an assault on democracy and credible elections.”
The Director of Programmes, Yiaga Africa, Cynthia Mbamalu, said; “these are indeed dangerous signs for the country’s fragile democracy as it will not just affect the commission’s preparation for upcoming elections but also diminish citizens’ confidence in the electoral process.”
“The disturbing trend of attacks on the offices and facilities of the Independent National Electoral Commission is not just an act of sabotage to a critical institution established by the Constitution to guarantee democratic leadership in Nigeria but an assault on democracy and credible elections. These attacks also pose a potential threat to citizens’ right to vote in an election.”
“Yiaga Africa is concerned that, attack on democratic institutions is antithetical to the drive for Electoral Reforms. We empathize with the Commission as we can testify to the huge challenges that come with election management and deployment of materials to various polling units ahead of elections.”
“These attacks will most likely have a negative impact on election planning, deployment of personnel and materials, and the overall cost of elections in Nigeria. These sad incidents will create a financial burden on INEC and increase the cost on INEC and Nigeria by extension.”
“Security agencies must step up an effort to protect government institutions against enemies of democracy who are bent on destroying democratic institutions. Amidst the declining security situation in the country and diminishing confidence of the citizens, this is an opportunity for Nigerian security agencies to live up to their mandate of protecting lives and properties,” the group said.
We will continue to do our best – INEC
When contacted on Tuesday morning, the commission’s spokesperson, Mr Okoye told our correspondent that INEC will continue to try its best in ensuring that normalcy is restored.
“We remain resolute in the pursuit and execution of our mandate in the conduct of free and transparent elections.”
“We beg community leaders and communities hosting our offices to remain vigilant and guard our facilities for the interest of one Nigeria.”, he said.