By EMMANUEL OLONIRUHA, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)
From all indications, Nigerians’ confidence in the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the country’s electoral process has continued to grow as it moves closer to the scheduled 2023 general elections.
This, observers believe, did not just happen overnight, but made possible through electoral reforms such as deepened used of technology in the electoral process as introduced by INEC.
For instance, the leadership of the commission has upgraded software and hardware to fast track voter registration process, cleaning up of voter register, and voter accreditation and delivery of results.
The impact of these changes have been massive as demonstrated in the no fewer than 12,298,944 Nigerians that successfully completed their registration as new voters during the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) which started on June 28 2022.
The introduction of Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS) in giving credibility to the process with 2,780,756 persons (22.6 per cent) names invalidated from the voter records.
Unfortunately, while INEC has continued to sanitise the system, some individuals seem bent on thwarting these efforts through a series of what seems to be coordinated attacks on the commission’s facilities in different parts of the country.
On Dec. 16, 2022 INEC released information which showed that no fewer than 50 attacks were recorded on the commission’s offices in 15 states between 2019 and Dec. 12, 2022.
According to the commission, the attacks include 20 arsons, 26 vandalism and four combined cases of arson and vandalism.
The infographic revealed that in 2019 there were eight attacks on INEC offices in four states; in 2020 it recorded 22 attacks in nine states; while in 2022 there were eight incidents in five states.
A state-by-state of the attacks shows that there were seven attacks on INEC offices in Osun, one each in Ogun, Bayelsa, Lagos and Ondo; two cases in Anambra.
There were four cases each in Cross River, Abia and Ebonyi; five cases each in Akwa-Ibom and Enugu; as well as several other attacks in Imo.
These attacks, as expected, have provoked reactions from the political class. Some of political actors see it as a deliberate attempt to derail the process while others consider them as clandestine moves to manipulate the results of the elections.
The National Publicity Secretary of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Mr Debo Ologunagba, sees the attacks as plots by enemies of democracy to frustrate and ultimately disrupt the conduct of the elections.
“Intelligence reports available to our party indicate that these attacks on INEC facilities are meant to prevent newly registered voters from collecting their PVCs.
“The idea seems to be to destroy the PVCs so that they will not be available for collection in INEC offices; and thirdly, to destroy INEC equipment and cripple its capacity to conduct elections,” the PDP spokesperson said.
Ologunagba also said the attacks were designed to create tension across the country to validate a narrative that elections cannot hold due to insecurity reasons.
“In the attackers’ views, this will eventually orchestrate a constitutional crisis to justify shifting the elections and perpetuate certain elements in office beyond May 29, 2023”, he said.
He called on security agencies to investigate the alleged plots and bring the perpetrators to book.
Concerned by the attacks, INEC on Nov. 11, 2022 held an emergency meeting of the Inter-agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES) with security agencies on ways to address the menace.
Speaking at the meeting INEC Chairman, Prof.. Mahmood Yakubu, called for urgent and decisive steps to tame attacks.
“The attempt to sabotage or weaken our resolve will not deter us from conducting transparent elections in which only the votes cast by Nigerians on Election Day will determine winners of elections”, Yakubu told the meeting.
Also speaking at the meeting, the National Security Adviser (NSA), retired Maj.-Gen. Babagana Monguno and the Inspector-General of Police, Mr Usman Baba pledge their support in the efforts to crack down on the perpetrators of the acts.
Monguno said President Muhammadu Buhari had given all security and intelligence agencies marching orders to deal decisively with any individual or group who want to disrupt the election.
Baba, on his part, said that directive had been given to all Commissioners of Police and Divisional Police Officers (DPOs) to scale up security in all INEC offices.
“It is our determination is to ensure that this menace is address very quickly to enable us for you ahead and conduct these general elections.
“Therefore our synergy, collaboration and corporation should be extended even to the campaign period and beyond,” Baba said.
Analysts believe that efforts by security agencies have started yielding positive result as police repelled attack on INEC headquarters along Port Harcourt Road in Owerri, the Imo State capital on Dec. 12.
The spokesperson for the Police Command in Imo, Mike Abattam, said that no fewer than 10 gunmen were repelled before they could successfully raze down the facility with petrol bombs and dynamite.
He said policemen killed three of the attackers, adding that one member of the gang was later arrested and three vehicles used by hoodlums were recovered.
Dr Ahmed Audi, Commandant-General, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) at a meeting with senior officers of the corps in Abuja on Dec. 21, 2022 directed immediate deployment of personnel to beef up security at INEC offices nationwide.
“A certain group of miscreants and disloyal persons to the nation have decided to launch an attack on our various critical and national infrastructure and their target is INEC facilities and we will not fold our arms and watch them,” Audi said.
“These attacks must stop and the perpetrators apprehended and prosecuted. It is our responsibility to contribute to the conduct of free and fair elections”, he said..
Also INEC National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Mr Festus Okoye, said while INEC continues to replace the destroyed facilities and election materials, further attack may be dangerous.
“We are already replacing the voting cubicles and ballot boxes that were lost. We are also trying to rent offices for the ones that we cannot repair.
“But if these attacks go into January and February, it may be difficult for us to recover and it will not augur well for the general elections. .
“This is because if you look at section 134 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended, it has threshold that a candidate must meet before that candidate can be declared as the winner of any election.
“So we do not want these attacks to continue. We don’t want them to persist”, he said. (NANFeatures)
**If used please credit the writer and News Agency of Nigeria