Journalism in the service of society

Unknown gunmen and the elections

“Of course, President Muhammadu Buhari has given orders to the security agencies to tackle the situation with diligence. But the truth of the matter is that the security agencies are already overstretched in taking charge of the various trouble spots in the country.”

A RESEARCH firm, S. B. Morgan, has revealed that 27 Nigerians were killed in 57 politically motivated violent incidents between January and December 2022. That means that at least two people were killed every month last year in campaign related killings. Let us spell out some of the ones that dominated the front pages.

In June last year the campaign convoy of Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate of the PDP was attacked in Maiduguri, Borno State. In May last year, three delegates of the PDP governorship primary election in Minna, Niger State and one other person were killed by unknown gunmen. Last October, the campaign team of the Lagos State PDP candidates including the governorship candidate Dr Olajide Adediran (Jandor) and his running mate Ms Funke Akindele were attacked by political thugs or unknown gunmen.

These attacks are not limited to political campaign gatherings or to political opponents of rival parties. They have taken the fight to INEC. The INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, obviously frustrated, has been asking for urgent actions to address attacks unleashed on INEC offices and assets in various parts of the country. He says that there have been 50, yes 50, incidents in 21 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

In a particular incident that took place at INEC’s office in Abeokuta South, Ogun State, the INEC Chairman was aghast because the damage was very extensive. Items burnt or destroyed included 904 ballot boxes, 29 voting cubicles, 8 electric power generators, 57 election bags, 30 megaphones, 65, 099 uncollected PVCs and other assorted items such as stamps and stamp pads. This must be a very frustrating experience for the INEC Chief.

Conducting free and fair elections in a huge country such as this with all kinds of treacherous terrains in some parts is in itself a herculean task of immense proportion without the distraction of INEC’s facilities being attacked, destroyed or vandalised weeks before the election. Yakubu has urged that urgent actions be taken to halt these attacks so that the INEC staff can concentrate on managing the assets needed for the elections.

Of course, President Muhammadu Buhari has given orders to the security agencies to tackle the situation with diligence. But the truth of the matter is that the security agencies are already overstretched in taking charge of the various trouble spots in the country. In the North East they still have to do battle with Boko Haram, which has since 2009 been a thorn in the flesh of the Federal Government. Some of the school girls abducted by Boko Haram from secondary schools many years ago are still in captivity.

In the North West there have been several attacks on communities in Kaduna, Katsina, Sokoto, Zamfara, Kebbi and Jigawa by bandits. In the North Central there have been attacks by militant Fulani groups and bandits at war with the governments of the North Central states over grazing issues. In addition to this the ISWAP folks have been able to stage successful attacks in Niger, Kogi and the FCT in recent times. The fear is that if not checked they may expand their control to some of the nearby states.

In the Southern states there have been pockets of youth gangs as well as the problem of the secessionist group called the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). They are agitating for an independent Republic of Biafra as well as the release of their leader Nnamdi Kanu who has been in detention for many months now. In the South West there was the attack on a Catholic Church in Owo, Ondo State and many worshippers were either killed or kidnapped. This is despite the presence of Amotekun in parts of the South West region and Ebubeagu in the South East. These pockets of trouble spots make it difficult for the security agencies to pay full attention to the security requirements that are needed for the elections.

In 2015 when there was a serious control of large portions of land in the North East the election was postponed for six weeks to enable the security agencies to liberate parts of the territories occupied by Boko Haram.

However, despite the unfavourable security situation in the country it does appear that the security agencies are taking the challenge very seriously. The Inspector General of Police (IGP), Usman Baba, had warned trouble makers recently that appropriate punishment awaits them. He also said: “It is our hope and prayer that now that we don’t have an Electoral Offences Tribunal to prosecute electoral offenders we are urging our courts that we have taken our cases to now hasten up.”

The National Security Adviser, Mr Babagana Monguno, who is a retired Major General has given an even sterner warning considering that the country has recorded 52 acts of political violence in one month in 22 states. These incidents reportedly occurred between October 8 and November 9, last year. At an emergency meeting of the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES) held in Abuja recently, he warned trouble makers.

For those people who hold the strings, who control these groups, that have a proclivity for unleashing violence, those people who have gangsters working for them, I want to send a very, very clear warning, a categorical, unequivocal warning to each and every one regardless of whichever party including the party of the President. For as long as you decide to scuttle the election process the law enforcement agencies will equally be uninhibited in reacting to whatever actions you have taken, you will be visited with appropriate or commensurate response. I want to assure you and I am saying this with all sincerity.

Every responsible person or group that wishes the country well is calling for all hands to be on deck to ensure that the elections are peaceful, free and fair. Last week, the National Peace Committee led by the former Head of State, Abdulsalami Abubakar also held a meeting in Abuja with the leadership of the 18 political parties and their presidential candidates. He said that the aim of the meeting was “to build confidence among the people and to do all that is possible for these very crucial elections to be successful.”

He urged all concerned to allow people’s choice to prevail. He said: “We appeal to you all to be moderate in your language, show respect to the views and concerns of one another. We are not here to find out who is wrong but what is wrong and to see how to correct it.” Noble words from a statesman, who has always worked hard before every election to ensure that the elections are conducted in a manner that guarantees the outbreak of peace before, during and after the elections.

Peace is essential at these three levels: before, during and after the elections. In 1993 the presidential election was considered to be very free and fair, perhaps the freest and fairest in the country’s history. But the dam broke. The Babangida Administration decided, unwisely, to annul the election and that decision was followed by a wave of violence in the country. In the 2011 presidential election most observers considered it to be also very free and fair. But after the election violence came and more than 800 people lost their lives in three days of rioting in some parts of the country.

Those who man the various security groups in the country must select officers who are fair, impartial and professional to lead the election security teams. When the leader shows fairness, impartiality and professionalism the rest of the team will behave appropriately. This will guarantee to a large extent that things will turn out right, all other things being equal.

Every election in Nigeria is a high stakes affair especially the governorship and presidential offices, which carry enormous powers, responsibilities and resources. That is one reason why some of the contestants regard these elections are a do-or-die affair. But they need not be because these offices are not permanent. Any occupant of the office has a limited tenure to function and move on giving opportunity to a successor.

But perhaps what needs to be mentioned in conclusion is that every election concerns every citizen. So all the elections at whatever level are a multi-stakeholder affair to which everyone should show more than a casual interest. If that happens we can reasonably guarantee that the elections will succeed. INEC and security officials may be the principal participants in the elections but all of us must play a role for them to succeed. That is the office of the citizen.

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