By Gabriel Ewepu – Abuja
As some government institutions have been targeted by unscrupulous elements, an election observer, Yiaga Africa, weekend, condemned attacks on offices and facilities belonging to the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.
This was contained in a statement signed by the Director of Programmes , Yiaga Africa, Cynthia Mbamalu, where the organisation expressed worry over what it described as coordinated and premeditated attacks on INEC’s facilities.
The statement reads in part, “Yiaga Africa is deeply worried about the recent ‘coordinated and premeditated’ attacks on the facilities of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). 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.
“From Yiaga Africa’s recent tracking of incidents of attacks on INEC structures, at least 21 INEC offices across 10 states have been attacked, vandalized, or set ablaze within the last 24 months. The most recent being the vandalisation and burning down of INEC offices in Udenu LGA in Enugu State and in Ezza North LGA in Ebonyi State.
“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.
The statement also showed concern that “These sad incidents will create a financial burden on INEC and increase the cost on INEC and Nigeria by extension.”
The statement also pointed that, “In addition, it is also a source of distraction to INEC especially with the ongoing expansion of voter access to polling units and the planned commencement of the Continuous Voters Registration (CVR) across the country.
However, Yiaga Africa in the statement expressed shock that there has not been any arrests made since the attacks started.
“It is even more worrying that there has been barely any arrest made in connection with these heinous crimes. We are afraid that, if these incessant arsons on election facilities are not checked, this will affect Nigeria’s plan for the 2023 general elections.
“Citizens are interested in an in-depth investigation into these attacks and for perpetrators to be arrested and prosecuted as a deterrent to plans for any other attack. Failure to do these will enable this culture of impunity and create a violent climate for the elections.
The statement advised that “As the commission convenes an emergency meeting with all security agencies and major stakeholders, they must devise crucial means of tracking and arresting the perpetrators and prosecuting them along with their sponsors.”
It also called on security agencies to ensure the protection of government offices and facilities including the citizens and not to allow few criminal elements to hold over 200 million Nigerians to ransom.
“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.
“There is no gain reiterating the crucial role the election management body plays in consolidating the nation’s democracy. Thus the need to protect the commission, its independence, its facilities, and personnel remains sacrosanct”, it added.