December 1, 2022

Jittery politicians behind attack on our properties – INEC

By Luminous Jannamike, Abuja

Despite the upsurge in the attacks on properties of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) across the country, the Chairman of the electoral body, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, and his predecessor, Professor Attahiru Jega, on Thursday, dismissed suggestions by some Nigerians that the electoral body should hire high profile private security guards or agents to protect the commission’s facilities.

While Jega argued that INEC is a critical state institution that must be protected by the Federal government by any means necessary, Yakubu maintained that Nigeria’s security agencies have the capacity to defend the commission’s facilities from attacks.

This was as former Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for West Africa and the Sahel, Dr Mohamed Chambas, stated that elections do not merely present citizens the opportunity to select the next baton-holders in the marathon of leadership, but they are often an opportunity to address some of the underlying conflict dynamics in the society.

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The trio made their position known in Abuja at the presentation of a book by Henry Dunant Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD) titled: “Post-Election Assessment of Conflict Management Mechanisms in Nigeria, 2019 and beyond”.

The book, which is the report of a study conducted by Professor Freedom Onuoha and Dr Gbemisola Animasaun in partnership with the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany, Governments of Canada and Norway, sought to ascertain whether or not, the prevailing conflicts in parts of the country had any bearing on the elections and their outcomes, among other objectives.

The research study covered eight states of the federation which include; Adamawa, Benue, Imo, Kano, Kaduna, Plateau, Rivers and Lagos.

Yakubu, who was represented by INEC’s Deputy Director, Voter Education and Publicity, Chukwuemeka Ugboaja, said Nigeria has formidable security outfits that can get the job of protecting INEC facilities and the fidelity of election materials done efficiently.

He said: “As far as security is concerned, Nigeria has formidable security agencies, the police are there, the military is there, the other intelligence agencies are there too. So if they are there, why should INEC hire private security agencies?

“We very much believe in their efficacy and what they can do. And I trust that they will be able to police the nation very well for the election to hold. Remember that in Ekiti and Osun Governorship elections, the police behaved maturely and they did a very good job. We believe that is how it’s going to be throughout the nation”

Yakubu further assured Nigerians that the attacks on the commission’s facilities won’t hinder it from conducting credible elections.

He also assured that the commission’s server, especially its result viewing portal would be well protected from hackers, adding that he won’t reveal to Nigerians how that would be carried out.

“I think it would be better for those who are perpetrating mayhem or who are threatening hell and brimstone to shelve that aside and allow peace to reign in Nigeria and in the electoral process so that the electoral and the democratic process in Nigeria will not be truncated.

“We have no doubt that hackers may try in vain to go into the system, to get or perform mayhem in the election portal so it is a good assurance from the commission”, Yakubu stated.

On his part. Jega insisted that INEC is a critical state institution and as such, the federal government must secure all INEC facilities and personnel to enable the Commission to discharge its responsibility appropriately.

The Professor of Political Science maintained that the country needs a secure environment to conduct free, fair and credible elections, claiming that most of the attacks on INEC facilities were sponsored by reckless politicians who are hell-bent on undermining the 2023 polls.

“Unfortunately, what we are seeing is a criminal activity but most likely promoted or sponsored by some of our reckless politicians, people who have recognised that a lot of reform measures have been introduced, which will prevent them from interfering with the electoral process as they had done before and are therefore looking for ways and means of ensuring that in particular, they weaken the possibility of either using technology or using voter’s cards to conduct credible elections”, Jega stated.

On INEC hiring private security agencies, Jega observed that the current situation is something the security agencies should be able to contain.

He added: “Recently, I heard the chairman of the INEC speak about how they are trying to get the government to provide adequate additional security to all their facilities, as well as to their personnel who would be putting their lives at risk. In the conduct and preparations of the election, I truly hope that our security agencies will really provide the desired support to INEC so that we stop these unwholesome incidents and ensure that elections are free, fair and credible.

Speaking on reports released by some organisations that the 2023 elections might lead to violence and deaths in certain areas, Jega recalled that some international groups had predicted that Nigeria would cease to exist after the 2015 elections but their projection failed.

He said a lot had been done by the current commission in the last four years to ensure that the “credibility of our elections has improved remarkably much, much more than what has happened in 2019.”

The former vice-chancellor of Bayero University, Kano (BUK), also said: “I think all hands need to be on deck by all stakeholders to ensure that we have peaceful and credible elections. Don’t forget that before the 2015 general elections, some international so-called partners were predicting that that would be the end of Nigeria, and it came to pass that we were able to prove to the world that we could do better. So this thing about 3000 people dying, I don’t know the basis of that projection. And I truly hope to God that it doesn’t happen.”

He expressed confidence that the book would add value to addressing the challenge of violence in elections and to help in the proper management of conflicts during elections.

Meanwhile, Ibn Chambas condemned social media attacks on political opponents by politicians and their supporters, Chambas argued that disagreements on social media do often escalate into violent conflicts on the ground.

He said: “So what is it about the conduct of elections that makes it attractive and amenable as a vehicle for violence? I propose three theories for consideration.

“The first is impunity. We know that in contexts such as ours, perpetrators of various crimes often go unpunished, but perhaps the most unpunished crimes are electoral offences. Secondly, the vast opportunities public office offers politicians means that they will seek to win office by all means.

“Finally, the enormous cost of prosecuting an election in Africa today means that even the politician most inclined to fair play is not prepared to lose an election. Such a loss could easily turn a millionaire into a pauper, and this is an outcome politicians are unwilling to accept.”

Chambas, who observed that addressing these challenges would go a long way in promoting electoral conflict management, however, said there is no one-size-fits-all in conflict management.

Regional Director, Africa, Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, Babatunde Afolabi, described the 2023 general elections as a watershed moment in Nigeria’s history, noting that expectations are high in terms of the quality and transparency expected of a now consolidating democracy.

According to him, with the increased role of and the difficulty of monitoring social media conduct, hateful and inflammatory speeches, electoral management has become even more tasking for INEC and its partners responsible for ensuring the conduct of free and fair elections.

He urged relevant stakeholders such as the INEC, security agencies, political parties, CSOs tasked with monitoring the elections, election observers, as well as the interested public, to read and reflect upon the findings contained in the study.