From Geoffrey Anyanwu (Enugu), Okey Sampson (Umuahia), Obinna Odogwu (Awka), and Chijioke Agwu (Abakaliki)
Nigeria’s electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), has raised the alarm over the safety and security of its personnel and facilities in the Southeast.
This followed frequent attacks on its offices and facilities, resulting to their destruction and in some cases, death of its staffers.
The electoral commission recently indicated that it may be forced to suspend the ongoing Continuous Voters’ Registration (CVR) in the region.
INEC said that at least 41 of its offices were attacked by armed non-state actors between February 2019 and May 2021.
According to the INEC chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, Imo State had topped the list with the highest cases of attacks.
However, there have been renewed attacks in the region with Igboeze North Local Government Area of Enugu State recording two incidents in this month alone. The first occurred on July 3, when the hoodlums destroyed 748 ballot boxes, 240 voting cubicles, office furniture and equipment.
The attack led to the suspension of the CVR exercise in the local government area.
In the latest incident, Sunday Sun learnt that INEC also lost two registration machines, while the staff involved in the attack lost personal property.
INEC spokesperson, Festus Okoye, said in a statement on July 14, that officials of the commission were attacked by an armed gang on Wednesday, July 13, at a community primary school in Umuozzi Ward 19 of Igboeze North Local Government Area of the Enugu State.
Okoye said that no casualties were recorded during the attack, but added that a member of staff of the commission sustained different degrees of injuries due to the attack.
It was not possible to ascertain those who carried out the attack.
“The gunmen fired sporadically into the air to disperse registrants and registration officials. In the ensuing stampede, one of our staff sustained injuries and is receiving treatment in a hospital.
“However, two voter registration machines and personal items of the staff such as mobile phones were lost. Consequently, Ward level registration of voters in Igboeze North is now suspended,” Okoye announced.
Attacks on INEC facilities deprive residents of voter registration opportunities. Like Enugu, other states in the Southeast and South-south have recorded several attacks.
Clearly, INEC chairman, Yakubu had said that “these acts of unjustifiable aggression may undermine the commission’s capacity to organise elections and dent the nation’s electoral process. The commission facilities are there to serve the local communities for the most fundamental aspect of democratic governance, which is elections.”
The trend, however, did not stop after the INEC boss’ outcry as the current attacks implied that many affected residents were denied access to CVR ahead of next year’s general elections.
INEC itself confirmed this in its Election Project Plan (EPP) released in May, where it stressed that physical attacks, kidnapping of its personnel for ransom, and arson on its offices and facilities would affect the registration of voters.
In Imo State, INEC had in April suspended the CVR in all the 54 additional centres created to facilitate the registration of voters across the state due to further threats to staff.
The staffer, Nwokorie Anthony, was shot dead at Nkwo Ihitte (PU 004) in Amakohia Ward (RA 02) of Ihitte Uboma Local Government Area, while registering members of the community.
Residents of the zone expressed worry that the development if not checked would affect people’s participation in the 2023 general elections in the area.
They also said that this might affect the performance of Labour Party (LP) presidential candidate, Mr Peter Obi in his catchment zone and invariably ruin the bright chances of the region to clinch the presidency next year.
An Enugu-based lawyer and rights activist, Olu Omotayo said it was high time elders of the region and pressure groups woke up from the slumber to stop the menace.
He said: “What I think is that the elders and the pressure groups here have a lot of work to do. They should be able to convince and educate the people, so that people who are doing this thing should stop it because it is not just a recent something. It is something that has been ongoing.
“The elders need to stand up and talk to the people and make sure the people who are doing this thing stop it, if not the implication is that a large number of people from this part of the country will be shut out with all these things that is happening.
“The way forward is for Ohanaeze and all the respected people from this place to tell them that please let this thing stop so that the votes from the people of this part will be counted.”
For the Coordinator, the Professional Christian Youth Leaders Forum Nigeria, Dr Ejim Emeka, the subject matter was not accidental again because of the selected target areas, adding that “any doubting Thomas is actually believing now.”
He explored likely motives behind the attacks, including whether fifth columnists were scared of what he called the coming Tsunami in 2023.
“The implications are enormous, the laughable figure that are usually given to the whole five South eastern states will deplete further. Many will be disenchanted to the whole electoral process. Many will likely succumb to the old axiom, ‘our votes will not count.’ Above all, we will willingly enthrone evil for the years ahead. God forbid!
“Enough of being used and dumped. Enough of enthronement of evil. That Mr Peter Obi and Senator Datti-Ahmed came together to salvage our ailing economy should be supported by all men of goodwill. The youths should note that they are the benefactors of today’s good or bad events. Let’s learn to say no. Let’s expose the evil sponsors of these dastardly acts. Enough of burning INEC offices in all the local governments and states of the federation. If the results can change in Osun State, we should trust INEC to effectively deliver come 2023. We have gotten the assurance from the INEC boss and we believe,” the youth leader stated.
One of the respondents, Mrs Eunice Okw, said that those behind the attacks on INEC facilities in the Southeast, including their sponsors should know that they are enemy of Ndigbo.
Okwu said: “In the 2023 general elections, we need all the votes that can come from the zone and burning INEC facilities in our zone is depriving us of those needed votes.
“You know INEC like any other body in Nigeria comes with excuses for their shortcomings talk more when you avail them the opportunity of having what to hang on to give excuses. So, the implication of burning INEC facilities in the zone is heavy and detrimental to us.
“I plead with our leaders and Ohanaeze Ndigbo to take urgent steps to unravel the cause of this and put an immediate stop to it. We must like the Bible says, be wise as the serpent.”
Enugu State Chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Ndubuisi Elechi-Onyia regretted the level Nigeria had deteriorated in terms of statehood, noting that rebuilding any destroyed public property would be at great cost to the community.
“There is a clear disconnect between our governments and the citizen. People now see destruction of government property as a form of protest. Again, the absence of people-oriented governance and the failure of our security infrastructure have increased insecurity and criminality in the land.
“What has happened to intelligence? Our security infrastructure is in need of repairs, but more importantly, government needs to meet the needs and expectations of the governed,” he said.
Our investigation in Abia State showed that the last time the INEC facilities were attacked in the state was on May 10, 2021, at Amaekpu Ohafia in Ohafia Local Government Area, where gunmen burnt the place.
And the respondents there condemned the development, noting that it was reprehensible and despicable.
Chairman of Abia chapter of Civil Liberties Organision (CLO), Dr Charles Chinekezi who did not rule out the possibility of involvement of people from outside the zone still wondered what such persons stand to gain from such nasty actions.
“The fact remains that an average Igbo man feels marginalized in Nigeria and wants this yoke off his neck, but I don’t think that burning of INEC offices will solve the problem, rather it will escalate it.
“If INEC offices are burnt and people were not registered to enable them vote during elections, how would they vote out bad leaders to end the marginalization, for instance,” he queried.
Chinekezi advised youths in Southeast not to allow themselves to be used to destroy what will give them hope for the future.
But he carpeted INEC chairman for threatening to stop the ongoing voters’ registration in the Southeast should the burnings continue, saying that if INEC had continued to register voters in the Northeast where Boko Haram has made life more unbearable for the people, nothing should stop the electoral umpire from completing the exercise in Southeast.
Like many respondents, the founder of the Centre for Equity and Democratic Governance (CEDOG), Prince Kalu Onumah said that the incessant burning of INEC facilities in the zone will definitely affect Peter Obi’s chances of winning the presidential election if nothing was done.
Onumah said: “The Southeast is Obi’s constituency so to speak, although he is not going to be president only for the Southeast, he is going to be president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. But the burnings in his constituency will affect him because the Southeast is his own political base and he is supposed to win in his own base convincingly.”
He also averred that the dastardly act might just be the handiwork of fifth columnists.
His wirds: “I want to believe that some powerful forces outside the region who see Obi’s growing political influence as a threat to their political ambition are the ones masterminding the burning of INEC offices in the Southeast, although with the collaboration of some elements within”.
In fact, a prominent community leader from Abia North, Chief Okoh Igwe said: “The burnings are being engineered by Obi’s political opponents from outside the Southeast region.
“It still beats my imagination that it’s only in the Southeast that INEC offices are burnt, in the North where bandits hold sway, and the Southwest, INEC offices are not being burnt. Why must it be in the Southeast that these burnings of INEC offices must be taking place?”
He urged INEC to discard the idea of stopping voters’ registration exercise in the zone instead, it should devise means of beefing up security round their offices.
In Anambra State, probably the last recorded attack on any INEC facility was in 2021 before the November 6 governorship election in the state.
Daredevil criminals had stormed the state headquarters of the commission at night and wreaked havoc, destroying whatever was within their reach. Although they were stopped midway by the gallant policemen who trailed and engaged them with superior firepower, the hoodlums had already caused much in some parts of the state capital.
The armed criminals, who drove into Awka in eight vans, first visited a filling station near Regina Caeli Junction along the Enugu – Onitsha Expressway and dispossessed the people there of their valuables, including petroleum products, money and phones before proceeding to the INEC headquarters.
At INEC, the hoodlums managed to burn seven operational vehicles belonging to the commission. While four were completely burnt, three were partially razed.
They also burnt down their collation centre, a store housing many generators, and another store serving another purpose.
And in Ebonyi, our correspondent reported that the last time INEC offices were attacked in the state was in May 2021 when gunmen launched coordinated and simultaneous attacks at its offices in Ezza North and Ebonyi local government areas.
A staffer of the commission in Abakaliki who wished not to be named said that efforts were being made to fix the destroyed facilities ahead of the elections.
“There has been no attack on any of our facilities in Ebonyi since the beginning of this year. The last attacks were on 18th May, 2021, when our offices in Ezza North and Ebonyi LGAs were torched by unknown persons. Though not fixed yet, but it can’t stop elections next year,” he said.
Nevertheless, he said that insecurity was one of their major concerns ahead the 2023 general elections.