From Romanus Ugwu, Abuja
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has warned that replacing its burnt facilities in some states under the prevailing economic circumstances in the country will adversely affect electoral services in the states.
The Commission further lamented that the systematic targeting and attacks on its facilities have assumed a crisis and worrisome dimension.
INEC Chairman Prof Mahmood Yakubu, who expressed the worry during the emergency meeting with Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) in Abuja on Wednesday, also made a passionate appeal to host communities to protect INEC facilities in their areas.
Frowning on the escalating spate of attack, the Commission warned that ‘targeting such important national assets and repositories of electoral materials that took time and enormous resources to procure cannot be justified.
‘Replacing these facilities in the prevailing economic circumstances will indeed be a tall order, thereby adversely affecting electoral services in the same communities.
‘These facilities are not only limited to voting but also used for other critical electoral activities such as voter registration, the coordination of stakeholder engagements and voter education and sensitisation.
‘These facilities are not only limited to voting but also used for other critical electoral activities such as voter registration, the coordination of stakeholder engagements and voter education and sensitisation,’ Yakubu warned.
Speaking on the spate of attacks, the electoral umpire said: ‘Unfortunately, some events in the recent past have challenged the Commission and adversely affected our commitment to continue to improve the electoral process.
‘The spate of arson and vandalisation targeting the Commission’s facilities and property has become profoundly worrisome.
‘Unfortunately, this has been on the rise since the 2019 General Election but has now developed into a crisis. In the last three weeks or so, three of our Local Government offices in Essien Udim in Akwa Ibom State, Ohafia in Abia State and Udenu in Enugu State have been set ablaze by unidentified persons.
‘Last Sunday, May 16, 2021, our state office in Enugu suffered yet another arson and vandalisation in which parts of the building were ransacked and several vehicles razed. And more of our facilities are being systematically targeted and attacked.
‘Just last night, Tuesday May 18, 2021, two more offices in Ebonyi and Ezza North Local Government Areas of Ebonyi State were burnt down. Although there were no casualties, the damage to the physical infrastructure and electoral materials was total.
‘Nothing has been salvaged from ballot boxes and voting cubicles to generating sets and office furniture and equipment.
‘Surely, these attacks are no longer freak events but appear to be quite orchestrated and targeted at INEC. Clearly, these are acts of unjustifiable aggression which may undermine the Commission’s capacity to organise elections and dent the nation’s electoral process.
‘The facilities of the Commission are there to serve the local communities for the most fundamental aspect of democratic governance, which is elections,’ he said.
On the arrangements to curtail the incidents, Prof Yakubu said: ‘The Commission will certainly work with the security agencies to deal with the perpetrators of these heinous crimes according to the law. To this end, a meeting with all the security agencies is holding on Monday, May 24, 2021.’
Appealing to host communities, the Commission’s Chairman, said: ‘It has become imperative to call on all and sundry, particularly communities where these assets are located, to see themselves as owners and custodians of these facilities and assist the Commission in protecting them. I am glad that some of them are already doing so.
‘For this reason, I must put on record the fantastic partnership between the Commission and the communities we serve. These communities share with the Commission the commitment of improving electoral services to Nigerians.
‘They have over the years supported the Commission during all electoral activities from CVR to the conduct of polls. Some of them actually donated the land on which some of our Local Government offices are built.
‘Even in the recent events of arson and vandalisation, many of them have demonstrated exceptional willingness to support the Commission.
‘For instance, following the vandalisation of our offices in Osun State during the #EndSARS protests in October last year, the Ikirun community in Ifelodun Local Government Area and two communities in Ede South Local Government Area have offered to contribute to the repairs of the offices and promised to work with the Commission to protect them in future.
‘In the same vein, in Nnewi North in Anambra State, the community has also offered to repair our Local Government office destroyed during the #EndSARS protests.
‘The Commission does not take such partnerships for granted. I wish to thank our host communities in all parts of the country and appeal to them to continue to see INEC property as both national and local assets to be protected.
‘Consequently, the challenges posed by these threats notwithstanding, we are still positive that we can find lasting solutions to the spate of attacks on our facilities.
‘However, this must be done quickly to forestall disruptions to several upcoming electoral activities, particularly the CVR exercise which we plan to undertake continuously in 2,673 centres nationwide for a period of over one year involving thousands of INEC officials supported by security personnel,’ he said.