It has been a trying period for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Just a few months to the conduct of the 2023 general election, hoodlums and arsonists have vowed to make things difficult for the commission and for Nigerians. They have not only burnt a number of INEC offices across the country, but also destroyed vital materials meant for the smooth conduct of the forthcoming elections.
The latest in the series of this despicable act was the burning of INEC office in Izzi Local Government Area of Ebonyi State. This happened late November. INEC’s National Commissioner and Chairman Information and Voter Education Committee, Mr. Festus Okoye, said the main building and all movable and immovable items inside it were destroyed. Some of the destroyed items included 340 ballot boxes, 130 voting cubicles, 14 electric power generators, large water storage tanks, and large number of Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs).
Before the Ebonyi incident, there had been similar incidents in states like Osun, Ogun, Anambra, Imo and Enugu. Early last month, for instance, arsonists set ablaze the INEC offices in Abeokuta South in Ogun State and in Ede South Council in Osun State. In the Abeokuta incident, INEC’s main building and movable assets such as 904 ballot boxes, 29 voting cubicles, 30 megaphones, 57 election bags, eight electric power generators and 65,699 uncollected PVCs were destroyed.
Last July, hoodlums also set ablaze, the INEC office in Igboeze North Local Government Area of Enugu State. In the last four months, five INEC facilities had been attacked nationwide. INEC had noted that between February 2019 and May 2021, hoodlums had attacked 41 of its offices in 14 states. As of today, over 50 of such attacks have occurred across the country.
Although the motives behind this evil act are not very clear, it is suspected that politicians with evil intent are behind it. Apparently due to fears that they may lose the election, they instigate attacks to scare people away from exercising their franchise.
We had expressed fear about the consequences of this insane act in a recent editorial. We wish to reiterate that the burning of INEC offices and vital equipment is a present danger to the smooth conduct of the 2023 election and to our democracy generally. Next year’s election is so pivotal that it should not be scuttled. Many Nigerians want to vote and everything humanly possible must be done not to disenfranchise them in any way.
It is heartwarming that INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, has assured that despite these acts of sabotage by some brigands, the commission will bequeath credible polls to Nigerians in 2023. While on an assessment visit to the burnt INEC office in Abeokuta South of Ogun State, Yakubu said the commission was making efforts to replace whatever materials it had lost to the inferno. He assured all those who had not collected their PVCs and who might have been affected by the fire incident that the electoral umpire was making plans to reprint the PVCs quickly and to bring them back to Abeokuta South for people to collect and vote.
“We want to assure the people of Abeokuta South that this incident, terrible as it is, will not deter and will not discourage us, will not discourage our staff from conducting the 2023 general elections and we want to once again assure the people of Abeokuta South, the people of Ogun State and the people of Nigeria that the commission is determined to make 2023 elections our best ever. We will not be deterred or cowed by act of arson by undemocratic and retrogressive elements,” Yakubu added.
Also, INEC Chairman had, at different times, assured Nigerians that the commission would be neutral in the 2023 election. He said the umpire had no preferred candidate or political party but would only ensure that all valid votes counted and that the winners were decided solely by voters.
We believe the INEC Chairman knows what he is saying. We are hopeful that between now and the Election Day, the commission would replace some of the materials that have been destroyed. The electoral umpire should also ensure that it distributes PVCs to eligible voters. It should not compromise on its promise to use Bimodal Voters Accreditation System (BVAS), INEC Voter Enrolment Device (IVED), INEC Result Viewing Portal (IRev) and other electronic devices during the 2023 election.
To prevent a recurrence of the recent disturbing arson, INEC should liaise with security agencies to safeguard its offices nationwide. Security agencies must intensify efforts to apprehend and prosecute all those involved in the crime. This will serve as a deterrent.
While we condemn this cowardly act, we wish to state that the electoral umpire needs all the support of Nigerians at this critical period. This is because if we fail to get it right in 2023, the consequences will be dire for the nation.