From Romanus Ugwu, Abuja
Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the National Security Adviser, Babagana Mungono, have expressed deep concerns over the threat negative mobilisation, incitement and violence during the electioneering campaign by the political parties posed on the 2023 general elections.
They warned that they are prelude to violence on election day and beyond that should tackle before they snowball into major inferno.
Chairman of the commission, Mahmood Yakubu, first pressed the panic button in his remarks at the quarterly meeting of the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES) in Abuja on Friday.
He specifically commended the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), for facilitating the arrest and prosecution of the culprits of vote buying during the Ekiti and Osun governorship elections.
In his own remarks, NSA, who doubles as the Chairman ICCES, observed that the violent dimensions of electioneering campaigns, characterised by attacks on campaign rallies, campaign offices and uncomplimentary remarks, uncouth utterances among politicians pose serious threat to the 2023 elections.
According to the INEC Chairman; “Beyond vote buying, there must also be decisive action against negative mobilisation, incitement and violence during the electioneering campaign. It is exactly a month since the commencement of campaign by political parties on September 28, 2022, yet the incidents of physical attacks on supporters and destruction of campaign materials across the country is worrisome.
“At our consultative meeting two days ago, leaders of political parties in Nigeria also complained about the denial of access to public facilities and exorbitant charges in some States for the use of such facilities for the dissemination of their campaign materials, messages and rallies. These attacks and denials are a violation of the Electoral Act 2022 and ominous signs of what will follow as the campaigns enter critical stages.
“They may also be a prelude to violence on Election Day and beyond. We should tackle the smoke before it snowballs into a major inferno. The effective enforcement of our electoral law is the best way to deal with the menace. We should work together to ensure the arrest and prosecution of violators of the provisions of especially Sections 92 – 93 of the Electoral Act 2022,” he warned.
However, bringing the message of hope, Yakubu said: “As the 2023 General Election approaches, we will continue to appraise the security situation in the country and its possible impact on the conduct of elections. We are right now working to harmonise our Election Risk Management (ERM) and Election Violence Mitigation and Advocacy Tool (EVMAT) for a more effective risk assessment and mitigation measures ahead of the general election.
“We will continue to share information with the security agencies and most importantly work together to ensure that elections hold peacefully nationwide as scheduled,” he said.
“On behalf of ICCES and INEC, I extend our profound appreciation to all the security agencies for the professional conduct of personnel before, during and after the CVR and the governorship elections. There are important lessons from the Ekiti and Osun governorship elections that will help our planning for the 2023 general elections.
“Synergy among the security agencies facilitated the timely deployment of election materials, the coordinated escort of personnel to various locations before the elections and the effective security at the polling units and collation centres.
“As a result, polling units opened on time, collation of results started promptly and declarations made in good time. Going forward, Nigerians expect an even better performance during the 2023 general election. Therefore, a lot of work lies ahead, but I am confident that we will do it effectively and professionally.
“One of the worrisome practices perpetrated during elections by desperate individuals was vote buying and selling at polling units on election day. This Committee has severally discussed this matter.
“In our determination to curb the menace, the membership of ICCES was expanded to include the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) and EFCC. The two agencies have been deploying their operatives during elections and this effort is paying off.
“For instance, following arrests made during the recent Osun State governorship election held on July 16, this year, the EFCC made arrests and after investigation found evidence to charge the suspects to court in Osogbo. We are right now working with the EFCC to ensure their prosecution. I wish to commend the EFCC for this initiative and assure them of our support at all times,” he said.
“I commends the tireless efforts of all security agencies in maintaining peace and order during the ongoing electioneering campaigns across the States,” the NSA noted, adding: “however, the violent dimensions of electioneering campaigns which characterizes attacks on campaign rallies, political campaign offices as well as passing of uncomplementary remarks and uncouth utterances among politicians recently witnessed in some States signal potential threats to the smooth conduct of the forthcoming elections in February, 2023.
“Accordingly, while security agencies strategize new measures to counter the rising wave of violence in the polity, the second phase of the signing of “Peace Accord”, by the National Peace Committee (NPC) scheduled for January, 2023, will be fruitful in deescalating the violent trend.
“I commend ICCES members for their immense contributions on the ongoing review of the security code of conduct and rules of engagement, to guide security operations in the upcoming election. I also recommend massive sensitization campaign on the ongoing PVCs distribution exercise by INEC. I encourage registered voters to collect their Voters Card on time, to ensure smooth implementation of the 2023 election timeline.
“Lastly, I appreciates INEC for steps taken to instill discipline amongst its staff who attempted to circumvent voters registration process during the last voters registration exercise. The decision by the commission to sanction the defaulting staff will ensure discipline and professionalism and ultimately enhance the integrity of voters register,” he said.