By Omoniyi Salaudeen
There is no gainsaying that the Federal Government is overwhelmed by the security challenges facing the country. The rising trend of terrorists attacks, banditry, and kidnapping has already cast a dark pall over the nation. Needless to mention Friday’s attacks on the Nigerian Army Presidential Guards Brigade, the recent Kuje Correctional Centre incident that saw the release of over 600 terrorists, and lately Zuma shootouts between the terrorists and Nigerian soldiers.
More ominous is the audacity and sophistication with which these terrorists carry out their heinous crimes even in the face of heavy security presence. So much so ominous is the situation now that people are increasingly getting tired of the menace of terrorism and are already beginning to gravitate toward self-help. The National Security Adviser, Major General Babagana Monguno (retd), could not hide the seeming hopelessness of the situation, when he spoke with the newsmen in Abuja after the Security Council meeting, saying “President is well aware of the dire security challenges the country finds itself in at the moment.”
Regrettably, all this is coming on the eve of the election year. Thus, for the first time in recent times, the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof Mahmood Yakubu, had to give vent to the people’s apprehension about the threat of violence to the conduct of the coming general elections, warning the Federal Government to do the needful before the time runs out on the commission.
Addressing stakeholders at the second quarterly meeting of the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES) in Abuja, Yakubu said: “The general security situation in the country and its impact on the electoral process is a source of concern to the commission.
“However, we are confident that with nine months to the 2023 general election, there is enough time to respond to the security challenges and secure the nation for elections to take place nationwide.
“The timetable for the election has also been released. Let us not wait until a few weeks before the election before we realise that time is not on our side and begin to seek for extension of timelines. The time to act is now. We wish to reassure the security agencies that we will continue to work cooperatively with you to ensure the success of all forthcoming elections and electoral activities.”
The National Commissioner for Information and Voter Education (IVEC), Festus Okoye, recently raised the alarm, saying the security concern had limited the capacity of the agency to 811 locations out of 2,673 areas earmarked to carry out the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) nationwide.
He insisted that unless relevant security stakeholders rise to neutralise the brewing threat and assure the people of a peaceful atmosphere and elections in the troubled Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) areas in 2023, there might be problems.
There are a plethora of reasons INEC’s apprehension over the security situation cannot be dismissed with a wave of the hand. Apart from being a snag in the prospect of a peaceful election, the rising spectre of violence across the country also constitutes a clear and present danger to the lives of the personnel involved in the conduct of the polls.
This is particularly bearing in mind the recent experience in Nkwo Ihitte market, Imo State, where some 12 gunmen struck and killed an INEC officer during voters’ registration exercise for the 2023 general elections.
Again, a similar tragedy of greater proportion was averted in Borno State where the troops recently foiled an attempt by two female terrorists to detonate two separate bombs at an IDP camp in Mungonu town.
According to the Army spokesman, Col. Sani Usman, the two suspected suicide bombers were killed by vigilant troops protecting the camp, while three civilians were injured in the attack.
Not too long ago, Katsina State Police Command also revealed how its operatives repelled an attack on Dabaiwayawa and Dankiri villages of Batagarawa and Dutsinnma Local Government Areas of the state.
The Police Public Relations Officer in the state, Gambo Isah, who made the disclosure, said six of the hoodlums were neutralized during a gun duel, and an AK-47 was recovered from them.
The list is inexhaustible. Yet there is no indication that the trend would subside even as the nation progressively inches toward the next general elections.
An elder statesman and former aide to the late President Shehu Shagari, Alhaji Tanko Yakassai, speaking with Sunday Sun, blamed the worrisome security challenge on the ineptitude of President Muhammadu Buhari and the comprehensive failure of his administration to fulfill his electoral promise to tackle insecurity in the country.
His words: “There is no doubt that there is a serious concern about the security situation in Nigeria. In my opinion, the problem is not insurmountable. But you all know my position regarding Buhari’s candidature in the 2015 general elections. I gave you the reasons I did not support his candidature. I said he lacks the competence and capacity to lead this country. And my reason is that he ruled Nigeria as a military head of state for two years; I can remember the quality project he implemented during those two years.
“Now, he has spent seven years, what he said he would do was to tackle the problem of insecurity and economy. He even gave the number of graduates he would employ every year. That has not been achieved. I was lucky; otherwise, some people could have organized my assassination because of my criticism of Buhari. Some are not even on speaking terms because of that. But everything is over now and thank God I survived.
“Security problem before Buhari came in was primary, the issue of Boko Haram. Today, we have armed robbery, banditry, kidnapping, and so on, in addition to the Boko Haram insurgency. He is a retired General and not an ordinary old man like me. Yet, he could not solve the problem. Thank God we survived even years under him. By the grace of God, we will survive the remaining one year. My prayer is that we get a president that will change the situation for the better.
“As to the fear expressed by the INEC about the threat of security to the coming general elections, since the issues are limited to some particular areas, what the government can do is to concentrate on the biggest proportion of security agencies in areas of concern to maintain law and order more so that the election is a matter of one day.”
Chief Chekwas Okorie, in his own reaction, noted that the concern raised by the INEC was a wake-up call on both the state and Federal Governments as to the implication of the escalating security situation in the coming general elections.
He said: “INEC is drawing the attention of the government both at the federal and state levels to the implication of this insecurity that is rising across the country. It is a timely warning that this is one thing that could scuttle the election that we are very well prepared for. So, the government has to take the alarm very seriously. It is real and we don’t have to get to the point where INEC will only be able to conduct elections in a few places in Nigeria, while others will be left without elections.
“That may mean disenfranchising some people which could make the outcome of the presidential election very contentious because some people will claim that the areas where the election didn’t hold were their strong areas. This is why the government should take the issue of insecurity far more seriously than they are currently doing. The present approach to it is not helpful. The communities where these criminals operate know those who are perpetrating all these criminalities and the spaces they are occupying in the forest. But the security architecture we operate has not given every citizen a sense of ownership of the security process. Citizens don’t feel that they are equal stakeholders in the security of their environment. And I have been saying along with other well-meaning Nigerians, including Vice President Yemi Osinbajo that community policing cannot be overemphasized and even state police.
“Just like communities, security is also local. Every miscreant comes from somewhere and they are known. Leaving Nigeria as large as it is under one central command where somebody has to wait for an order from above before he can act cannot help this country to come out of the situation we have found ourselves. And that is why the president continues to order security chiefs to have the criminals apprehended and nothing happens. I don’t know why the political will to allow communities to control their environment is not there.”
Okorie also challenged the electoral umpire to ensure the credibility of electoral process in order to minimise the chances of desperate politicians recruiting thugs and miscreants to perpetrate violence during elections.
“People who are desperate to win the election may take the advantage of the vulnerability of the young ones who have no jobs and recruit them to do some odd jobs and pay them off after the election.
“But then, INEC has the responsibility to sustain a steady improvement in the electoral process in order to eliminate the incident of politicians recruiting thugs. These thugs are recruited to cart away election materials, ballot boxes, and influence the results as they move from one collation centre to the other. But if they do direct transmission from polling units, they will bypass all those thugs and security agencies that are compromised to influence things.
“When the job is no more there for the thugs to do, they will do other things. It is a two-way thing. INEC cannot just turn around and blame politicians when they create a room for them to manipulate. When a politician sees a loophole to corner an election, he will exploit it. But if the INEC can ensure that what they are doing is watertight and that votes will count and results will not be tampered with, then the whole thing will be credible and transparent.
Alhaji Shuaib Oyedokun, corroborating the same view, argued that the alarm raised by the electoral commission could not be dismissed with a wave of the hand.
However, he expressed optimism that the spate of violence would subside as politicians get more enthralled with campaign processes.
He posited: “With the trend of violence in the country today, you can’t even confine the threat to a particular place. In some places, it is sporadic; in other places, it is permanent. So, I won’t want to dismiss the fear of the INEC or underscore the merit of the fear expressed by the chairman of the electoral umpire.
“INEC has every cause to fear because of the trend of violence in the country. But I think with politicians now seriously engaged in campaigns, attention will be more on politicking than some aspects of the violence because most of those at the lower levels who are involved in violence also have connections with politicians. INEC has nothing to fear, politicking will take care of it and people will go out to vote except in some areas where we have serious security challenges and that will not stop INEC from conducting the general elections in the country.”
Speaking on the planned move to profile the state actors engaged in power politics, Oyedokun added: “NSA’s decision to profile politicians is a right step in the right direction. They know people who should not participate in the electoral process. They should screen them well, EFCC should also come in and do the needful as long as they are sincere and provided it is not meant to deprive some people of their rights. If it’s sincere profiling, there is nothing wrong with it. But it should not be one-sided. It should not be aimed at witch-hunting some people.”