BusinessDay

Electoral violence: Kill the monster while it’s young – Nigerians tell INEC, Security Agencies

With the repeated promises by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that the 2023 election would be free and fair as a result of the introduction of certain technology, the threat by some politicians to deploy violence may be the major problem. Hired thugs may disrupt elections in opponents’ strongholds and scare people away from coming out to vote. INEC and the security agencies must begin to plan on how to check this. The above has become a major concern of many Nigerians as the election draws nearer.

Nigerians are, therefore, urging the INEC and the security agencies to go beyond mere talk and threats to sanction those found wanting, to send a message that any act of violence before, during or after the general election will not be tolerated.
Those who made the call believe there is sufficient ground to believe that some people are plotting to stoke violence in order to win the election.

Signs of violence is everywhere; voter intimidation, desperate moves and the beats of combative drums are already showing despite usual pre-election ritual ceremony, otherwise known as peace accord, that was recently assented to by candidates and their parties.
These disruptive influences, which are deliberately adopted to affect the outcomes of elections by subverting the will of the people have, over time, been identified as threats to democracy and they are now gradually rearing their heads ahead of next year’s election.

Some parties are already alleging plots by some others to stoke violence.
It was against this backdrop and the recent attacks that the INEC conveyed an emergency meeting of security chiefs under the auspices of the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES) to devise strategies that will address election-related violence, rising attacks on the electoral body’s offices, among other security issues.
In the same vein, Usman Baba, Nigeria’s police chief, recently met with representatives of political parties and other security agencies in the country to discuss ways to address the issues of political intolerance and violence ahead of the 2023 poll.

Speaking at the meeting, the Inspector General of Police said that records show that about 52 cases of politically-motivated violence had been recorded across 22 states of the federation since INEC blew the whistle for political parties to begin their campaigns.
“If political thugs are armed with any sort of weapons and inspired by any political actor to advance an illegal act including attacking innocent citizens for political purpose or attacking INEC assets and personnel or any other critical infrastructure in the country, such persons and those orchestrating them stand the risk of being brought to justice for the specific crime associated with their conducts regardless of their political affiliation, status, or ambitions,” Baba said.

Baba further explained that political violence manifests in three forms, “first is violence that is targeted at the personnel and assets of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as recently witnessed in Ogun and Osun States.

“The second form of political violence manifests in form of inter-party intolerance and violence which often become particularly pronounced during campaigns, elections, and post-election phases. It is on record that not less than 52 cases of such politically motivated, intra and inter-party violence have been recorded across twenty-two (22) states since the official commencement of campaigns for the 2023 general election on 28th September 2022.

“The last form of political violence relates to the conduct of some state governors who manifest traits of political intolerance which often inflame political tension. In this regard, we have been receiving reports of some state governors who encourage political thugs and sub-national security outfits under their control to disrupt seamless and statutorily guaranteed campaign activities of parties or candidates with whom they hold opposing political views. In so doing, they deploy their powers and influences to either prevent the mounting of campaign billboards or pull them down, while also denying political opponents of spaces to undertake their campaigns or peaceful political congregations in contravention of the provisions of the Electoral Act 2022 (as amended).”

The IGP also said: “Most of the recorded violent incidents or threats often result from political extremism, misinformation, intolerance, wrong political orientation, hate speeches, incitement, and, most importantly, the desperation of strategic actors within the political field who often place their parochial political ambitions over and above national security interests and our nation’s stable democratic order. Such actors, usually give a wrong direction to their party faithful, arm them, re-orient them and encourage them to resort to the use of threat, violence, and other extra-legal means to frustrate competing political parties and impose their own faulty perception of politicking.

“Even more worrisome is the fact that just about a month ago, the aspirants in the eighteen (18) political parties publicly made a firm commitment to the nation to maintain peace and abide by rule of law and the Electoral Act in their political activities with the signing of the Peace Accord on 29th September 2022.”

Ambrose Aisabor, a retired Assistant Inspector General of Police, told BusinessDay that security agencies must perform beyond expectations in protecting all stakeholders in the electoral process.

Read also: 2023: APC doubts feasibility of electronic transmission of results

“They must deploy their personnel comprehensively. No area should be left uncovered. This they can do by putting discipline and professionalism above selfish and narrow interests. Nigerians are looking up to the security agencies if they will walk their talk in having a credible and violence-free election in 2023,” Aisabor said.
According to him, “Politicians threatening violence are capitalising on the inadequacies of the security agencies. If the agencies are patriotic and not interested in compromise, the politicians cannot do anything to disrupt the elections. The problem we have here is that the federal government has abdicated its responsibility to the security agencies, especially the police.
“Most of the operational needs of the police are provided by the state governors. The governors have pocketed the agencies and cannot assert their authority without offending them which they are not prepared to. I believe if the police is ready to protect Nigerians, the elections will be peaceful.”
Aisabor, however, expressed worry over the low manpower of security agencies that will be mobilised to man the different polling units across the country.
“The INEC as presently constituted could be relied upon by the citizens to deliver but my main concern and that of many Nigerians is the security situation in the country. This is not going to be an off-season election where the police could deploy many personnel.
“This time around, that luxury will not be there. The citizens must equally hold INEC accountable because it takes two to tango” he added.
Moses Onodua, a public affairs analyst, said that the success of the 2023 election lies to a great extent on how security agencies are able to discharge their duties effectively and efficiently without bias and favouritism.

“The role of the security agencies in promoting violence-free election cannot be overemphasised. The neutrality of our security personnel is key to their performance. There should be no sacred cow.

“Nevertheless, it has been observed over the years that some unscrupulous security officers have been heavily involved in aiding and abetting rigging of elections. This must stop. Security personnel must be eagle-eyed to nip in the bud any form of electoral malpractice and violence. They must be impartial in their operations. They must never be bought by anyone. They should be aware that all Nigerians go to the same market, including themselves,”Onodua said.

Onodua, therefore, expressed confidence on the electoral body to conduct a credible election, just as he appealed to Nigerians to support INEC this time around in every possible way to ensure the success of the 2023 election.

He said: “It is no longer news that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has officially fixed the general election in Nigeria. It is also no longer news that the various political parties have commenced their campaigns across the length and breadth of Nigeria. INEC has repeatedly promised that the 2023 election would be free and fair. I believe that, Nigerians, this time around want to trust INEC to a certain percentage of about 80 percent and above.

“This trust is occasioned by the performance of INEC in the off-season elections recently conducted in Anambra, Ekiti and Osun States. The introduction of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) machine has boosted the morale and confidence of Nigerians in going into this election. It is our prayers and expectations that INEC will not go back on their strong promises of conducting credible, free and fair elections in 2023,” he said.

He, however, decried the current mood of electioneering, saying that “there are ominous signs that our political class is yet to fully grasp the need for a peaceful election in Nigeria. A situation whereby some state governors are denying opposition political parties from using some facilities in their states for campaign and also denying them the pasting and erecting of campaign materials such as billboards and banners will definitely snowball into full-fledged violence.

“It is also disturbing that majority of the parties are not engaging in issue-based campaigns but on character assassination and mundane things. This is surely an invitation to violence.

“The conduct of some of these players is giving us signs that some of them may not even accept the outcome of the election results if it does not favour them. Election is not a do-or-die affair. A loser today can be a winner tomorrow. No Nigerian should lose his life on the account of elections. You cannot kill the same people you are willing to serve. If actually service is your motive of vying for that position, you will never encourage your supporters to kill anyone,” he said.

Everybody is a stakeholder in election matters. The security and the electoral arbiter have their roles to play but one major concern is the focus on how supporters of candidates, especially the presidential contenders, will engage in the electioneering. Will the candidates rein in on their fan base to ensure the peace deal is honoured? Or will it be the same old story?

In September, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Kogi raised the alarm over a threat by Governor Yahaya Bello. The state chairman of the party Sam Uhuotu urged the security agencies to be

Uhuotu explained that party members were worried that Bello who is supposed to be the Chief Security Officer of the State, protecting lives and property was threatening the innocent people of the state he took an oath to protect, thereby creating an atmosphere of fear and tension, of breach of public peace, that could truncate the 2023 electoral process and derail our democracy.
He further said: “The brazen threat by Governor Yahaya Bello raises apprehension in the public space of the existence of a killer squad established to inflict violence on Nigerians ahead of the 2023 general elections.
“The posture and body language of Yahaya Bello since he assumed office in 2016 leaves no one in doubt as to the gruesome killings and sudden disappearance of several PDP Party faithful in Kogi State
In October, Bello, threatened to use firepower on members of the opposition political parties in the state ahead of the 2023 general election.

Speaking in Ajaokuta after inaugurating a vigilante group, Bello said he was standing on the initial threat he made to deal with anyone saying bad things about his administration in the state.
This was against the allegation that members of the vigilante group were being trained to do a “dirty job” for the ruling party and attack opposition parties before and during the elections.
Bello was quoted to have said: “Be it in the state or the federal level and you think you have connection that you can use here in Kogi, unless it’s not I, Yahaya Bello that’s in charge of this government. I want to reinstate that the ‘Ira Chenyin’ I said the other time is something I mean.

“For that, everyone should caution his or her child and every child should caution their parents. I mean what I said the other time, firepower. Whoever thinks that the firepower I mentioned the other time is a joke, I’m well prepared. Talk is cheap.“It’s time for elections, all the candidates, all our party flag bearers, from Senate, to Reps, to Assembly, they are not the ones contesting, I, Yahaya is the one contesting. So those contesting against them are contesting against me who have chosen them.”

This is coming a few weeks after Bello threatened members of the opposition political parties, saying he would “show” them.

“Whoever trespasses, if we pick him or her, he will never sight the sun again. In this coming election, I’m going to show the opposition people who is Yahaya Bello. If there is white lion, if there is no white lion, we will know in this one,” Bello had said.

In another video, he bragged that he could handle a gun better than the people he was addressing, despite not being a security agent.
“If I hear any rumour or hear anybody murmuring, even if it’s in the person’s room and I said I want to see the person and you cannot provide him, then be prepared to be the person’s substitute,” he had said.
“That’s why I’m saying it loud and clear for everyone to hear. Not just Ihima, not just about Ebira but the whole of Kogi. Because some of those people who are prepared to do evil, maybe some of them are older than me.
“You cannot hold gun more than me. For that, everyone should receive and disseminate the message. Record and play it for them that I’m ready this time around.”
In December 2019, thugs said to be loyal to Bello and the ruling APC burnt opposition Peoples Democratic Party’s women leader, Salome Abuh, to death over some scuffle during the governorship election.
In April 2021, violent youths working for the Kogi governor descended on two middle-aged protesters who were pasting Buhari-Must-Go posters in Lokoja.
The APC youths flogged the two protesters, filmed them and brutalised them before they were later handed over to policemen.
A few days later, the state government in a statement supported mob action against the youths, saying they were from Benue State.

“The Kogi State Government wishes to commend the gallant and ever vigilant youths of the state for rising to the occasion to crush the ungodly campaign by some imported and sponsored youths who came to the State to campaign against President Muhammadu Buhari.
“The sponsored youths congregated at Benue State from where they moved to Kogi State and began to paint walls as well as display anti-Buhari posters that were printed in a South-South state,” the state Commissioner for Information and Communication, Kingsley Fanwo had said.
The security agencies have been called upon by Nigerians to show neutrality in their conduct during the election.

Kingsley Adu, a budding activist and member of the civil society organisation (CSO), said that it was only the police and other security agents that can determine the extent to which the 2023 general election can be free and fair.
Adu said: “We can shout from now till kingdom come, it is only the security agents that can gurarantee a free and fair election in 2023 because of the level of desperation.
“I want to paint a scenario for you to see how dire the situation is. In 2019, Bola Tinubu was not on the ballot, Buhari was. Yet, some places in Lagos State on the day of presidential election, considered as opposition strongholds, were like war. Area boys disrupted elections by carting away ballot boxes and burning many ballot papers. Many people who came out to vote were injured. This time around Tinubu is on the ballot and Area boys are already threatening. With the level of desperation, it can only take a strong determination on the part of INEC and the security agencies, to deliver a credible election next year,” Adu said.

Get real time updates directly on you device, subscribe now.