Barely a year to the 2019 elections, security has remained the biggest issue in the polity. Would what happened in 2015 when the election was postponed repeat itself, Segun James asks
Wherever you look, Nigeria appears to be a country under siege.Â Last week President Muhammadu Buhari had to approve the deployment of troops to six states across the restive north-central. The states are Benue, Taraba, Kaduna, Kogi, Nasarawa and Niger.
The states are being terrorised Â by armed bandits, kidnappers and cattle rustlers. Benue, Taraba and Nasarawa Â have been grappling with herdsmen-farmers clashes as well as attacks on communities by armed militia.
The massacre in Benue State became a national embarrassment and might have jolted the president into authorising the deployment. In Benue State, almost every week, the people wake up to the sound of gunshot and killings allegedly perpetrated by Fulani herdsmen. Most of them go to their farms only to return as dead bodies. In Benue, going to the farms, which is the traditional occupation of the people is now the most dreaded activity to do right now. The people are under siege.
After sending soldiers to stop the Indigenous People of Biafra from carrying on its campaign, many had accused the president of double standards when he refused to deploy soldiers to stop herdsmen from killing people in Benue.
The troops would be deployed from Nigerian Army 1 Division, Kaduna; 3 Division, Jos; Nigerian Army Record, Lokoja; and 707 Special Forces Brigade, Makurdi. The troops would be posted to units around their divisions and brigades and Â will operate with the police and civil defence officers.
In the north-east, the armed forces are already overstretched with the fight against Boko Haram insurgents. Boko Haram, though ‘technically defeated’ has not been completely defeated. The insurgents have refused to give up.
In Borno state the people are never sure who is in charge of the state between the governor and Boko Haram leader Shekau. Each time the government assures them of their safety, Shekau would deploy suicide bombers to remind the people that he is still alive and well; and that he is still capable of making their lives a living hell.
In the south-south, nobody knows how long the relative peace being enjoyed there would last. Nigeria is a country which continues to owe its chequered prosperity to the wealth that comes from oil production and sales. Sixty years on, the bubble is threatening to burst as militants in every guise continue to threaten the production of oil which is the mainstay of the nationâ€™s economy. As election draws closer, expect the militants to make demands and issue threats.
Welcome to the south-east home to the now proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra. Young men who genuinely felt let down by their country are demanding Â for the break-up of Nigeria. Their leader, Nnamdi Kanu has reportedly fled the country and for now government’s decision to proscribe the group appeared to have worked, nevertheless, no one should be under the illusion that the war has been won as the spirit of Biafra remains very much alive in the south-east
Some parts of the northwest are equally facing tough security challenges. Attacks by militias, bandits and cattle rustlers are very common even in the president’s state. It has taken the doggedness and creativity of the state governor, Aminu Masari to keep the militias at bay.
Only the south-west appears to have some peace. Even there when you scratch beneath the surface, the fears that herdsmen will attack are very real. The fears are not base less. The farm of a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Chief Olu Falae had been attacked severally. One of his guards had been killed. There is tension in the south-west too.
It is in the middle of all these that the 2019 general election will take place. Security remains the issue; how will the election take place in the middle of the sectarian insurgency across the nation?
As the election time approaches, the country will enter a period of break or win in its political life. The situation will be Â tense and tolerance will be tested to the very limit of endurance.
Apart from the criminal activities threatening the security of the nation, the president himself appears to be taking decisions that are fanning the ember of suspicion, disillusionment and hatred all of which are capable of igniting violent reactions in the country with serious implication for the nation’s security.
Until now, it has been widely assumed that politics in Nigeria could be controlled, but now the reality suggests otherwise. In the past few months, politicians have been rowing over the issue of ethnicity and religion in the politics of the nation; a situation which has taken the centre stage.
In the Nigerian political field, the line between sentiment and action is thin, very thin indeed. Every political appointment in the last few years has been going to the north without regards to the quota system which is the system that was designed by past leaders to make governance more inclusive and give the people a sense of belonging. This seems to have been jettisoned by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Could the president be leading a revolution of â€œNorthernisation of Nigeria?â€ Many in the south believe that this may not necessarily be a laughable idea; and the idea is having and growing wings every day as the president announces new political appointments.
In October, the government appointed a 36 years old woman who is the wife of a general as a deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria. She is from the north. Many are of the opinion that there are better qualified Â Nigerians who could have been given the appointment. This month, another deputy governor was appointed for the bank, he is also from the north.
Following the dismissal of the Director General of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Ayo Oke from the south-west, a northerner was appointed, a situation which forced the directors of the agency to cry out that he was unqualified to hold the leadership of such a sensitive agency. Their cries had been ignored.
Only last week, the president caused the recall of the Executive Secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme, Prof. Usman Yusuf who was suspended by the health minister for alleged fraud. He was re-instated while the allegation against him was being investigated. Despite the fact that he was rude to the minister, the Peisdency did not ask him to apologise to the minister. He is from the north.
Day by day, inch by inch, extreme and radical behaviours are creeping ever closer into the polity as a result of actions such as narrated above. The cries are getting strident everyday even as the government refuses to take heed or care what the rest of the country thinks.
As a result of the president insensitivity to the feelings of others, many Nigerians are frustrated. Many merely bottled up their angers. They will explode at the slightest provocation. Election period usually provides those angry to express their frustration.
The signs are ominous. This can be attested to by the caches of weapon being Â smuggled Â into the country by unknown people. At ports across Â the country, arms and ammunition are being seized by Â men of the Nigerian customs, yet the belief is that more weapons enter the country than are seized by the customs.
Will the 2019 election hold? Will it be violence free? These and many more questions are agitating the minds of the people as the nation races towards the election which is one year away.
To a lot of people, the situation right now in the country is a deliberate effort to repeat the 2015 scenario where the election was postponed at the dying minutes under the guise of insecurity. Last year, when things have not degenerated to this level, the Independent National Electoral Commission had to postpone the Edo governorship election citing security reasons. What will happen next year when virtually all the geographical zones are going through one upheaval or the others?
In 2015, the chairman of INEC then, Prof. Attahiru Jega told Nigerians â€œWe invited you here today to make known the position of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on the timetable for the 2015 general elections. Let me state from the outset that the commissionâ€™s position was reached after carefully weighing the suggestions from briefings held with different stakeholders in the electoral process.
â€œThe conduct of elections in a country like Nigeria is invariably a collective venture that involves not just the Election Management Body (EMB), but also a diverse range of stakeholders, notably security agencies, political parties and their candidates, voters, as well as interest groups, such as the civil society organizations and the media. To guarantee successful conduct of elections, there are things that are wholly the responsibility of the EMB. But there are other things critical for the success of elections, which fall outside the control of the EMB.
â€œIn other words, while INEC must work hard to perfect its systems and processes for conducting elections, and take responsibility for any imperfections thereof, whatever the commission does may not by itself be sufficient to guarantee the success of elections. There are a number of issues in the preparation and conduct of an election, the most critical of which is security, which is not under the control of INEC.â€
Jega said that on Thursday, February 5, 2015, he was invited to brief the National Council of State, which is the highest advisory to the President comprising past and present leaders in Nigeria, on the level of preparedness of INEC to conduct the 2015 general elections.
â€œThe summary of my presentation to the National Council of State meeting is that, for matters under its control, INEC is substantially ready for the general elections as scheduled, despite discernible challenges being encountered with some of its processes like the collection of Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) by registered members of the public,” Jega said.
Despite this, the election was postponed to the chagrin of the commission which insisted that it was ready to go ahead with the election.
Jega explained what necessitated the postponement thus: â€œBut as I mentioned earlier, there are some other variables equally crucial for successful conduct of the 2015 general elections that are outside the control of INEC. One important variable is security for the elections.
“While the commission has a very good working relationship with all security agencies, especially on the platform of the Inter-agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES) since its inception in 2010, it has become pertinent for it to seriously consider the security advisory presented to it by the Security and Intelligence Services. I would like to reiterate here that INEC is an EMB and not a security agency. It relies on the security services to provide a safe environment for personnel, voters, election observers and election materials to conduct elections wherever it deploys. Where the security services strongly advise otherwise, it would be unconscionable of the commission to deploy personnel and call voters out in such a situation.
â€œWe have done wide ranging consultation to enable us have as much input as is necessary before taking an informed decision. In the series of consultations that we held with stakeholders, the questions consistently posed to them for consideration are:
â€œIn view of the latest development, should INEC proceed with the conduct of the general elections as scheduled in spite of this strong advice; and if so, what alternative security arrangements are available to be put in place? Or, should INEC take the advice and adjust the schedules of the general elections within the framework of Constitutional provisions?
â€The commission held a meeting after the consultations, and decided to take the advice of the security chiefs and adjust the dates of the elections.â€
Are we likely to have a repeat of the 2015 experience? The present leadership of INEC does not think so.
Mr. Rotimi Oyekanmi, the spokesman for the INEC does not see or share this grim picture.
He said: â€œI donâ€™t want to paint such a gloomy picture of the future.”
He said that the commission was ready for all possibilities; while also stressing that the synergy between the commission and the security agencies is so strong that nothing, baring natural disaster can derail the election timetable.
Oyekanmi said that the commission had learnt from the election in Kogi state which was held barely a week after the appointment of Prof. Mahmood Yakubu as chairman of the commission. He said that since then, the commission had been improving from one election to the other.
According to him, even though the election in Edo State was also postponed at the urging of security agencies, it later held peacefully.
On whether any election can take place under a very charged political atmosphere, he disclosed that the commission had surmounted such situation in the case of Anambra state where election was held despite the threats from IPOB and MASSOB.
â€œIn Anambra state, the people do not take to violence; they do their fighting in the courts. That is why they never take to violence despite all the treats from IPOB”, he said.
But where will the next political crisis occur in the country? Certainly not where the last one did! But since the 1999 election that ushered in democracy back into the country after 30 years of hiatus, the belief is that a competent and unbiased umpire in the electoral process is as much essential as players in the political field of play.
For much of the last three years, Â INEC has been under intense criticism of the handling of elections since the last general election of 2015.
Much of the criticism was directed at Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, who took over as the chairman of the electoral body from Jega. Yakubu was particularly accused of lacking in ideas and not knowing which direction to take as major elections conducted by the commission under his watch were returned as inconclusive and in most cases; decisions taken were confusing and contradictory.
Most of the criticisms came from politicians, political parties, civil society and even the Nigerian Bar Association who cried out that with such trend, the nation is heading for disaster in 2019.
But in a year of extraordinary reversal, the song has changed. Yakubu is not only accusing politicians of being responsible for the spate of inconclusive elections, but that they are acutely desperate for power and engaging in â€œdo or dieâ€ politics that could spell doom for the nation and its nascent democracy. To him, security is even a non-issue.
The INEC chairman in an address at the Civil Society Organisations Strategy Meeting to Review Elections in Nigeria, Post 2015, insisted that â€œperhaps the greatest challenge faced by any Election Management Body (EMB) is the general attitude of politicians. You will all agree that here, there is acute desperation for power, eloquently captured in the dictum of â€˜do or dieâ€™ politics.â€
He insisted that this attitude â€œis responsible for most other vices associated with the process, including violence, (which often results to inconclusive elections) hate speeches, bribery and all forms of malpractices. Unless there is attitudinal change and rejection of this mindset, our process is likely to be bedevilled by such negative and subversive tendencies.â€ He laid the blames of elections violence on this attitude of politicians who wants to win at cost.
While lamenting security as a key challenge, he said that the violence that followed all the elections in the country underscores the desperation of politicians.
But Nigerians are complaining about the dysfunction in the system. They see a government divided against itself. The APC, a party that is not coordinated; Nigerians as a people exasperated by a president that is totally distant to the reality of things in his government and the state of affairs in the country.
To people like Alhaji Kunle Alagbe a politician from Oyo state, we are not learning from the past. â€œThose who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. This seems to be particularly true in the case of General Buhari, who, as in the past, when he was a former head of state, was so narrow minded and uncompromising that he was overthrown by his most trusted allies. The situation in the country is boiling down to the same thing again.â€
This position was also shared by Johnson Ubani who insisted that Nigeria is a country that finds it strangely hard to get along with its constituent parts; robbing many of them the wrong way with assertive terminal claims and highhandedness.
He warned that unless the president correct the lopsidedness in his appointments and give the people of the Niger Delta whose land produces the oil that is the mainstay of the nationâ€™s economy a sense of belonging, they nation may regret it.
He said that groups like the Niger Delta Avengers might not be able to engage the Nigerian Armed Forces in battles, but they can cause so much damage to the nationâ€™s oil production.
Today, our nation is facing a crisis, a crisis of effective leadership. Decisions are being made based, sadly, on political dogma (especially religion, tribe and tongue), while the guiding principles that can make a country great â€“ competence, capacity and capability, which will foster innovation, create jobs and provide more economic opportunities for the people â€“ have been overtaken by mindless tribalism, policies based on ethnic sentiments and considerations and unrealistic postulations while our national economy and our competiveness in the comity of nations weakened.
Â Despite the challenges, the federal government is also investing in security not only to guarantee a peaceful election but to ensure there is peace in the country.
The citizens do not expect anything less. This is because the president made security one of the three focal points of his campaign before the election.
Today, there is a mood of excitement within the Nigerian Armed Forces. This followed the announcement of the purchase of 12 Tucano fighter jets and other military hardware from the United States of America at the cost of $496 million.
The excitement is expected; after all, when monies were budgeted for the purchase of military hardware in the past, such monies somehow found their way into some deep private pockets, a situation which had left the military not only vulnerable, but humiliated as soldiers ran to neighbouring countries in the wake of superior firepowers from insurgents.
The army believes that with the new weapons they will be able to confront and curtail, if not outrightly, nib in the bud, the rising cases of sectarian wars springing up in several parts of the country. It a job that needs a well equipped armed forces.
Before Buhari was elected, members of the armed forces were disillusioned. Many of them were killed. The panel set up to investigate how funds meant for the procurement of arms and ammunition ended up in private pockets.
Since Buhari took over, activities of the insurgents, Boko Haram in the northeast had been curtailed and the group â€œtechnically defeatedâ€, according to the federal government.
To the federal government, this was achieved because the soldiers at the war front were supplied with the right equipment they needed and the motivation required.