Who’s after INEC’s Critical Infrastructure?
IN THE ARENA
Beyond the Independent National Electoral Commission’s defiant stance against the incessant attacks on the agency’s critical infrastructure, a sterner pushback is needed from the security agencies to pre-empt derailment of the 2023 general election, Louis Achi writes
Within the past three weeks, three crippling attacks were carried out on the Independent National Electoral Commission’s (INEC) local government facilities in Ogun, Osun and Ebonyi states by yet-to-be-identified hoodlums.
While the Ogun and Osun states’ incidents occurred on November 10, 2022, the Ebonyi and Imo states attacks took place on November 26 and December 1 respectively. These seemingly well-calculated attacks resulted in the loss of critical materials needed for next year’s elections. In the Ogun State arson, 904 election boxes and 65,699 uncollected Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs), 29 voting cubicles, 30 megaphones, 57 election bags and three electric power generators were burnt.
In the razed INEC office in Izzi Local Government Area of Ebonyi State, unidentified persons were fingered. The incident which reportedly occurred around 10am, left the main building and all the movable and immovable items inside it burnt.
According to disclosures by the National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee of INEC, Festus Okoye, the razed items include 340 ballot boxes, 130 voting cubicles, 14 electric power generators, large water storage tanks, office furniture and fixtures and yet-to-be determined quantity of voters’ cards.
Significantly, notwithstanding the serial attacks on INEC facilities the commission has maintained a brave face, promising Nigerians that the ominous offensives won’t deter it from conducting free, fair and credible polls in 2023.
INEC National Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, assured the people of Ogun State, most especially those in Abeokuta South, of credible election despite recent burning of the commission’s office in the area. He gave the assurance during a courtesy visit to the new INEC office which is now at Okelewo area of the town.
He noted that it is the obligation of the commission to ensure all is well during election and said the commission is going to replace all materials and equipment that were lost during the attack.
In an international forum, Prof. Yakubu, repeated the assurance, during the visit of the African Union (AU) Special Pre-Electoral Political Mission to the Commission in Abuja, though he expressed legitimate concern over the incessant attacks on its offices across the states, pledging that the commission would recover its losses.
“In the three attacks, though there are no casualties, quite a number of the materials acquired and delivered for the 2023 elections have been lost. The good thing is that, so far, we can recover from all the losses, but it is a source of concern, which should not be allowed to continue.
“We will continue to engage security agencies to make sure our offices, personnel and facilities are protected ahead of the election. We may express some concern about the attack on these facilities but it will not deter the commission from conducting the election as scheduled.
“I want to assure you that yes, we may suffer little hitches here and there but overall, the commission is ready to proceed with the election in the manner that the law requires us to do, using the deployment of technology for the purpose of accreditation and uploading of polling units results,” he reportedly said. Brave words.
Hitting the nail on the head, in his goodwill message, Mr. Deryck Fritz, the Chief Technical Advisor, UNDP, said the peaceful transfer of power was inextricably linked to processes and outcomes that were accepted by the political actors, civil society and the populace at large.
According to Fritz, “INEC, as the constitutionally mandated electoral management body, must be and also be seen to be the impartial and neutral arbiter of the electoral contest. “In line with SDG 16 on Peace, Justice and strong institutions, UNDP continues to support inclusive, transparent and credible electoral processes for peaceful and cohesive societies.”
Beyond these recent attacks on INEC’s critical infrastructure, it could be recalled that these depredations are not entirely new. In 2019, hoodlums brazenly targeted INEC offices in Abia, Plateau, Rivers, Anambra, Osun, Akwa Ibom and Jigawa states. In 2020, four similar incidences were recorded in Anambra, Imo, the FCT and Ondo states.
Yet again, in 2021, the attacks were carried out on the commission’s facilities in Akwa Ibom and Abia states. Similar attacks were also carried out twice in Ebonyi and Enugu states, respectively.
For the current year 2022, attacks from yet-to-be-identified arsonists have been carried out in Zamfara and Enugu states. The last were the ones in Ogun, Osun and Ebonyi states.
A very worrisome dimension to these unsettling attacks is their huge cost factor to the commission. It could be readily recalled that in the February 12, 2019 arson incident at the INEC headquarters, Awka, Anambra State, a two-container load of 4,695 smart card readers were destroyed together with other sensitive materials.
On May 2, 2021, in the arson at the Essien Udim Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State, more than 345 ballot boxes, 135 voting cubicles, megaphones, water tanks and office furniture were destroyed.
Not an agency given to permitting grass grow under its nimble feet, INEC is fighting back. Following the attacks on Ogun and Osun states, the INEC Chairman convened an emergency meeting with members of the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES).
To further safeguard INEC critical assets and facilities ahead of the 2023 election, the Inspector-General of Police, Usman Baba, convened a meeting with chairmen of leading political parties at the force headquarters, Abuja, penultimate week. At the meeting were the National INEC Commissioner, Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency, Ahmed Abubakar; Chief of Defence Intelligence, Major General Samuel Adebayo and representatives of Department of State Services and other paramilitary agencies.
IG Baba stated that to stop the setting ablaze of INEC offices, the federal government had deployed personnel of Armed Forces of Nigeria, DSS, Nigerian Civil and Security Defence Corps (NSCDC) and Federal Fire Service personnel to INEC offices nationwide.
He also revealed directing the security services to enhance intelligence gathering, sharing and utilisation of the same to curtail acts of political violence which have unacceptably spiralled recently.
Beyond President Muhammadu Buhari’s repeated assurances of leaving an important electoral legacy, the emerging consensus is that he needs to step up as the commander-in-chief and read out an enforceable riot act to the cheeky shadowy crisis entrepreneurs.
And just as Deryck Fritz, the Chief Technical Advisor, UNDP correctly observed, the peaceful transfer of power is inextricably linked to processes and outcomes that are acceptable by the political actors, civil society and the populace at large.