Is Nigeria’s Security Situation Bad Enough to Threaten 2023 General Election?

Is Nigeria’s Security Situation Bad Enough to Threaten 2023 General Election?

A train attack in Edo state where 22 persons were abducted; senior military personnel kidnapped on duty while travelling in Katsina state; bandits killed a woman, her daughter and another student in Zamfara state on Monday. Yesterday, Tuesday, four persons, including a woman, were killed by hoodlums in Eziani, Ihiala Local Government Area of Anambra

A train attack in Edo state where 22 persons were abducted; senior military personnel kidnapped on duty while travelling in Katsina state; bandits killed a woman, her daughter and another student in Zamfara state on Monday. Yesterday, Tuesday, four persons, including a woman, were killed by hoodlums in Eziani, Ihiala Local Government Area of Anambra State. The yet-to-be-identified deceased lost their lives during an indiscriminate shooting by the yet to be identified hoodlums armed with Ak47. Incidents like the foregoing are recorded daily, weekly and monthly in Nigeria.

These scary developments and the incessant attacks on INEC facilities across the country have heightened fears that the 2023 general elections may be at risk. A representative of the INEC Chairman, Mahmood Yakubu on Monday warned of the threats that these events may pose to the 2023 general elections. He spoke at the validation of election security training resources held in Abuja, warning that the “forthcoming election faces serious threat of postponement or cancellation should the state of insecurity across the country failed to improve”.

Raising the alarm, INEC’s Chairman, Board of Electoral Institute, Abdullahi Zuru, was quoted as saying “if the insecurity is not monitored and dealt with decisively, it could ultimately culminate in the cancellation and/or postponement of elections in sufficient constituencies to hinder declaration of election results and precipitate constitutional crisis.”. Though, that may not be the official position of INEC as elections’ managers, it doesn’t diminish its significance. It will also not be novel that elections are postponed due to security reasons in Nigeria. The most recent postponement due to bad security situation was the 2015 general election when they were postponed by six weeks due to occupation of several local governments in Borno state and the North East by Boko Haram.

Frequent attacks on INEC facilities have also been of concern and may have raised fears regarding the 2023 general elections in the South-east. In the month of December 2022 alone, there were about four of such attacks. And, there are veiled threats from a group that does not want election to hold in the south east. They’ve disrupted voters registration exercises and tried to intimidate citizens from coming out to participate in the electoral process.

Concerned for the lives of his permanent staff and adhoc staff, who will be deployed for election duties, the INEC boss gave assurances to the management of the NYSC on the safety of Corps members who will participate as adhoc staff during the 2023 election: “we have insurance cover in the event of an injury or other emergencies for all corps members involved in election duty. And, working with the security agencies, we will also extend protection and security to the youth corps members’ lodges when they are deployed to the field on election day. We had unhappy experiences before when some hoodlums raided the corpers’ lodges in some places while the youth corps members were out on election duty. We will continue to do whatever it takes to protect and guarantee the security and welfare of the youth corps members.”

Though the security situation may be worrisome and a lot of Nigerians may be apprehensive of events leading to election day and on election day. Is the situation enough to justify a postponement of the 2023 general elections? The federal government is rising to the occasion and restating assurances that the 2023 general election will hold as planned. Minister for Information and Culture said on Tuesday, “Nothing has happened to change that position. We are aware that INEC is working with security agencies to ensure that the elections are successfully held across the country.

“The security agencies have also continued to assure Nigerians that they are working tirelessly to ensure that the elections are held in a peaceful atmosphere. Therefore, there is no cause for alarm.”. But, are those assurances enough guaranty for elections holding in every part of Nigeria? Maybe or maybe not. After the train attack in Kaduna last year March, similar assurances were given by the government with promises that Nigeria would never experience such again. That may have been debunked with the recent train attack in Edo state and other security breaches across the country.

For the government that insistently claim to have improved the security situation of the country better than the way it met it in 2015, but the facts on the ground don’t corroborate such a claim. Some Nigerians argue that the security situation may have gone from bad to worse and buttress this with thousands of lives that have been lost in different parts of the country. Let us examine some of the threats to security situation in the country which may have heightened the fears of the citizens as we count down to the 2023 general elections.

Banditry and Terrorism

Bandits reportedly on Monday January 10, killed a woman identified as Hajiya Rabi, her daughter and a student, Kabiru Namadi, in Zamfara State. It was gathered that the gunmen blocked Sabon Gida, Bakin Gebe Road in Zurmi Local Government Area of the state on Saturday evening, and opened fire on the Corolla car, killing the victims.

Earlier in June Armed bandits abducted no fewer than 50 wedding guests travelling along the Sokoto-Zamfara road. The victims were said to be returning from a wedding in Tambuwal, Sokoto state, on Saturday evening, when the gunmen attacked their vehicles.

In Katsina state, a senior military officer, Lt Col NB Ahmad was kidnapped in January, 2023.The bandits were said to have been dressed in military Camouflage and mounted a roadblock along the Tsafe – Kano Road where they abducted the officer.

Terrorists reportedly ambushed communities in Birnin Gwari Local Government area of Kaduna State, killing security operatives. Among those killed were members of the civil defence corps, police, soldiers and local vigilantes. The bandits stormed Aka security checkpoint along Birnin-Gwari to Kakangi/Randagi road of the Western part of Birnin-Gwari LGA.

Late last year, at least 39 people were killed in an attack on Malagum 1 and Sokwong communities of Kagoro Chiefdom, Kaura Local Government Area of Kaduna state. It was learnt that among those killed, were a man, his wife and son.Several others were said to be missing while many houses were reportedly burnt. The Council Chairman of Kaura LGA, Mathias Siman, confirmed the incident but said he could only confirm the killing of seven people in Sokwong community.

The attacks came barely five days after three people were killed in a similar manner in Malagum 1. The council chairman said almost all the houses in Sokwong Community were completely razed down by the terrorist adding that he was yet to confirm the killings in Malagum 1. However, the speaker of Kaura I Legislative Council, Atuk Stephen, according to reports, confirmed that 22 people were killed in the attack on Malagum 1, while eight were said to have been killed in Sokwong. He described the killings as barbaric and called on the federal government and security agencies to redouble their efforts in curtailing renewed killings in the area.

How Terrorism Will Threaten Conduct of 2023 Polls in Northeast- CORNWEST Africa

The Conflict Research Network, West Africa (CORN West Africa) on Tuesday alerted the federal government and security agencies that terrorism will threaten the conduct of 2023 elections in northeast Nigeria except proactive context specific security plan is designed for the zone.

This was part of the recommendations given at the Conflict Research Network (CORN) West Africa Research Colloquium webinar themed “Nigeria Decides 2023: Conducting Elections in Context of Political Violence and State Fragility”. Conflict Research Network West Africa (CORN West Africa) is a knowledge platform and academic community for scholars based in institutions in West Africa who are working in the field of peace, security, and political violence with a growing network of more than 150 members across 35 institutions in West Africa.

According to Dr Babayo Sule of the Department of International Relations, Federal University of Kashere, Gombe state and member Conflict Research Network, West Africa “terrorism remains a major threat to the conduct of 2023 elections in the northeast, arguing that elections may not hold in areas under the control of terror groups in the northeast except counter-terrorism campaign is stepped up to clear the way.

“On Election Day, in 2015, the Boko Haram terrorists coordinated multiple attacks on polling units in in Gombe, Bauchi, Yobe, Borno and Adamawa killing election officials while destroying electoral materials. Voters were killed while the electorates dispersed and never returned to cast their votes in the affected areas. Because of the activities of the insurgents, several remote areas could not be accessed and transporting election materials proved impossible. Elections did not take place in the 16 LGs under the control of Boko Haram.

“The evidence we have gathered so far shows Boko Haram still has the capacity to block the distribution of election materials in some flashpoint areas, ostracising voters for fear of attacks, and killings and destruction of properties during the forthcoming 2023 Election” the group said.

But governors in the affected states of Kaduna and Borno have given assurances that their states are safe enough for the holding of elections, a lot of Nigerians hold such assurances with a pinch of salt. There is no evidence of any extraordinary measures being taken in their states to warrant their confidence.

Attacks on INEC Facilities

The Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission recently stunned his audience when he disclosed that 50 facilities of the Commission in 15 states have been attacked in the last four years, that is, between 2019 and 2022.

Professor Yakubu was addressing the House of Representatives Ad-Hoc Committee investigating attacks on INEC facilities where he disclosed that there have been eight of such attacks this year (2022) alone. The highest number of attacks was in 2020 when 22 of the Commission’s facilities were attacked. Similarly, there were 8 attacks in 2019 and 12 in 2021.

Presidential Candidates Condemn Edo Train Attack

At least two leading presidential candidates have condemned the Edo Train attack with strong words and proffering solutions to avert similar situations in future. Despite being a candidate of the ruling party, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu said said the abduction “is a sad reminder that we have not completely won the war against insecurity and that there are still some agents of darkness lurking around the corner.” He then promised: I want to assure Nigerians we will win this war.”

On his part, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar described the attack on a train station in Igueben LGA of Edo State, as the latest in a long condemnable line of security breaches previously unseen in our national history. “While we pray, it is important also to point out that this serves as the latest reminder of the urgent need to reform our security architecture to better safeguard the lives and properties of Nigerian citizens. Modify our security apparatus to pay a greater premium to intelligence gathering and crime prevention than our current reactive approach”.

Recent History of Election Postponement in Nigeria

In 2011, the national assembly elections were scheduled for April 2, and had commenced smoothly in some states such as Lagos, Kaduna, Kebbi, Delta, Zamfara and Enugu when Prof Attahiru Jega, INEC chairman, announced the postponement. Reason: late deployment of electoral materials.

The polls were again postponed till Saturday, April 9, while the presidential election was moved from April 9 to April 16, 2011, and state elections April 23 from April 16.

INEC Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega

In 2015, elections had to be postponed by six weeks for security reasons. Some local governments in Borno state were under the control of Boko Haram terrorist group and it was difficult, if not impossible to deploy election materials and personnel to those places.

In 2019 the election was postponed by one week from February 16 to February 23. The postponement was blamed mainly on logistics and bad weather. Chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, later accepted responsibility and apologised, on behalf of the commission, for the postponement.

Will Nigeria be Able to Weather the Storm Again?

Nigerians cherish their democracy and are already warming up for a transition of power from President Buhari to a brand-new President. They have the will to suppress all odds to allow the elections to hold. All hands will therefore be on deck to allow a peaceful conduct of the election.

Going by the fact that Nigeria has passed through this road before and buffered by the determination of the majority of Nigerians to have a peaceful transfer of power in a transparent, free and fair atmosphere, there may be no cause for alarm about the elections holding as scheduled. Not being clairvoyant but going by previous experiences and the resilience of Nigerians, one could safely conclude that the elections will hold and further strengthen Nigeria’s choice of democracy over any other form of government.

Ayo Aluko-Olokun

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