INSECURITY: How Safe is Nigeria for 2023 Polls? By MUKHTAR Ya’u Madobi

As the President Muhammadu Buhari’s presidency winds down, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, has almost concluded plans to organize a credible, fair and transparent 2023 polls.

But with terrorists, armed bandits, kidnappers for ransom, ritualists, oil thieves, and IPOB criminals still holding the country to ransom, no thanks to their violent activities, patriotic and concerned Nigerians will be forced to ask: is the country safe for the 2023 general elections?

In recent years, Nigeria has been facing unprecedented security challenges that continue to threaten its corporate existence. These security bottlenecks are becoming albatrosses to the realization of the country’s development agenda.

Lately, INEC raised an alarm saying that the worrying insecurity may force their Commission to postpone or cancel the forthcoming polls if not properly addressed by concerned authorities.

Noting that the development could hinder the declaration of election results and precipitate a constitutional crisis, the electoral umpire called for concerted efforts to stem the tide of violence.

As expected, the statement was trailed by disquiet and condemnations from citizens, civil society groups and socio-cultural organizations across the country.

However, thirty days to the Presidential and National Assembly elections, the INEC summoned courage and vowed that the time table will not be changed, saying that the issue of postponement or rescheduling the election is not on the table.

Speaking on Thursday, January 26, 2023 in Abuja at the 20th Daily Trust Dialogue with the theme, ” Interrogating the 2023 Presidential Agenda”, Commissioner for Information and Voter Education, Festus Okoye said that as the Electoral umpire, it has the competence and the courage to go on with this election, just as he vowed that commission would going to go ahead with the election.

Even with this assurance, one cannot be oblivious to the different kinds of security threat that is facing each and every part of the six geopolitical zones.

For example, in the Northwest where the banditry and kidnapping and industry is blossoming, several thousand people were killed and others were dislodged from their ancestral communities and forced to settle in makeshift tents or IDP camps. Up to now, these marauders are still having their field days especially in states like Zamfara, Kaduna, Niger and Katsina where the trend is more pronounced.

The incessant farmers-herders clashes have ruined several communities in North central Nigeria especially in Benue and Nasarawa states that are bearing the much brunt. The confrontation is still ongoing among the two opposing parties as they continue to fight over land resources which they both consider very essential to their livelihoods.

Stretching down to Northeastern region where insurgency by Boko Haram and ISWAP terrorists has reared its ugly head for the past decade especially in the BAY states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe. It can be remembered how the erstwhile administration of Goodluck Ebele Jonathan had to postpone 2015 general elections in order to liberate some communities from the control of the Boko Haram insurgents which made it possible to conduct polls in those areas.

Though they are being decimated on a daily basis courtesy of joint military operations around Lake Chad and various theaters of war, these terrorists are still very much alive and can seize opportunity to scuttle the electoral processes.

Moving to the hottest zone, the activities of unknown gunmen, specifically the militants wing of the IPOB terrorist organization, have been posing threat to elections across the entire region. The militants vowed that elections cannot be held in any state across Igbo land.

Making their threat a reality, the militants have been destroying thereby setting INEC offices and other facilities ablaze across the geographical location while at the same time killing its personnel.

The so-called unknown gunmen are recently famous for abducting traditional rulers, top politicians, businessmen and other influential stakeholders in the region and subsequently executing them.

Not only that, to further compromise security architectures, the members are well known for destroying police headquarters, divisions and other security outfits in the location.

In the last four years, the Independent National Electoral Commission has so far recorded 50 attacks on its facilities across 15 states and the majority being carried out in Southeast with Imo state alone recording 11 incidents.

According to checks by Leadership Newspaper, gunmen have killed at least 37 police officers in 52 attacks on towns and communities in the South East geopolitical zone of Nigeria. Just as above, investigations showed that the worst hit state was still Imo where there have been over 30 attacks on police formations and personnel across the state.

It is obvious that if not checked, these unending problems may not allow INEC to have a playground in order to fully execute its mandate of ensuring that nobody has been a subject to disenfranchisement.

Scanning through the oil-rich Niger Delta region in the south-south, the activities of militants have to some extent been curtailed to the bearest level not enough to stop elections looking at the current trends of security issues.

This is not unconnected to the Presidential Amnesty Program (PAP) in which most of the miscreants youth who were hitherto attacking oil facilities, engaging in piracy, robbery and kidnappings are being engaged in either skills acquisition programs or education under scholarship scheme.

The southwest region is also a calm area with some level of criminalities like cybercrimes, rituals, cultism etc. becoming an order of the day.

However, since the arrest and detention of the self-acclaimed Yoruba nation freedom fighter, Chief Sunday Adeyemo, popularly known as ‘Sunday Igboho, the separatists agitations agenda in the region have been weakened. This has obviously improved the security situation within the entire Yoruba nation.

On the other hand, the federal government has been making necessary arrangements and preparations to ensure that the stipulated day for the conduct of the elections remains sacrosanct. This includes but is not limited to providing the INEC with all the necessary logistics and facilities so as to carry out their mandates successfully.

Not only that, the authorities have also been beefing up security across the nooks and crannies of the country using all the available security architectures within its disposal including the Military, Police, Intelligence Services, Civil Defence and host of others. Presently, the military are conducting operations in not less than 35 states of Nigeria including the FCT Abuja.

All these efforts are aimed at enhancing the security of lives and properties of citizens and to ensure that they are able to exercise their constitutional mandate of voting in February and March 2023.

Recently, the military high command warned unknown gunmen and members of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) against threats to scuttle the 2023 general elections in the South East. It also said no territory was under the grip of terrorists, bandits and other criminals, although they may be present in some local governments.

The Director, Defence Media Operation, Maj.-Gen. Musa Danmadami, gave the warning at Defence Headquarters, Abuja while answering questions during a media briefing on the activities of troops attached to various operations across six geo-political zones in the country.

“Election will be held as scheduled in the South East. No gunman or unknown gunmen or what is it called can stop the election. We have continued to carry out various operations and we will continue to carry it out,” he said.

General Danmadami also added that “The police are the leading agency as far as election matters are concerned, they have the mandate, while other security agencies would support them to achieve this. I can tell you that any unwanted act during elections would be dealt with decisively.”

On their part, the Nigerian Police Force, NPF, have also been preparing ahead of the general polls in order to provide maximum security.All constables recently recruited into the force will be deployed to provide security during the 2023 elections.

The police boss, Inspector-General Alkali Usman Baba, made this known late December 2022, at the passing-out parade of the 2022 batch of constables in Ilorin, the Kwara capital.

To the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps, NSCDC, preparations are also on top gear to provide security in ensuring the smooth conduct of the elections without hitches.

Ahead of February general elections, the Nigeria corps has organised a 2-day capacity building workshop between January 25-26 for all State Commandants and the Corps’ strategic managers to ensure a hitch-free 2023 general elections.

Dr Ahmed Audi, NSCDC Commandant General (CG), said that the strategic management workshop is aimed at developing common policy guidelines that can be used in deepening the capacity of personnel. He maintained that the Corps will ensure that voters, domestic observers, election sensitive materials and electoral officers’ safety and security are well coordinated.

According to CG Audi, plans are also underway to release a revised standard operational guideline on election duties and other salient election security rules for their personnel to ensure a secured national electoral process.

Not only the above security agencies, intelligence communities are also doing behind the curtain work in order to neutralize any form of threat that may impede smooth conduct of the elections. They include the Department of State Service, DSS, Defence Intelligence Agency, DIA and National Intelligence Agency, NIA.

Looking at the appropriate measures put in place by various security agencies, it can be inferred that Nigeria can go ahead with the 2023 polls, but not totally ignoring the chances of one form of security glitch that can be recorded here and there, which has been an integral part of the election process since its inception.

Again, more attention should be focused to curtailing the rampaging activities of IPOB militants in the south east as well as bandits, kidnappers and insurgents in the Northern region, as they pose the biggest threats to the 2023 polls.

MUKHTAR is the author of a book on “National Security Strategies” and is a staff writer with the Emergency Digest.