By Emmanuel Onwubiko
With less than two weeks to Nigeria’s most significant election in the political annals of Nigeria, there is a general climate of fear, anxiety, and uneasiness, on the part of millions of Nigerians on the possibility that too many booby-traps have been set by political forces running and running Nigeria to trigger pre and post-election conflicts.
One of the causes of the national climate of fear is the demonstrable unwillingness of President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration to clamp down on terrorists and agents of destabilization threatening the peaceful conduct of the February 2023 general election.
The fact that is difficult to deny is the existence of multidimensional armed non-state actors who are just allowed by the powers that be to ride roughshod on Nigerians residing in every geopolitical area of the Country.
As it is now, the violence and organised mass killings of innocent Nigerians are going on simultaneously in the North East, North West, South East, and Southwest.
The most frightening reality is that President Buhari does not wish to end these campaigns of terror, organised killings, and national chaos.
A fallout from this lack of political will to deal with terrorists is the ugly fact that the Independent National Electoral Commission has so far recorded 50 attacks on its facilities across 15 states in the last four years.
According to data made available to the media, Imo state which the President visited yesterday for a political rally of the All Progressives Congress had the highest number of attacks on INEC facilities with 11 incidents, followed by Osun, seven; Akwa-Ibom, five; Enugu, five; Ebonyi, four; Cross River, four; Abia, four; Anambra, two; Taraba, two; Borno, one; Ogun, one; Lagos, one; Bayelsa, one; Ondo one; and Kaduna one.
The breakdown showed that in 2019, INEC recorded eight attacks; 22 in 2020, 12 in 2021, and eight in 2022. The incidents occurred in Osun, Ogun, Lagos, Ondo, Bayelsa, Anambra, Imo, Abia, Akwa-Ibom, Cross River, Enugu, Ebonyi, Kaduna, Borno, and Taraba states.
In 2019, its facilities were attacked in Osun, Bayelsa, Imo, and Akwa-Ibom. In 2020, its offices in Osun, Ondo, Lagos, Imo, Abia, Cross River, Anambra, Borno, and Taraba came under attack.
In 2021, its infrastructure in Kaduna, Ebonyi, Enugu, Anambra, Imo, Abia, and Akwa-Ibom states was not spared. In 2022, its offices in Ogun, Osun, Ebonyi, Imo, and Enugu states were attacked.
Twenty of the attacks were described as arson, 26 were described as vandalism while four were said to be arson and vandalism.
The data further revealed that 20 of the attacks were perpetrated by unknown gunmen and hoodlums,18 were triggered by the #EndSARS protest, six of the attacks were carried out by thugs during elections, four resulted from post-election violence, one was carried out by bandits while another was carried by Boko Haram.
Besides, Civil society organisations in Nigeria have expressed serious concern over potential security threats across the country during the forthcoming general elections following the increasing cases of violent attacks by party supporters and miscreants.
This is according to a report on election violence compiled by the US-based Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project and Nigeria-based Centre for Democracy and Development
The report showed that between January 2022 and early February 2023, Nigeria recorded over 4,000 election violent incidents and over 11,000 fatalities across the country.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in its report where it interviewed over 50 journalists and members of various civil society organisations about the forthcoming general elections stated that safety concerns were paramount and many of the interviewees noted that local knowledge was essential for planning how to cover a wide range of potential security threats.
“Others raised concerns that authorities might disrupt access to communication services or online platforms, as they did previously with Twitter.”
The CPJ reports that “As of early February, an election violence tracker compiled by the U.S.-based Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project and Nigeria-based Centre for Democracy and Development had identified over 4,000 violent incidents and over 11,000 fatalities across the country since January 2022.
“Alleged perpetrators included supporters of major political parties, local militias, separatist organizations, and militant extremist groups.”
CPJ quoted one of the interviewed journalists, Janefrances Onyinye Nweze, as saying that “Journalists have to be a lot more careful going into this election,” adding that the situation has become “guerilla warfare.”
She advised journalists to “disguise as much as possible” by reducing the visibility of press tags and branding on vehicles, saying that “Somebody has to cover the election at the end of the day, but do your best not to put yourself in harm’s way.”
Another pathetic reality that characterizes President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration is the official imprimatur that the government at both national and sub-national levels has granted to these multifaceted armed non-state actors that are actively destabilizing and undermining peace in a lot of areas.
This is perhaps the clearest indication that the election may be marred by violence because the elected governments at all strata and especially at the centre do not seem to be in any hurry to cut off the heads of the snakes instigating, sponsoring and masterminding diverse violent attacks in Nigeria.
The president through his handpicked and incompetent minister of Justice Abubakar Malami a few months back said the administration will name, shame, and prosecute some 200 identified sponsors of terrorism in Nigeria.
The government never did and indeed the terrorists even took the fights to the doorsteps of the president when they staged a daredevil attack targeting the Kuje Medium Security prisons and freed nearly a thousand detained most dangerous terrorists, murderers, rapists, and all kinds of offenders who are still roaming the Nigerian streets free.
From the North to the South East, Nigerians no longer go to bed with their two eyes closed. In Imo State, gunmen struck at the Central Prisons not far from military and police facilities in Owerri and freed several detainees, some of whom are terrorists and murderers. Amongst those who escaped, not more than five percent have been recaptured.
Any wonder that all kinds of armed non-state actors have threatened to disrupt the election. And indeed, there are all kinds of violent attacks in Imo State as I write. Many courthouses have been burnt and the houses of politicians including that of the President General of Ohanaeze ndiIgbo Worldwide have been set ablaze and reduced to rubble by gunmen.
These gunmen are not making empty threats because, in terms of experience, they have indeed achieved notoriety for bombing over 100 police stations and killing scores of policemen. Most police operatives are scared of putting on uniforms in Imo State for fear of death from the bombs thrown by these gunmen.
A local Council chairman in Ideato- North perceived to be an ally of the Imo State governor, was recently beheaded and the beheading execution was telecasted on the internet but the Imo State Police command failed to arrest the culprits many days after just like they have failed to de-escalate the vicious campaigns of violence against Igbo people by armed non-state actors. Anambra State is another flashpoint of violence. Ebonyi is not an exception.
Most of these attackers deny that they are IPOB members but asserted that the continuous detention of Mazi Nnamdi Kanu is the reason for their insurgency. The leadership of IPOB has condemned the violence.
Recently, a soldier of the rank of a lieutenant was kidnapped by gunmen in Okigwe but the political and military leaders have since moved on two months after the soldier was kidnapped, stripped naked, and captured in a video that trended. So, if soldiers and police have failed to curb the excesses of terrorists, who then will give Nigeria a peaceful poll?
President Buhari has failed to reform the police. He has even granted illegal tenure extension to the head of Nigeria police under whose watch operatives have been executed by terrorists and many police stations burnt by these same agents of destruction, especially in the South East. So how can the incompetent, inefficient, and rudderless police hierarchy police the election?
The Nigerian military on Monday assured that the 2023 elections would hold peacefully in southeast states and all other parts of the country despite threats by criminal elements.
Lucky Irabor, an army general and chief of defense staff gave the assurance in Abuja at the 25th edition of President Muhammadu Buhari’ (PMB) Scorecard Series.
Responding to a question on the threat by the Simon Ekpa-led faction of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), to stop the elections in the southeast
“The armed forces are working in concert with the police and other security agencies to ensure that the menace of criminalities from IPOB and Eastern Security Network are eliminated,” he said.
Irabor also said that “no territory of Nigeria is under the control of Boko Haram or any other terrorist group.”
According to him, all communities in the northeast zone of the country had been liberated from the criminal elements.
Irabor said the military was on a mission for the final cleansing of the north-east region from terrorists.
He said the fact that the military has not ceased operations in the region did not mean that the terrorists were still occupying any portion of the nation’s territory. This same reassurance has been said many times but the armed insurgency has increased.
However, everything humanly possible must be done by Nigerians to ensure a peaceful poll. A political scientist wrote about what a peaceful election implies and averred as followed: “To vote and be elected at genuine periodic elections is universal to convey the will of the electors as the authority to govern to leaders.
“This is an indispensable principle to guarantee the protection of the rights of citizens to participate in government. It will be a solid foundation for the protection and enjoyment of other rights like basic freedom, access to livelihood, citizens’ welfare, and other socio-economic rights.
“Advanced democracies like America, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, etc place so much value on credible elections because it helps to protect other rights. However, in Africa, a credible election is misconstrued and accounts for careless regard for human rights and dovetails to bad governance and under development.”
“A scholar of African studies, Zeleeza, (2017) posits that many African leaders have learned to manoeuvre democratic politics to their advantage. He opines that elections are marred by harassment and intimidation of the opposition, violence, vote rigging, and human rights abuses.
“The relevance of election to the protection of rights and overall development orchestrated international collaboration to monitor elections to ensure and sustain credibility in national elections.”
“Election Observer Mission of the European Union observed that the Nigerian 2003 presidential and several gubernatorial elections were marred by irregularities and fraud. They witnessed and obtained valid evidence of fraud like ballot box stuffing, and changing of results in Cross River, Delta, Enugu, Kaduna, Imo, and Rivers states and noted strongly that they lacked credibility.
“In the 2007 governorship election in about eleven states namely: Anambra, Kogi, Sokoto, Adamawa, Edo, Ondo, Cross River, Bayelsa, Rivers, Osun, and Ekiti election results were invalidated by electoral tribunals.”
He wrote too that the presidential election petition tussle protracted to the Supreme Court where it was decided in favour of the incumbent. All these points to the fact that Nigeria’s elections are jaundiced. In these circumstances, the votes of the people did not matter much.
Therefore, the need for electoral reforms aimed at a credible election is germane, because a credible election is the needed anchor for sustainable democracy and socio-economic development.
The credible election he argued, is a democratic virtue and value aimed at curbing tyranny, despotism, and absolutism in power management. If power actors can manipulate election results to their advantage, they will effectively take away sovereignty from the people and wield absolute power.
A renowned Professor of constitutional law, Ben Nwabueze (2010) posits that: “The wielder of absolute power is the first to be corrupted. No ruler in all history has been known to be above the corruptive influence of absolute power. It transforms a person’s natural disposition; the wielder becomes quite a different person after some years in the enjoyment of absolute power.”
He wrote too that exposure to the arrogance and adulation of absolute power invariably turns even a person of naturally kind, modest, and tolerant disposition into a vainglorious, intolerant immodest, and unfeeling person, suffused with a false belief in his superior abilities and his infallible wisdom and desire for unquestioning obedience to his whims and caprices.
He comes to think of himself as not only infallible but also indispensable, a demi-god, without whom the ship of state would become rudderless, floundering sooner or later. Those around the wielder of absolute power are also corrupted into fawning sycophants and praise singers and the longer a dictatorship endures, so do more people turn into sycophants.
Indeed, one of the worst tragedies of absolute power is a large number of people turns into sycophants as a way of feathering their own nest.” (From the newly published book titled; “CREDIBLE ELECTIONS IN UNITED STATES AND GHANA LESSON FOR NIGERIA” BY Dr. EZIOKWU SAMUEL ANAYOCHUKWU).
Read Also: 2023: How Far Can South East Go?
For Nigerians to experience real peace at the polls, the dominance of the heads of the security agencies in the hands of mostly Moslem Northerners must be changed. It is also this nepotism in appointments at the National defense institutions by President Muhammadu Buhari that has made terrorists become larger than life and for violence to become unprecedented.
*EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO is head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA and was NATIONAL COMMISSIONER OF THE NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION OF NIGERIA.