INEC, insecurity and next month’s General Elections

Independent National Electoral Commission

By Kazeem Akintunde

NIGERIANS, in a few weeks, will go to the poll to elect a new set of leaders. A new President is expected to emerge before the end of next month, all things being equal. New helmsmen at the state level either returning, or new faces would also emerge in about 28 states across the country. Four hundred and sixty-nine seats in the National Assembly comprising members of the Senate and House of Representatives will also be contested. Some old war horses are still on the ballot while fresh faces are expected to emerge soon. At the state Houses of Assembly, Nigerians will also have the opportunity to give fresh mandates to their representatives or elect new ones.

Already, the electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, says that more than 93 million Nigerians have been registered to take part in the electioneering process that will usher in a new set of leaders to pilot the affairs of the country for the next four years. Though it is doubtful if all the voters would eventually cast their ballots during the exercise, the electoral body has added another week to enable registered voters to collect their Permanent Voter’s Cards, PVCs. The PVC collection, earlier scheduled to end on January 22, will now end on January 29  across the country. 

As usual, the ‘Nigerian factor’, has, however, become the lot of the exercise. Distribution, and collection of PVCs by registered voters have been shambolic in the last few weeks. Though the exercise was decentralized and taken to political wards to make the process easier, many prospective voters have not been able to get their PVCs, particularly in Lagos. Some, including my son, have not been able to get their PVCs after several visits to INEC collection centres both at the Local Government where they registered, and at the ward levels. He, alongside many others, has been told to log a formal complaint with INEC and that he should check back later. That has been the tale of woe many Nigerians are presently telling. The distribution of PVCs has become rocket science as we haven’t been able to come up with a seamless method for voters to get their PVCs without tears and blood. In some of the collection centres in Lagos, officials have designed a way whereby those that are in a hurry bribe INEC officials and security operatives at those centres to fast-track the process for them. 

Due to the large number of people waiting to get their PVCs, many are tired of the long wait and have vowed never to go back. Aside from the PVC collection, which, in the long run, may prevent many Nigerians from casting their votes, as it is doubtful if all of them will be attended to before the new deadline expires, the issue of Security in the build-up to the poll has also been on the front burner of national discourse. 

Indeed, the Chairman Board of Electoral Institute (BEI), Prof. Abdullahi Abdu Zuru, representing INEC Chairman, Mahmood Yakubu at the Validation of Election Security Training Resources in Abuja last week, added a curious twist to the apprehension when he warned that this year’s general election faces a serious threat of cancellation if insecurity is not properly tackled.

The professor’s words: “We all appreciate the fact that Election Security is vital to democratic consolidation through provision of enabling environment for the conduct of free, fair, credible and inclusive elections and thus strengthening the electoral process. Consequently, in preparations for the 2023 General elections, the commission is not leaving anything to chance in ensuring that intensive and extensive security are provided for election personnel, materials, and processes. This is particularly significant to the commission given the current insecurity challenges in various parts of the country and the fact that the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) members constitute the core of the Polling Unit Election officials. Moreover, 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 the declaration of election results and precipitate a constitutional crisis. This must not be allowed to happen and shall not be allowed to happen. Therefore, security personnel in particular, and all election officials in general, must be security conscious and be alert to unusual activities in their environment and must be fully equipped to deal with any challenge at all times,” Professor Abdu Zuru stated. 

He was also emphatic that he was representing Yakubu at the forum. But a few days later, Yakubu himself came out to say that the electoral body was not contemplating any adjustment of the election timetable, let alone postponing it. He argued that the commission is, more than ever before, more prepared for the 2023 general elections and have now successfully implemented 11 out of 14 activities on schedule for the elections. “Already, substantial quantities of sensitive and non-sensitive materials have been deployed to various locations across the country. The last batch of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System, BVAS, has been received while the ongoing configuration of the critical technology in readiness for elections will soon be completed. We have also commenced the airlifting of other sensitive materials to states across the country. Already, some of the materials for 17 States in three geo-political zones have been delivered. Furthermore, 13,868,441 Permanent Voters’ Cards (PVCs) have been printed and delivered to states and are being collected by citizens as new voters or by existing voters who applied for transfer or replacement of cards as provided by law”. Yakubu also added that following the display of the voters’ register nationwide, and the conclusion of claims and objections by citizens, a new national register of voters has been compiled.  “For the avoidance of doubt, the Presidential and National Assembly elections will hold on Saturday, February 25, 2023, while Governorship and State Assembly elections will hold two weeks later on Saturday, March 11, 2023. Yakubu said that the repeated assurance by the security agencies for the adequate protection of our personnel, materials, and processes also reinforces our determination to proceed”.

While the assurance from the chief electoral umpire is soothing, it should be pointed out that the Boko Haram crisis in the North east and the activities of IPOB/ESN and unknown gunmen in the South east pose a great threat to the coming general elections. Agreed that the security agents are doing their best to curtail the activities of the Boko Haram Sect in the North East, there are still some local government areas and communities where the terrorists are in full control. In those communities, they are the lord of the manor and it is doubtful whether elections would take place in such areas.

Again, the senseless killings of Nigerians and incessant attacks on INEC facilities in the South east and South west pose great danger to the presidential election as all parts of the country must cast their ballot in the elections. Indeed, there are relevant sections of the constitution and the Electoral Act that stipulates the number of votes a candidate must score across the country to be declared a winner in a presidential contest.

In essence, if there is a security challenge in several parts of the country and INEC could not conduct elections in those areas, it would be practically impossible for INEC to declare a winner with such a candidate fulfilling relevant sections of the constitution and the Electoral Act. It is therefore not surprising when INEC, in consultation with the National Security adviser promised that elections would hold in all parts of the country and that they were on top of security challenges presently being witnessed.

The sad reality of the state of insecurity in the country became manifest last year when INEC offices in several parts of the country were attacked and burned down by fifth columnists bent on sabotaging the polls. It’s been so bad that plain-clothed security operatives and members of the Armed forces had to be drafted to INEC facilities across the country to provide necessary security to stem the arson. 

Again, some members of IPOB have continued to shout at the top of their voices that they are not interested in taking part in the 2023 general elections as their main goal is an independent Biafra Republic. Whether the federal government will grant their wish is another thing entirely. One fact is that the 2023 general elections will define the direction the country would move, going forward. 

See you next week.

A.I