LESS than 44 days into Nigeria’s next round of elections, insecurity has seized the land and the tension is palpable. Just last week, President Muhammadu Buhari’s visit to Kogi State on a project inauguration mission was preceded by a bomb explosion by terrorists enboldened by the lack of state challenge. This week, terrorists on a vendetta mission left a trail of sorrow, tears and blood across two communities in the troubled Birnin-Gwari Local Government Area of Kaduna State. At the end of the episode, scores of uniformed personnel including men of the Nigerian Army, Nigeria Police, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and vigilantes lay in pools of their own blood. Terrorists also struck the Nigeria Railway Corporation’s (NRC) station in Igueben, Edo State, abducting 20 innocent travelers heading to Warri, the Delta State capital, and the route has been closed until further notice. The Edo abductions brought back memories of the Abuja-Kaduna railway killings and abductions of March 2022, in which 14 passengers were gunned down while 65 others were herded into the bush by the merchants of death and destruction.
The outcry over insecurity has been intense home and abroad. For instance, a leadership council of Nigerian-American organisations, the Collaborative Council of Nigerians in the Diaspora (CCND), has only just called on US President Joe Biden to halt what it called the rapidly deteriorating human catastrophe ongoing in Nigeria. In its letter dated January 4, 2023 and co-signed by Dr Francis Achike, Dr Edward Agbai, Dr Sunday Bitrus, Mr Gesiere Dorgu, Dr Ayodeji Famuyide, Dr Antonia Garner, Prof Mondy Gold, among others, the group said: “On March 25, 1998, four years after the genocide that took about one million Rwandan lives, President Bill Clinton visited Kigali and addressed the people of Rwanda. Among others, he expressed regrets over the USA’s inaction when all the signs overwhelmingly pointed to an impending genocide. President Clinton stated: ‘It is important that the world knows that these killings were not spontaneous or accidental.’ This view is consistent with those of several scholars of genocide. President Clinton ended his speech with the now famous quote, “Never again” which many global leaders and organizations, including the United Nations, have adopted with expressed commitment.’”
CCND then told Biden that on October 27, 2022, the US State Department issued a travel advisory to American citizens traveling to Nigeria to be aware of the crime, terrorism, civil unrest, kidnapping, and maritime crime. It said: “On November 28 2022, these extremists ransacked the village of Ehamufu in Enugu State, killing and maiming in the process. All the killings and insecurity have a resemblance to what happened in Rwanda months before the all-out massacre which started on April 6th, 1994. Across the country, stories of horror and killings fill social media, radio, and television broadcasts. There seems to be lack of political will to confront the situation. No one seems to be willing to confront these heavily armed, very mobile foreign extremists who occupy forests all over the country. Using these forests as bases to launch their operations, they terrorise and rape our women and girls, kidnap and extort money in the process.”
In such an intensely volatile political environment dotted with unflattering histories of political actors thrown down by the proverbial banana peels, an electoral board chair must learn to mind the thorns, and this Mahmood Yakubu, chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), seems to know too well. Since the New Year ushered Nigerians into palpable apprehension over the next round of polls, there had been doubts over the election scheduled to kick off in February, and Yakubu’s own men had told the nation only this week that the polls could be postponed if the security situation did not mend. But speaking on Wednesday and playing the psychological game of tension diffusion, the INEC chair walked back the comments attributed to the commission, insisting that the elections would be held as scheduled. Speaking while presenting the 2023 Voter Register to the leadership of the 18 political parties in the country, Yakubu said: “The 2023 general election will hold as scheduled. Any report to the contrary isn’t true.” The INEC chairman then announced that 93,469,008 eligible voters would exercise their franchise next month and in March for the presidential, National Assembly, governorship and State Assembly polls.
With exactly 44 days to the general election, Yakubu, insisted that the repeated assurances by the security agencies for the adequate protection of its personnel, materials and processes also reinforced the commission’s determination to proceed with the polls. The INEC chairman stressed that already, substantial quantities of sensitive and non-sensitive materials had been deployed at various locations across the country while the last batch of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) had been received, adding that the ongoing configuration of the critical technology in readiness for elections would soon be completed. Hear him: “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, 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. In short, at no time in the recent history of the commission has so much of the forward planning and implementation been accomplished 44 days ahead of a general election.”
Given the tension in the polity over INEC’s previously assumed position, Yakubu’s vow would no doubt have calmed tensions in many quarters, in part because the 2019 elections were postponed shortly before kick-off, and he had had a hectic time explaining to local and international observers why the step was taken. In any case, Nigerians will not have forgotten that only last month, speaking at the Green Chamber, Yakubu had decried the continued attacks on INEC’s offices by arsonists. He was speaking against the backdrop of separate attacks, including the one on November 10, 2022 by suspected hoodlums who razed the office of the commission in Abeokuta South Local Government Area of Ogun State, destroying over 65,000 uncollected PVCs, 904 ballot boxes, 29 voting cubicles, 30 megaphones, 57 election bags, eight electric power generators and 65,699 uncollected permanent voters cards (PVCs), and the attack on one of the commission’s office in Ede South Local Government Area of Osun State which affected only a section of the building, and some furniture.
Since the 2019 elections, Yakubu’s INEC seems to have resolved to make this year’s round of elections Nigeria’s best ever. The new innovations rolled out include an INEC Voter Enrolment Device (IVED) that captures physical registration of voters, fingerprint and facial authentication on election day while uploading unit result sheets to the INEV Result Viewing (IReV) portal, another innovation that will allow Nigerians to view polling results in real time. It has also rolled out the People’s Result Sheet at polling units. Besides, in order to beat politicians who may attempt to rig this year’s election by suborning photographers who had old negatives of photographs and affixed names to the photographs, presenting them as new voters, and who also cut out pictures from old almanacs in order to short-change the electoral process, the commission created the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) which goes beyond fingerprints to require facial authentication using state-of-the-art technology. The BVAS was said to have been wholly developed by INEC’s engineers, and the commission has since been issuing stern warnings to the politicians mopping up PVCs, telling them that the cards will be useless on election day.
This, then, is where the paradox lies: the INEC boss is apparently determined to make Nigeria’s leadership recruitment process cleaner and firmer, but he faces uphill tasks that are quite beyond his remit, making his promise of fidelity to the election schedule a mere wish. If Nigerians can point to significant technical, digital and even administrative improvements in INEC’s operations, they cannot point to similar improvements among the country’s political parties, which have continued to conduct irregular primaries; nor can they point to any change in the conduct of politicians whose sole interest is to be pronounced winners of elections regardless of how they do so. And neither can Nigerians, on current evidence, assume that the security agencies have upped their game.
The onus, then, is on the government to show that it is on the same page with INEC by equally rolling out innovative security strategies to help Yakubu and his men in the very onerous tasks of delivering a credible election this year. In this regard, history does not seem to provide flattering examples. Yet that is not a definitive verdict on the future.