2023: Why Insecurity May Threaten Elections

Security challenges, secessionist agitations and restructuring are some of the factors threatening the 2023 general election, writes The revelations at the public hearing organised by the Senate Joint Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, Navy and Marine Transport, on Firearms Act 2004 (Amendment) Bill 2021 and Exclusive Economic Zones Act 2010 (Repeal and Re-Enactment) Bill 2021, last week were frightening. 

This is particularly given the general insecurity in the country. The United Nations Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Africa (UNREC), further heightened the fear when it announced that out of 500 million illegal weapons circulating in West Africa, 350 million (or about 70 per cent), were domiciled in Nigeria, for nefarious activities of criminals. Senator Uba Sani, who sponsored the Firearms (Amendment) Bill, said Nigeria is “under siege from murderous non-state actors. 

“They have been acquiring arms illegally, maiming our people and threatening the continued existence of our dear nation. We either take measures to deny them of the oxygen that sustains their nefarious activities, or we watch helplessly as they overrun us and our country.” 

In recent time, Nigerians have witnessed spate of attacks on security facilities across the country, while kidnapping, banditry, cultism, communal wars and secessionist agitations by different ethnic nationalities have put the nation on edge.

Coincidentally, the public hearing on Firearms Act 2004 Amendment Bill was held on the day gunmen attacked a police facility at the newly established Zone Headquarters, Ukpo in Anambra State, resulting in the death of two policemen and burning of several vehicles. South-East and South-South, which were the only zones in the country regarded as peaceful, have recorded butts of attacks in recent time. Several police stations and correctional facilities have been attacked by yet to be identified bandits. The most notable of these are the Ekwuluobia Police Station in Anambra State, and Owerri Correctional Centre in Imo State. Ekwuluobia witnessed two attacks in March this year. While some policemen were injured during the attack on the police station, two staff of the Nigeria Correctional Services (NCS), Awka who were escorting prison inmates to court in Ekwuluobia, were killed. The attack on Owerri Custodial Centre that led to the release of 1, 844 inmates, occurred in the early hours of April 5.

The attackers reportedly used explosives to blast the administrative block.

Initially, Imo State governor, Senator Hope Uzodinma, blamed members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and Eastern Security Network (ESN), the security wing of IPOB, for the attack but later said it was instigated by politicians, to destabilise his government.  

Since then, other attacks have occurred on police stations in Abia State. After a summit in Owerri, Imo State, between the governors and head of security agencies, the five South-East governors agreed to set up a joint security network, Ebubeagu, to provide security for the zone. This is however dogged by controversy.

The nation is indeed held hostage by armed Fulani herdsmen, kidnappers and bandits. School children have been kidnapped from their schools while a number of travellers have fallen victims of these nefarious activities, which have now become a profitable business. People are not even safe at homes, as quite have been kidnapped from their bedrooms. In Zamfara State alone, the Nigeria Security Tracker (NST), a project of Council on Foreign Relation’s African programme, said last March that no fewer than 345 persons were killed and 468 others including women, children and school girls, kidnapped between September 2020 and February 2021.

National Commandant, Peace Corps of Nigeria, Dickson Akoh, said a total of 1,179 students have been kidnapped in the country within seven years with some of them killed. Akoh decried the bandits’ focus of attack on students who he described as soft targets, instead of the elites as was formerly the case.

Said he: “The sustained and repressive attacks by way of invasion, killings, pillaging, kidnapping for ransom and rape by bandits on educational institutions, especially secondary schools in parts of the country, which is getting to its peak, deserves the immediate attention and action by all relevant institutions of government, social organisations and people of goodwill to address head-on. 

“Statistically, from Chibok to Jangede and lately Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation, Mando, Kaduna, 1,179 students have been abducted in seven years with some of them either killed, forcefully married away, maimed or remained traumatised even after regaining freedom. 

“I consider it pertinent to state that the students being kidnapped, maimed, raped, or killed may not be our biological children, brothers, or sisters but they unarguably remain the hopes and future of our dear nation. “It is on this note that I appeal dispassionately to the conscience, regardless of our social, ethnic, religious, or political affiliations to rise in unison against the sustained, horrendous and murderous act of terrorism in our institutions of learning.”

Nigeria has been faced with security challenges since 2006, first with militancy in South-South, and then in 2009 when insurgency broke out in Borno State in the North-East, after group of religious fundamentalists led by Mohammed Yusuf attacked police stations and prison facilities. 

Before the 2015 general election, Borno, Yobe, Bauchi and Adamawa states were overrun by the insurgents. That election had to be postponed by six weeks to enable the military recover some territories occupied by the insurgents.

It is like the nation is moving towards the direction. The insecurity, which was ‘domiciled’ in the North-East, has now affected the North-West and North Central. While the North-West is contending with banditry, armed Fulani herdsmen have been terrorising the North Central. Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom who survived attack by suspected armed Fulani herdsmen at Tyo Mu along Makurdi/Gboko road in Makurdi Local Government Area of the state, said “there will be no 2023 elections in Nigeria if insecurity persists.” 

Ortom, who spoke after a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja, described Nigeria as sitting on a keg of gunpowder as no meaningful progress is being made on the security challenges facing it.

A retired director of the Department   of State Service (DSS), Mike Ejiofor, also said the 2023 general election may not hold unless the current insecurity was tackled. 

Said Ejiofor: “If we don’t get these things right before 2023 elections; if we don’t get these things sorted out the various security challenges in the various geopolitical zones, I can assure you that there won’t be elections.

“There will be a crisis in this country, there will be anarchy. We need to sort out this thing before 2023. Let us talk about this country before talking about elections. If we continue like this, there won’t be elections in 2023 because of a series of agitations.”

Another dimension has been added with some ethnic nationalities agitating for secession. Before, it was the IPOB, but now the Yoruba nation has joined the fray. Sunday Adeyemo (popularly known as Sunday Igboho), self-styled Yoruba warrior, issued a statement last March, and said there was no going back on the agitation for the Yoruba nation. 

“Anyone who is willing to support the agitation for the Yoruba nation is highly welcomed, the goal is the Yoruba nation now,” Igboho said in a statement by his spokesperson. He did not stop at that, but reportedly threatened any Yoruba politician who would participate in the 2023 general election. 

In a video on social media, Igboho said instead of taking part in the election, Yoruba politicians should be leading the secession campaign. 

Said he: ”You should know that you are not supposed to seek election to the office of the president. You should identify with our agitation and lead us in the secession struggle. The South-West has witnessed several kidnap cases by suspected armed Fulani herdsmen resulting in quit notice order given to the Fulani by Igboho to leave the region. The zone has already set up Amotokun to battle banditry and other forms of criminalities in the region. 

Restructuring agitators are also threatening that the 2023 elections would not hold unless the Federal Government attended to their demand. Leader of Afenifere, a pan-Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, and Chief John Nnia Nwodo, former President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, were vehement in this. Adebanjo said the 1999 constitution is skewed to favour a section of the country and was responsible for the agitations for secession by some separatist groups in southern Nigeria. “What we have is a fraudulent constitution. It is not the constitution the founding fathers of the country agreed to at independence. This 1960 constitution guaranteed us resource control, state police and all the agitation causing crises in the country today was settled in the former constitution. 

“The problem Nigeria has is the 1999 constitution that skewed everything against the South. It is a fraudulent and unacceptable constitution because it was not made by the people, it was made by the military and this assertion was repeated by the late Rotimi Williams,” he asserted. 

Nwodo, on his part, argued that Nigeria has to restructure because the current electoral system is dysfunctional and does not elicit confidence.

“We must do all we can to restructure before the next election in 2023 because the level of dissatisfaction in the country as evidence by the last EndSARS protest gives one the impression that any delay may lead to a mass boycott or disruption of the next elections to the point that we may have a major serious constitutional crisis of a nation without a government,” he warned. 

Despite these challenges, the nation’s security personnel seemed helpless. In 2019, Nigeria was ranked the third-worst nation in the world, by the Global Terrorism Index (GTI), with no improvement since 2017. This was blamed not on poor funding but on corruption.

Nigeria’s $1.9 billion defence budget in 2018 was said to be second to South Africa, which was put at $3.63 billion. But part of this money was diverted to serve personal interests to the detriment of terror war. 

There was also unhealthy rivalry among the forces, politics, and late passage of annual budgets, which contributed to demoralising troops at war fronts.

In his reaction, Festus Okoye, INEC National Commissioner who doubles as Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, said that the constitutional mandate of the Commission is to organize, undertake and supervise all elections except Local Government elections. 

“These are elections that are constitutionally and statutorily provided for and with rigid timeliness. For instance section 132(2) of the Constitution provides that an election to the office of the President shall be held on a date not earlier than one hundred and fifty days and not later than 30 days before the expiration of the term of office of the last holder of the office. 

These constitutional timelines are cast in stone and the Commission can only maneuver within the prescribed parameters and windows. Nigeria may slip into a constitutional crisis if we are unable to abide by the timelines. 

“We are planning and innovating for the 2023 elections and we cannot stop on the basis of a futuristic projection on what may likely happen in 2023. It is the responsibility of the security agencies and the political leaders to secure the country and create a good ambience for the conduct of elections. We will continue to collaborate with security agencies on issues around election security,” he said.

Source: New Telegraph

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