2023 elections: As insecurity stokes fear, FG allays concern over cancellation

2023 elections: As insecurity stokes fear, FG allays concern over cancellation

• Afenifere insists excuses not tenable, says polls must hold as planned
• W’African body cautions on terrorism risks in northeast
• INEC’s apprehension indicates Buhari not ready, HURIWA affirms
• Commission has no reasons to postpone exercise, says Adebayo
• Group alleges partisanship in access to PVCs collection
• Urges INEC to tackle ‘old politics’ designed to disenfranchise citizens

The Conflict Research Network, West Africa (CORN West Africa), yesterday, warned Federal Government and security agencies that terrorism could threaten conduct of the general elections in the northeast, unless a proactive context-specific security plan is designed for the zone.

This was disclosed as part of recommendations at the Conflict CORN West Africa Research Colloquium webinar, themed, ‘Nigeria Decides 2023: Conducting Elections in Context of Political Violence and State Fragility’.

CORN West Africa is a knowledge platform and academic community for scholars based in institutions in West Africa, who are working in the field of peace, security and political violence, with a growing network of more than 150 members across 35 institutions in West Africa.

Dr. Babayo Sule of the Department of International Relations, Federal University of Kashere, Gombe State, and member, Conflict Research Network, West Africa, said improved security of life and property before elections in the northeast would encourage people to come out and vote.

Speaking on the topic, ‘Election Amid Terror: Terrorism and the 2023 Elections in Nigeria’s North East’, Sule said terrorism remained a major threat, arguing that polls may not hold in areas under the control of terror groups, except counter-terrorism campaign is stepped up to clear the way.
He said government must “significantly reduce the areas that are under the control and influence of Boko Haram before the elections. Extra security personnel should be deployed to ensure the safety of life, property, INEC officials, and electoral materials.”

He added: “On election day, in 2015, Boko Haram terrorists coordinated multiple attacks on polling units in Gombe, Bauchi, Yobe, Borno and Adamawa, killing election officials while destroying electoral materials.

“Voters were killed while the electorate dispersed and never returned to cast their votes in the affected areas. Because of the activities of the insurgents, several remote areas could not be accessed, and transporting election materials proved impossible.
“Elections did not take place in 16 local councils under the control of Boko Haram. The Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) and the Boko Haram insurgency keeps growing in the northeast. There are several flashpoints that could be difficult to reach with electoral materials because Boko Haram/ISWAP may attack or destroy the materials there.”

Federal Government, however, reassured Nigerians that the elections would go on as planned.
Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Muhammed, gave the assurance as he debunked fears of cancellation over high rate of insecurity across the country.

The minister, who spoke at the continued presentation of President Muhammadu Buhari’s scorecard, was reacting to a report credited to Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that the elections risk cancellation due to insecurity.

An INEC official had warned: “If the insecurity is not monitored and dealt with decisively, it could ultimately culminate in cancellation and or postponement of elections in sufficient constituencies to hinder declaration of elections results and precipitate constitutional crisis.”

The minister, however, insisted: “There is no cause for alarm,” adding that the Federal Government is working with relevant agencies to ensure hitch-free polls.

He said: “The position of the Federal Government remains that the 2023 elections would be held as planned. Nothing has happened to change that position. We are aware that INEC is working with security agencies to ensure that the elections are successfully held across the country.

“The security agencies have also continued to assure Nigerians that they are working tirelessly to ensure the elections are held in a peaceful atmosphere. Therefore, there is no cause for alarm.”
ALSO, pan-Yoruba sociopolitical organisation, Afenifere, yesterday, said holding the polls is not negotiable.

The group maintained that every effort must be made to ensure the elections not only hold successfully, but that winners also emerge and are sworn in on May 29, 2023 as stipulated by relevant laws.

This was contained in a statement issued by National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Jare Ajayi.
The group said it felt the need to sound the note of warning, so that whoever might be thinking of postponing or altering the election calendar would know that such will not be accepted.
The statement reads in part: “In Nigeria, there is often the tendency to fly a kite. Most of the time, such kites are on policies or steps that are usually not in the best interest of the Nigerian public.

“This is why it is very important to clearly sound this note of warning without any ambiguity. This is why we are stating clearly that Nigerians are prepared for the elections, just as the whole world is awaiting the elections.
“Nothing, whatsoever, should alter the schedule or cause a postponement, let alone cancellation.”
BUT civil rights advocacy group, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), said the alarm by INEC confirms HURIWA’s two-year-old warning that the President Muhammadu Buhari administration is not ready to end insecurity in the country for peaceful elections.

HURIWA’s National Coordinator, Emmanuel Onwubiko, in a statement, alleged that the government failed to curb insecurity deliberately to undermine the polls.
He said: “HURIWA condemns the deliberate security challenges imposed on Nigerians by northern hawks and the President in all parts of Nigeria, including the South East, where the kidnap of Nnamdi Kanu from Nairobi precipitated security nightmares in the once peaceful Igbo land.

“HURIWA, therefore, calls on all Nigerians to prevail on Buhari and the National Assembly to scale up supervision of the security forces and make necessary changes in their hierarchies, and bring in competent professionals who love Nigeria to pilot affairs of some of the security institutions to curb these incessant attacks.”
In a related development, the presidential candidate of Social Democratic Party (SDP), Prince Adebayo Adewole, said INEC has no reason to postpone 2023 elections as is being peddled in some quarters.

Adewole, who addressed a press conference in Kano, yesterday, to inaugurate the Kano SDP gubernatorial candidate and other elective positions said, any move to shift or cancel elections would not be tolerated.

He said: “INEC is a well-funded entity of government. And today, they are even competing with some states in terms of financial strength. So, they have no excuse, whatsoever, but make the election a huge reality.”

Meanwhile, barely 45 days to the elections, an interfaith group has raised the alarm over alleged deliberate denial of access to Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) based on ethnic and partisan considerations.
It, therefore, called on INEC to speedily address ‘old politics’ that could disenfranchise Nigerians registered for the exercise.

The group, Community Life Project/ReclaimNaija, in collaboration with religious leaders, yesterday, observed sundry other lapses, urging INEC to endeavour “to get it right at the various stages and processes from pre-election to election day”, so as to allay heightening fear that a large percentage of over six million voters without PVC could be disenfranchised.

Addressing newsmen during a press conference in Abuja, Rev. Israel Akanji, President, Nigeria Baptist Convention, noted an avalanche of stories of frustration from many Nigerians over slow process on PVC collection.

He said: “There are still stories reflecting the old politics of PVC distribution. In some state and local council offices, it is said that people are deliberately denied access to their PVCs based on ethnic or partisan considerations, which indicate manipulations to disenfranchise citizens.”

According to him, “in some places, citizens have had to make several visits or wait for long hours before collecting their PVCs. Many new registrants or those who transferred to new polling units are being told to return in mid-January.”

Akanji, joined by Gidado Muhammad Yolde (representing a community-based organisation in Adamawa State) and Zainab Abdurasheed, Programme Officer, Women’s Rights Advancement and Protection Alternative (WRAPA), urged INEC to improve on lapses and “urgently consider extending the deadline for PVC collection at the ward level beyond the January 15 deadline.”

Akanji, who was also joined by Rev. Ini Ukpuho, Coordinating Chaplain, National Christian Centre, and Rev. (Mrs.) Uzoaku Williams, Assistant General Secretary, Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), further expressed concern over heightened insecurity in the land.

Decrying the development, he lamented that violence and civil strife have continued unabatedly and seem to have spiked in the lead-up to the elections.

He said: “The spread of these acts of violence to other parts of the country has added to the tension as regards the elections,” adding: “The implications of these unfortunate acts of violence are grave for our country.”

He also called on religious as well as opinion leaders to use their amplified voices to push for issues that are important and relevant to the overall well being of the country.

According to him, “this period affords them the opportunity to inform people of the importance of responsibly exercising their civic duties. They must lend their voices to the cause of getting citizens to collect their PVCs and vote peacefully and participate in all aspects of civic life with a true patriotic spirit.

“We expect that they would use their enormous influence over their followers to encourage participation in the electoral process while admonishing them to shun all forms of violence.

“We must remind ourselves that we have a moral obligation to protect poor and vulnerable citizens, especially people at the grassroots and in our rural communities. We should not look the other way, as the poverty and ignorance of our vulnerable population are being exploited by unscrupulous forces that are buying up PVCs and votes.

“The onus is on us to rigorously educate our faith communities on the adverse consequences of selling their PVCs and votes. We should have the courage to call on all politicians and those vying for public office to act ethically and play to the rules.”