As Nigerians mark this year’s Democracy Day today, our correspondents across the country take a look at how insecurity is threatening the 2023 general elections.
From Abuja, the country’s seat of power, to other parts of the country, festering insecurity is threatening the 2023 general elections, reports from our correspondents revealed.
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Banditry, insurgency, militancy, cultism, farmers/herders clashes, agitation for secession by the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) in the South-East and some groups in the South-West geopolitical zone, have worsened the insecurity challenges bedevilling the country.
In recent weeks, the offices of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) have come under attacks in the country, especially the South-East region. As at the last count, a total of 42 offices of the electoral umpire in 14 states have been torched. Security operatives and their formations are not spared, especially in the South-East.
Worried by the threat posed by the attacks to the 2023 elections, the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Mahmood Yakubu, briefed President Muhammadu Buhari at the State House, Abuja on June 1, saying the attacks were targeted at the 2023 elections.
“From the pattern and frequency of the most recent attacks, they appear to be targeted at future elections. The intention is to incapacitate the commission, undermine the nation’s democracy and precipitate a national crisis,” Yakubu said.
Responding, Buhari said, “Insecurity in Nigeria is now mentioned all over the world. All the people who want power, whoever they are, you wonder what they really want. Whoever wants the destruction of the system will soon have the shock of their lives. We have given them enough time.”
Security experts told our correspondents that Nigeria must get its security architecture right, guarantee the safety of citizens and their assets, secure the porous borders and equip security agencies to be responsive before talking about 2023.
“We must have Nigeria first before we can have election in 2023,” said Salihu Bakhari, a security expert who had studied the insecurity in the North East for long.
“In 2015, the major threat was in the North East but this time around, each of the six geopolitical zones has its unique security challenge big enough to truncate any democratic transition. In 2015, the general election was postponed because of Boko Haram and you can imagine if we fail to subdue the Biafran agitation in the South East, the clamour for Oduduwa in the South West, the banditry in the North West and the farmers/herders altercations in the North Central,” he said.
Bandits terrorise Abuja suburbs
Like in other parts of the country, residents of towns and villages around Abuja, the country’s seat of power, are being terrorised by bandits.
Our correspondents report that armed bandits have of recent put many suburbs of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) on the edge, abducting people and forcing their loved ones to pay millions in ransom. Also, people living in villages in states close to Abuja like Niger and Nasarawa have deserted their homes, leaving behind their farms and other sources of livelihood.
The constant raids on these communities on the fringes of the city, which most times lack adequate security presence, have created panic among residents. Data gleaned by Daily Trust revealed that at least 83 people are reported to have been kidnapped across the FCT from January 1, 2021, to May 23, 2021.
Bandits call the shots in Kaduna villages
In many communities of at least five local government areas of Kaduna State, bandits, not law enforcement agents or community leaders, call the shots. Daily Trust Saturday reports that government structures are almost non-existent in many remote villages of Chikun, Giwa, Birnin Gwari, Kajuru and Igabi local government areas as bandits do not only coexist with the villagers, they run the communities.
Locals told Daily Trust Saturday that unless this situation is quickly tackled, it would pose a serious challenge for INEC officials during the 2023 general elections. Pundits opined that electoral officers would likely be in danger of getting killed or abducted by bandits unless security agents are able to clear those communities from bandits’ activities before the elections.
Plateau: Resurfacing attacks, counterattacks can disenfranchise voters
The gradual resurfacing of attacks and counterattacks in local government areas of the northern senatorial zone of Plateau State can once again plunge the state into uncertainty.
Recurrent attacks and counterattacks have, in recent times, resumed, mostly in Bassa, Riyom and Jos South.
Observers said that if left to escalate, the attacks could instill fear among residents ahead of the 2023 general elections.
Multiple layers of insecurity may threaten elections in Benue
Complex security challenges with multiple layers may threaten the 2023 general elections in Benue State as rising insecurity that take the form of banditry, kidnapping, arson, armed herders attacks, robbery and communal clashes, are resurfacing in the state.
With increasing attacks on rural dwellers across many local government areas of the state, farms and homes have been deserted for fear that residents may be killed; and many are now taking shelter at safer locations in camps or abode of relatives.
Out of the state’s 23 local government areas, most of the security challenges hover around Gwer West, Gwer East, Otukpo, Ado, Ogbadibo, Makurdi, Guma, Kwande, Logo, Kastina-Ala, Gboko, Ukum, Agatu, Apa, Oju and Konshisha local government areas.
The president-general of Mdzough U Tiv (MUT), CP Iorbee Ihagh, (retd.) opined during a telephone conversation with our correspondent in Makurdi that unless the renewed insecurity is nipped in the bud, there may not be any election in 2023.
“I say so because armed herders have taken over our rural communities; and they are everywhere now. Our farmers can no longer go to farms,” he said.
He said because the farming communities feared to visit their farms for fear of being killed, it is likely that they would be no one to go out to vote when the time comes.
In Nasarawa, it’s Fulani/Tiv clashes
The persistent clashes between Fulani herders and Tiv farmers in the Nasarawa South senatorial zone have put the state on the spot. Victims of recent clashes in the Ajimaka area of Doma Local Government Area of the state warned that unless urgently addressed, many residents may be disenfranchised from the 2023 general elections.
One of the victims, Chief Augustine Kuza, urged the government to deploy security personnel to the area before the general elections.
Also speaking to our correspondent, Mr Amodu Babah-Rabi said, “Insecurity is a threat to the general elections because once there is no stability, there is no way people around the crisis-prone areas in the state will be able to cast their votes as expected.”
Niger becoming a fortress for banditry operations
Niger State is becoming a fortress for banditry operation, which started almost eight years ago from a ward in Shiroro Local Government Area. The situation, as at today, has spread to at least 70 communities in 10 out of the 25 local government areas of the state.
Recently, the state governor, Alhaji Abubakar Sani Bello, announced that Boko Haram fighters had hoisted their flags in a village in Shiroro Local Government while thousands of people had been displaced from their ancestral homes and were taking refuge in other local government headquarters.
As it is, the state is faced with a humanitarian crisis, with displaced persons being scattered all over the state. Due to the situation, some victims told Daily Trust that they had lost confidence in the state and the federal government, and may not want to participate in any government activity.
Some of the victims lamented that government only remembered them during elections, saying unless government secured their communities and returned them to their various villages, they may not participate in the coming elections.
Kwara: Cultism, kidnapping gaining ground
As the 2023 elections draw nearer, there are growing concerns about insecurity in Kwara State, particularly kidnapping and cultism, which have left quite a number of people dead.
Many cases of kidnapping have been recorded in the last few months, the latest being the abduction of a popular maize farmer and businessman, who was kidnapped together with some of his workers at Oke-Onigbin, the southern part of the state. The police, however, rescued them.
Although the state is relatively peaceful without issues of insurgency, political watchers are of the view that the twin issue of cultism and kidnapping, if not checked, could snowball into a major crisis in the days ahead. This may put the lives of INEC officials with sensitive election materials at risk before and during elections, especially in remote villages and border towns.
Speaking on the issue, the police public relations officer in the state, Ajayi Okasanmi, said although the state had witnessed cases of kidnapping, it was, however, infinitesimal when compared to what is happening in other parts of the country.
In Katsina, Zamfara, it’s long battle against bandits
For close to a decade, Katsina and Zamfara states have been battling with the menace of armed banditry, exposing residents to danger as many of the rural communities have become no-go-areas.
In Katsina, despite the security challenges in the eight frontline local government areas of Batsari, Safana, Jibia, Faskari, Dandume, Danmusa, Kankara and Sabuwa, elections were conducted during the 2019 general elections following a massive deployment of security operatives and relocation of many poling units by the INEC.
With the improvement of security situation in Katsina recently, if the gain is sustained, security further improved and displaced persons returned to their homes before the 2023 elections, polls may not be seriously hampered.
Kano, Jigawa relatively peaceful
Kano and Jigawa states are relatively peaceful states in the northwestern part of Nigeria with no known cases of insecurity.
While Kano had a hitch-free local council election in January this year, Jigawa is planning to conduct its own in June.
Apart from a fire incident recorded in late April at the INEC office in Kano, there has not been any event relating to the electoral commission in the state. The fire itself was said to have been caused by an electrical spark and it affected the Data Processing Centre.
Secession agitation rules South-East
In recent weeks, offices of the INEC have come under attack in the South-East region. Offices, premises, vehicles and other operational facilities of the commission have been targeted by suspected members of the IPOB.
The attack in Abia State has affected the expansion of access to polling units exercise embarked on by the commission.
The exercise entails the conversion of voting points to polling units and ensuring that such units are properly situated.
Aside these operational challenges, there is a threat by the outlawed IPOB that elections would not take place in the South-East.
Some residents in Ekiti State have called on government to find lasting solutions to various problems bedevilling the country in order to stem the activities of agitators and hoodlums.
Kunle Abiola noted that the current state of insecurity may threaten the conduct of the 2023 general elections. He urged the federal government to address the imbalance in the distribution of critical offices in the country.
Adebayo Afolabi said all politicians should drop their selfish interests to address the socio-economic problems in the country, saying that an average Nigerian wants to feed well, get good education, good housing, among other things.
Jude Okafor believes the state of insecurity would be addressed if the government ensured that no region is marginalised in the distribution of positions in the country.
“Our leaders should be fair in dealing with every part of the country. No part should feel inferior,” he said.
Also, Bola Yusuf urged security operatives to safeguard critical infrastructure in the country, lamenting that the burning of police stations, INEC offices and others would adversely affect the 2023 polls if not addressed.
An opinion leader in Maiduguri, Abdu Buba, a lawyer, said insecurity caused by attacks on select places and individuals, as well as kidnapping in some parts of the country, were “no doubt” intended to throw spanner in into many public services.
“Attacks in the South East and South West are premeditated to achieve a change, and if that goes unabated, election may not hold in many places. The participation and commitment of the electorate is at stake. And the legitimacy of any system is in question if there is limited participation,” he said.
Also, security personnel in Maiduguri said there was growing panic and frustration among voters in most parts of Borno State due to rising insecurity. adding that voter apathy might be rampant if normalcy does not return in 2023.
“In northern Borno, for instance, there were local governments where almost all the inhabitants were displaced by insurgents, and they now live in other places. In this case, the whole electoral system will suffer because registration, verification and voting will be difficult in those areas. In fact, the electoral officials will not be sent to those areas due to safety concerns,” he said.
He said violence such as unforeseen attacks by the insurgents would prevent greater participation and eventually affect the integrity of the polls.
Ismail Mudashir (Abuja), Lami Sadiq (Kaduna), Hope Abah Emmanuel (Makurdi), Romoke W. Ahmad (Minna), Ado Abubakar Musa (Jos), Umar Muhammed (Lafia), Mumini AbdulKareem (Ilorin), Linus Effiong (Umuahia), Usman A. Bello (Benin), Victor Edozie (Port Harcourt), Eyo Charles (Calabar), Iniabasi Umo (Uyo), Raphael Ogbonnaiye ( Ado-Ekiti), Hassan Ibrahim (Bauchi), Tijjani Ibrahim (Katsina), Clement A. Oloyede (Kano) & Misbahu Bashir (Maiduguri)