Again, on January 15, gunmen attack the office of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Enugu South Local Government Area (LGA) of Enugu State, killing a police officer and destroying the commission’s vital properties relevant to the forthcoming elections, barely few day away.
This attack made it six in the state, as the INEC had earlier reported five arsons on its offices in Enugu between 2019 and 2022. These include arson and vandalism by gunmen on its Udenu LGA office on May 13, 2021, state headquarters office on May 21, 2021, and Ugbeeeze South LGA office on May 23, 2021.
Against this backdrop, the commission has promised Nigerians and the international community that its timetable for this year’s elections will go unchanged. The commission’s chairman, Mahmoud Yakubu, said this at Chatham House, London, while speaking on Nigeria’s 2023 elections.
To us, this is commendable, as Nigerians and observers are wondering what is the motive of the arsonists and vandals – are they doing this to call for a postponement; who are those behind these acts, as the politicians themselves are seen preparing for the elections; in fact, what do they really want?
Overall, this continuous attack on the INEC facilities is calling to questions the sincerity of some political actors, who some believe are behind the menace.
The other day, the electoral umpire told the world that in the last four years, it had recorded 50 separate attacks on its facilities across 15 states of the federation. The implication of this is that an unquantifiable amount of tax-payers money has gone up in flames.
A breakdown of these attacks shows that in 2019, eight incidents were recorded; 22 in 2020, 12 in 2021, and eight in 2022 and, according to the commission’s classifications, and 20 of the attacks were arson, 26 were vandalism while four were a combination of arson and vandalism.
In terms of spread, those attacks show that Imo State has the highest number with 11 incidents, followed by Osun, seven; Akwa-Ibom, five; Enugu, now six; Ebonyi, four; Cross River, four; Abia, four; Anambra, two; Taraba, two, while Borno, Ogun, Lagos, Bayelsa, Ondo and Kaduna had one each.
An analysis of these attacks shows a curious case where relatively safe and peaceful regions of the country recorded more attacks than those that are unsafe and volatile with insurgent activities.
For instance, the South East region now accounts for 27 of the attacks, representing about 52 percent as against four attacks in the entire Northern region, representing 8 percent of the attacks. These are unacceptable in a country that is lying economically prostrate, incapable of feeding its citizens or meeting its obligations to teachers and other workers in public universities.
Different reasons have been given for the frequent attacks on the INEC facilities, which are otherwise national assets. Besides the #EndSars protest of 2020 during which 18 of the facilities were destroyed by the youth who championed the protest, other attacks are mainly politically motivated.
Whatever are the reasons or the level of aggression of those who perpetrated these attacks, whether they are unknown gunmen and hoodlums, bandits, Boko Haram insurgents or political thugs, the attacks are highly condemnable in all ramification.
We are wondering, Nigeria, which is just a couple of days away from a general election, and INEC’s facilities are being callously destroyed, giving cause for worry on how and when these facilities containing Voters Registers and Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs) would be replaced for the elections.
These attacks present a scary scenario and a confused situation. Part of the confusion is that, in four years and after losing 50 facilities, INEC seems not to have done anything to stop these assaults on its facilities.
In the last four years, no single person has been prosecuted in connection with the destruction of a country’s national assets and that, in our opinion, is the reason for the impunity that defines the attitude and approach of the attackers.
The INEC National Commissioner in charge of Voter-Education, Festus Okoye, once said it was the duty of security agencies to protect those facilities, when asked during a TV programme what the commission has done to prevent further assault on its facilities. In the last four years, no single arrest had been made, not to talk of prosecuting anybody, but that those attacks were being investigated by the security agencies, Okoye said.
The whole situation is most uncomfortable with these developments and we suggest that, going forward, the INEC should assist the law on arson and other forms of willful destruction of public assets to take its course, as it is currently urging the National Assembly to speed up legislative work on the Electoral Offences Commission and Tribunal Bill.
Sincerely, we find it difficult to believe that, in four years, investigations into the destruction of government’s assets built with tax payers money and containing vital documents and other items as important as voters registers and PVCs have not been concluded and someone has not been brought to book.
This only presents Nigeria as a lawless country where where anything goes. It is our expectation that, by now, some people should be in jail while numerous others should be answering questions and helping the security agencies in their investigations. That, we believe, will serve as a deterrent to other criminal-minded people.
Arresting, prosecuting and jailing culprits have become more than necessary so as to prove, wrong or right, the insinuation in some quarters that these attacks are sponsored by desperate politicians who want to get at their opponents or hold down a whole region/the nation at large by burning these facilities with all the documents that could disenfranchise supporters of perceived opponents.
The truth or otherwise of these insinuations can only be established when INEC and security agencies become less docile and more worried about the destruction of public assets.
We believe, if possible, the INEC should build its own security network around its facilities nationwide, especially during this election season. Where the regular security agencies are insufficient, it should go for the civil defence corps and even local vigilante.
And now, the INEC should work, more than ever before, with security agencies to ensure that there are no more attacks on its facilities, ensuring that previous attacks are genuinely investigated, arrest made, and somebody made to face the law.