Ominous sign ahead of 2023 general election
FELIX NWANERI reports that Federal Government’s inability to come up with sustainable measures to tackle rising insecurity and violence across the country is not only threatening Nigeria’s unity and development, but the forthcoming 2023 general election
From the Boko Haram insurgency ravaging the North- East to banditry and kidnapping in the North-West and North Central; farmers/herders clash in the North Central as well as the entire South; militancy in the South-South and agitation for selfdetermination in the South-East, the story of Nigeria is not only a nation at war with itself but one that its corporate existence is under serious threat. In the North-East, the Boko Haram insurgency driven by Islamic extremists has not only claimed thousands of lives and property, it has turned millions of Nigerians to refugees in their own country.
Across most northern states and even neigbouring Chad, Niger Republic and Cameroon, are camps for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). The crisis, which has lasted over a decade, has equally brought economic activities in the affected states of the geopolitical zone almost to a halt, while rebuilding efforts by the Federal Government in conjunction with donor agencies have gulped billions of naira.
The Federal Government had in 2015 pronounced Boko Haram “technically defeated” but most Nigerians as well as the country’s foreign partners, including the United States (U.S.), believe that the insurgents remain an ever-present threat. Outgoing Commander of U.S. Africa Command (U.S. AFRICOM), General Stephen Townsend, who shares this conviction, said in a recent interview that “Boko Haram still exists, but I think they’re hanging on.”
Townsend who spoke on U.S. support for partners in Africa and the progress made in the fight against terrorism in the Sahel region with U.S. support, said: “Al-Qaeda is present mainly in the form of a group known as JNIM (Jama’a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin) and they are probably the largest and most lethal group in West Africa, but also they have their terrorist competitors ISIS; ISIS-Sahara and ISISWest Africa predominantly being in the Lake Chad region.
“There is another group there, Boko Haram that was very much in the headlines a few years ago. They’ve been in competition with ISIS-West Africa. It appears that ISIS-West Africa is now the dominant force in that region. Boko Haram still exists, but I think they’re hanging on. Many of their members have either surrendered back to host-nation governments or have changed sides to join ISIS-West Africa. “So, those are the threats.
We see these threats expanding. We see ISIS-West Africa very much expanding in Nigeria. Just a couple of weeks ago, you’re all aware of a major prison break that occurred literally in the outskirts of the capital in Nigeria.” For the bandits ravaging the North-West, kidnapping for ransom and cattle rustling have become a lucrative industry for them.
In the oil-rich but impoverished South-South, extortion through the sabotage of pipelines is still legendary. Separatist agitation in the South- East by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and other secessionist groups has not only grounded economic activities in the geopolitical zone but has also led to loss of lives and wanton destruction of infrastructure.
Similarly, the rising ethnic tension over activities of killer herdsmen across the country has not only exposed the heterogeneous nature of the country, but the tendency of the various ethnic nationalities towards parochial consciousness at the expense of national consciousness hence gradually driving Nigeria to the edge. The conflict, which has claimed thousands of lives, is mainly as a result of disputes over land resources between mostly Muslim Fulani herders and mainly Christian farmers.
Though the impact of the crisis has been more devastating in the North Central since 1999, the herders have recently advanced towards the southern part of the country, thereby shifting the battleground. However, the Muhammadu Buhari led All Progressives Congress (APC) administration has repeatedly declared that it will not yield ground to those it termed “divisive elements.”
According to President Buhari, “the government shall continue to deal with insurgents, bandits, kidnappers and other criminals, who constitute threat to innocent citizens across the country.”
The President has also continually directed service chiefs and heads of other security agencies to deal ruthlessly with criminal elements terrorizing Nigerians. Despite the directives and riot act by the President, the security situation persists. Consequently, Africa’s most populous nation has become a land of violence. Security concerns ahead of 2023 polls
Although most citizens are of the view that the Buhari administration has not really taken concrete steps to avert rising threats to national security, and most significantly, the country’s unity, it is no longer questionable that Nigeria is under siege.
Often times, there have been calls for disintegration by some aggrieved persons from the country’s various component units but the question most analysts have unceasingly asked over the years is: Will balkanization solve the country’s problems? Most stakeholders believe that disintegration is not the answer to the myriad of problems the country is facing as every region or geopolitical zone and even state is a miniature of Nigeria, with the same contending variables.
However, there is a consensus that the security crisis at hand is a serious one that must be addressed with the speed of light, especially as the country heads towards the 2023 general election that will see the emergence of Buhari’s successor. A recent report by Beacon Consulting, a security risk management and intelligence consulting company, showed that banditry and terrorist attacks have escalated across Nigeria, leading to the death of 7,222 persons and abduction of 3,823 others in the past seven months.
A breakdown of the report in terms of geopolitical zones revealed that the North- East recorded 777 incidents, in which 2,052 individuals were killed and 344 kidnapped. In the North-West, 519 incidents occurred, leading to the death of 2,229 individuals, while 1,989 were abducted. No fewer than 494 incidents were witnessed in the North- Central, of which 1,748 residents lost their lives, and 950 were kidnapped.
The general election is billed to commence on February 25, 2023 and the various political parties have already nominated their respective candidates for the positions up for grab but many believe that the polls many not hold if nothing urgent is done to contain rising security challenges.
The concern over insecurity is not out of place. The Senator representing Benue North West Senatorial District, Senator Emmanuel Orker Jev, who expressed similar worries over the possibility of the elections holding as scheduled given rising insecurity, at the weekend, said: “If the terrorists, as audacious as they are now, threatening to kidnap the President and attacking the Brigade of Guards and other military check points around the Federal Capital Territory, if they are not repelled, I share the sentiments and views of those who are saying that the 2023 elections will be threatened.”
Even the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, had earlier raised the red flag over escalating insecurity in the country as the 2023 general elections draw near.
Yakubu, in his address to stakeholders at the second quarterly meeting of the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES) in May, said: “The general security situation in the country and its impact on the electoral process is a source of concern to the electoral commission.
However, we are confident that with nine months to the 2023 general election, there is enough time to respond to the security challenges and secure the nation for elections to take place nationwide.”
With seven months to election, it is the same concern. The INEC boss expressed the worry last week, while speaking at the opening ceremony of an election security workshop with the theme: “The 2023 General Election: Enhancing National Security Capacity for a Secure and Credible Electoral Process in Nigeria,” organised by the Nigeria Police in Abuja.
He said though the general elections is about seven months away, there was need for proactive measures to secure the entire country for it to hold peacefully. His words: “Ensuring the safety and security of voters, election personnel and materials, candidates, party agents, observers, the media and transporters are enormous. This responsibility has become more challenging in the context of the current security situation in the country.
“Election preparations, deployment and implementation constitute the most extensive mobilisation that could happen in a country, whether in peace time or in war time. In Nigeria, it involves the recruitment and training of staff and managing the logistics for their deployment to 176,846 polling units spread across 8,809 electoral wards, 774 local areas and 37 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
“It also involves a projected voter population of about 95 million for the 2023 general election, which is over 20 million more than the combined voter population of the other 14 countries in West Africa. Voters will also elect candidates for 1,491 constituencies, presidential constituency, 28 governorship elections, 109 senatorial districts, 360 federal constituencies and 993 state Assembly seats.
“I am glad that the Nigeria Police as the lead agency in election security has once again demonstrated its leadership role by convening this Workshop. With about seven months to the next general election, there is time for proactive measures to ensure that the entire country is secure for election to hold nationwide,” Yakubu said.
FG allays fears
The fears notwithstanding, the Federal Government, on its part, assured Nigerians that the 2023 general election must hold and in an atmosphere devoid of violence and malpractices. National Security Adviser (NSA), Major General Babagana Monguno (rtd), who also spoke at security summit, assured Nigerians of the determination of President Buhari to bequeath a legacy of strong democratic institutions and values. His words: “The President is committed to delivering an election that is completely transparent and which will command the general acceptance of the Nigerian population. This election, as far as the President is concerned, will be devoid of, to use the Nigerian parlance, any wuru-wuru.” Calling on the security agencies to work as a team to provide a conducive environment for elections to hold even, Monguno said the mandate of providing adequate security during elections rests on the shoulders of the police as the lead security agency. Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Lucky Irabor, also assured relevant election stakeholders of the readiness of the armed forces to support the police in providing the necessary security for free, fair and secured elections. His words: “What every Nigerian and friends of Nigeria want is free, fair and secure conduct of 2023 elections. Because as members of the armed forces, we give support to the civil authority and the Nigerian Police being the lead in internal security provisions, we give our support to civil authority in this regard. “We, the entire hierarchy of the armed forces, will give our support. We as members of the armed forces have a covenant with the democratic process. The growth of our democracy is pivotal. We are here not only to re-echo that covenant, but to assure every Nigerian that we are here to give support throughout the entire process and beyond.” Similarly, the Inspector General of Police, Usman Alkali Baba, disclosed that the Nigeria Police has commenced the training of 400 police officers across the 36 State commands as part of its preparations for the 2023 elections. “Election security governance is critical to the advancement of democratic culture across the free world. In Nigeria, by virtue of the Electoral Act 2022 (As amended), the Nigeria Police Force is the lead agency in the election security process. The force is, however, complemented by the military, intelligence community, and other security and safety agencies. The import of this is that the success of every election is determined not just by the strength of the legal framework regulating the course, but by a few other key variables. “First is the depth of the professional knowledge and operational competence of the police and other complementary security actors. Second, is the electoral space in terms of the security realities of the country, and third is the extent of the professional bond among the security agencies on the one hand, and between the security agencies, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), and other strategic stakeholders in the electoral process on the other hand. “Whichever way we look at these variables, the reality remains that the Nigeria Police is fundamental to the drive to guarantee an internal security space that will be free of threats that could expose our democratic heritage to risks, and conducive enough for the electoral cycle, which is a critical component of democracy, to be fulfilled.” Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, who also spoke on the issue after last Wednesday’s Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting, equally assured Nigerians and the global community that the Federal Government will no doubt, conduct free and fair elections in 2023. The minister, who said pessimistic views about the conduct of the elections were needless, insisted that the current security challenges are not impediments to free, fair and credible polls. “Everybody who has an opinion is free to air such opinion and the government will weigh the opinions and take whatever decisions it believes is in the overall interest of the nation. “Yes it is true that some groups have been worried and concerned on whether given the state of insecurity in the country there can’t be elections next year, I can assure you there will be elections because the Nigerian government will do everything possible not just to make sure there is election but to secure the country,” he said.
Stakeholders proffer solution
Some stakeholders, who spoke on the security concerns hovering over the nation ahead of the elections, maintained that the Federal Government must address the security challenges and other issues threatening the existence of the country before the 2023 general election. A chieftain of the APC, Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim, who warned the political leadership against concentrating only on permutations on the polls to the detriment of urgent national security concerns, said Nigerians must be alive before they can vote.
His words: “We must have a nation first before election and our people must be alive and safe first to be able to vote. The barbarians are at the gate of the capital, our republic is under threat, our tested ways of life pluralism, democracy and state secularism are about to be imperiled. The clock is ticking, time is running out, the forces of evil are set to take the capital.’ The presidential candidate of the Peoples Trust in the 2019 elections maintained that “in the past two years we have spoken on the nation’s security challenges and offered concrete suggestions on how to confront them, but all suggestions have been ignored. Now is the time for patriots and statesmen and friends of Nigeria to rally and defend the ideals of our republic, the ideals of peace and the ideals of modernity and civilization.” He added that with all manners of armed groups within two-hour drive to Abuja from Niger and Kaduna, the government should not downplay the alarm raised by Governor Babagana Zulum of Borno State on the growing number of ISWAP fighters in the country. According to him, “presently, it is an understatement to say we are at a turning point in our history, when terrorist forces have technically surrounded our nation’s capital, highlighting the severity of our national security challenge. Despite the offensive of the military to clean up the bushes in the capital, the axis surrounding the capital are still in the hands of the enemy and they retain the capacity, flexibility and initiative to launch attacks at any place and time of their choice. We should never surrender through in-action, limited action or wrong and slow response to the urgent threat confronting our father land, our response must be deep, broad and all encompassing.” The bishop of the Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion, Owo Diocese, Stephen Fagbemi, who warned that failure to resolve the security challenges may not augur well for the country, said the nation has found itself in a most unfortunate state to the extent that some were beginning to suggest that it is becoming a failed state. Fagbemi, who spoke at the 14th Synod of Diocese of Owo Anglican Communion, held recently at the St. Paul’s Church, Ifon, Ondo State State, averred: “Going for the 2023 elections without defining issues that threaten our collective existence is to defer the evil day. So, I appeal to all civil, religious, and political leaders of this country to abandon all selfish interests and deal with these urgent national issues.” As the clock ticks to the 2023 elections, it is left to be seen whether the Federal Government will rise up to the challenge and come up with drastic measures rather than mere directives, not only to halt the rampaging divisive elements, but to ensure that Nigeria’s nascent democracy is no derailed