By OBINNA EZUGWU
With preparations for the 2024 general elections in top gear, and all attention focused on who takes over from the government led by President Buhari, which has nearly run the country aground, indications have emerged that the anticipated polls may itself be in jeopardy.
Last week, it was hinted that the Islam in West Africa Province, ISWAP, and it’s affiliate, Boko Haram, have other plans for the country, and may be bent on scuttling the coming election through a campaign of mass attacks in different parts of the country.
Although, interest in the election has been high with young people who had not been involved in previous elections suddenly pushing for participation, as the economy takes a tumble, meeting out untold hard to them as job seekers and students, several warnings came last to prepare the country about the looming danger.
The notorious armed group has waged concerted attacks on the country in recent time, hitting at will in different parts of Nigeria including the nation’s capital, Abuja. There was security alert last week in Abuja, and Lagos, the country’s two most important cities, of planned attacks.
According to a Prof. of Medicine at University of Sokoto, who was one of the five victims of the Abuja-Kaduna train attack, Nigeria is sitting on a keg of gun powder, and government must take their threats very seriously.
“They do tell us that they have spies planted across the country and I believe them. We have heard them talk about things they shouldn’t know anything about.
“I want to believe that information comes from those spies and people they planted across the country. We actually heard them talk about attacks they wanted to carry out very openly. They said they can attack these places.
“And at times, some of these attacks actually come through. When we were in captivity, they spoke about serious attacks they were going to carry out, and when I came out, I heard they were involved in Kuje prison jailbreak and a few other attacks across the country. And like I said I want the government to really take them seriously.”
Similarly, a renowned journalist, Mrs. Kadaria Ahmed, warned last in a television interview that we may be wasting previous time and money consumed in planning the election, but there clear and present danger that it may hold given the rising insecurity and government apparent helplessness to deal with it.
Millions have registered to vote for the first time, and even more have, more than ever before, taken interest in the political process.
By the time the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the country’s electoral body, brought an end to its continuous voter registration exercise on July 31, over 12.2 million new applicants had completed their voter registration, bringing the nation’s total number of registered voters to 96.2 million, from from 84 million, even agitations by millions who missed out on the deadline day for further extension continues.
According to INEC, youths aged between 18 and 35 constituted the highest number of completed registrations with a total of 8,784,677, while by occupation, students accounted for the greater number of registrants with 4,501,594, a confirmation of the renewed youth interest in the electoral system.
However, amid this enthusiasm, a security threat, the like of which has never been witnessed in peacetime Nigeria, threatens to jeopardize the electoral process, and not a few people have expressed worry about the danger the situation poses to the 2023 polls.
Many residents of Birnin Gwari and Giwa local government areas of Kaduna State, two of the most hit areas of the state, have indeed argued that it is unlikely that elections would hold in many communities in the two local governments due to insecurity.
The situation is similar to what is obtained in many other states across the region.
Fews days ago, members of the jihadi group Jama’atu Ansaru Muslim Fi Bilad al-Sudan, known popularly as Ansaru, threatened to ban political activities in parts of Kaduna. The terrorists, according to many accounts, have sacked as many as 60 communities in Birinin Gwari, while communities in seven out of the 11 wards of the local government had been overrun.
Reports say Ansaru are already recruiting foot soldiers from various communities under their control and have continued to preach against participating in political activities since politicians had not done anything to better their lives.
The situation is not any better in Niger and even worse in Zamfara and Katsina, Buhari’s home state, among other states.
“Whether we like it or not, insecurity is going to be a major factor in 2023 election,” said Chris Kehinde Nwandu, publisher of CKN News.
“In as much as the government tries to say that it won’t, and that we are better off now than we were in 2015, we have to look ourselves in the face and tell ourselves the truth.”
Recent weeks have seen terrorists, who have occupied several communities in Niger, Zamfara, Kaduna, Plateau, among other states in the North Central and North West, up their game with attacks that are becoming increasingly daring, and getting closer and closer to the country’s seat of power.
“We must have a country first before election and our people must be alive and safe first to be able to vote,” said Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim, former presidential aspirant and chieftain of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC).
According to him, “the Barbarians are at the gate of the capital, our Republic is under threat, our tested ways of life pluralism, democracy, State secularism, are about to be imperilled. The clock is ticking; time is running out, the forces of evil are set to take the Capital.
“In the last 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 civilisation.”
The March 28 attack on a Kaduna bound train in which nine people were murdered and 61 abducted – 27 of whom have been freed after reported payment of N100m ransom each … those unable to pay, 34 in number, remain in captivity – was a significant upgrade from the August 2021 attack on the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA), Kaduna, in which two officers were killed and a senior officer abducted; and another daring attack on Kaduna international airport three days prior, on Friday, March 25 in which a security guard was killed.
Things are getting significantly worse, with security agencies being increasingly targeted, and attacks getting closer and closer to Abuja. The Wednesday, June 29 attack at a mine in Shiroro Local Government of Nigeria state, in which no fewer than 45 people including 37 security personnel, mostly soldiers, were killed by the terrorists, was followed by even more daring attack on Kuje custodial centre in Abuja on July 5 – by same terrorists who carried out the Kaduna train attack – during which scores of terrorists were freed.
The Kuje prison attack has since heightened insecurity in Abuja. An ambush attack on presidential guards in Bwari, a suburb of the FCT, resulted in the death of about eight military personnel, including two officers and six soldiers attached to the Guards Brigade.
“We are in a very difficult situation, and Council understands. Mr. President understands people’s concerns about the growing insecurity. But I can assure you that there’s no straight cut and dried method of dealing with this thing unless all of us embrace each other,” Babagana Monguno, national security adviser, told journalists after a security council meeting in Abuja on Thursday, fortnight ago.
“I know people are weary, people are tired, people are beginning to gravitate to other places for self-help. The truth is that help is rooted in everyone working for the other person.”
Data from the Nigeria Security Incidents Tracker by Beacon Consulting released last week, showed that a total of 7,222 Nigerians have been killed, while 3,823 have been kidnapped by terrorists and other actors in the first seven months of 2022, with Borno State in the Northeast, which remains the epicentre of a decade and a half long insurgency, accounting for most incidents at 527, which led to the death of 1,746, followed by Kaduna, with 216 incidents spread across 22 local government areas, 790 deaths and 1,137 kidnapped.
According to geopolitical zones, the North East recorded 777 incidents in which 2,052 individuals were killed and 344 kidnapped.
North West recorded 519 incidents leading to the death of 2,229 individuals while 1,989 were abducted.
North Central recorded 494 incidents, out of which 1,748 residents lost their lives and 950 were kidnapped.
The South West recorded 420 incidents which led to the death of 386 individuals and 195 were abducted.
In the South South, 278 incidents were recorded, with 386 individuals killed and 195 kidnapped.
The South East, where separatist groups with stated objective to ensure that elections doesn’t hold in the region have turned violent, combined with the activities of herdsmen, experienced 316 incidents in which 423 persons were killed while 161 were kidnapped.
A similar report by the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) said that at least 60,000 people have been killed in Nigeria’s 18 northern states in the last 10 years due to insecurity.
The situation shows no signs of abating. Seven months to the the polls, more and more communities are falling into the hands of non-state actors and experts warn that unless the federal government, which increasingly looks out of depth, orders a swift military action in parts of the country, elections may not be held in hundreds of communities.
To his credit, Buhari says repeatedly that he’s given the military the go ahead to reign in on the terrorists, but his orders have mostly fallen on deaf ears, even as several reports and incidents point to the conclusion that there are fifth columnists within the armed forces.
However, his lack of action against those who have not carried out his orders have equally left many wondering if there is more to the situation than meets the eye.
Many in Benue, Plateau and parts of Kaduna, Ondo, and indeed across the South where bandits often regarded as herdsmen have continued to wreak havoc have alleged of plot by the bandits to take over the country.
“You have also heard that Abuja, the seat of power is under siege. Benue state is under siege, and we will not continue to allow them,” declared Samuel Ortom, governor of Benue state when he launched the state’s Community Volunteer Guards last week.
“We are equal to the task, and today, we’re sending a message that Benue state is ready to confront the Fulani from Niger, from Mali, from Mauritania, from Cameroon and from Senegal who want to take over Nigeria as their land.
“We are going to stop them. We did it in 1804, we will do it again,” noted the Benue governor who has repeatedly accused the federal government of being complicit in the crisis.
Ortom, despite his claims, is up against the tide. Security is in the exclusive legislative list, and it’s highly unlikely that the federal government will give him permission to arm the volunteer guards with assault weapons that would match the sophisticated ones used by the herders.
The violence is likely to persist in Benue despite his efforts, and indeed across the country, and going into 2023, nothing is certain.
“The Independent National Electoral Commission has continued to reassure us that the 2023 elections would hold. But I have heard many stakeholders questioning whether the election can hold,” said Senator Orker Jev, who represents Benue North West Senatorial District in the national assembly.
“If the terrorists and bandit are as audacious as they are now, threatening to kidnap the President and attacking the Guards Brigade, those who are supposed to protect the president, attacking military checkpoints, if they are not repelled, I share the sentiments and the views of those who are saying that the 2023 election is threatened.”
INEC Admits Challenge
Amid the growing insecurity, INEC last week, admitted that the current security situation in the country will pose a serious threat to a successful conduct of next year’s general elections.
Mahmood Yakubu, INEC chairman who expressed the commission’s concern in his remarks at the opening ceremony of election security management training organised by the Nigeria Police Force in Abuja on Thursday, noted that the responsibility of ensuring the safety and security of voters, election personnel and materials, candidates, party agents, and observers, among others, is becoming challenging, especially as hoodlums and terrorists have target the commission’s facilities in some states.
Yakubu further noted that though the general elections remain about seven months away, there is a need for proactive measures to ensure that the entire country is secure for elections to hold nationwide.
“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 of the current security situation in the country.”
However, NSA, Monguno who also spoke at the workshop on Thursday, assured that the election would hold without hitches.
The NSA, said the insecurity notwithstanding, the election must hold, adding that President Muhammed Buhari, is committed to providing a secured environment for the elections to take place.
“The President is committed to delivering an election that is completely transparent and which will command the general acceptance of the Nigerian population,” he said.
“Now in furtherance to this, the president has charged the military the police, the DSS and all security agencies to synergies effectively review the operational strategies and optimally deploy all their operational assets towards addressing current and revolving General security threats ahead of the forth coming general elections.
“I am confident that the presidential directives will be achieved and 2023 general elections will be conducted peacefully in a stable security environment