Anambra State. Photo credit: VON

OBINNA EZUGWU

At an emergency meeting of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) with security agencies under the auspices of the Inter-agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES) few days ago, chairman of the commission, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, said it had recorded 41 deliberate attacks on its facilities across the country within the last two years, with most happening in the past few months and mostly in Nigeria’s Southeast where gunmen thought to be sympathetic to the pro-separatist groups, have been attacking public facilities.

The distraught INEC boss, argued that the attacks should now be treated as a national security emergency, noting that the commission’s preliminary assessment had indicated that it lost 1,105 ballot boxes, 694 voting cubicles, 429 electric generating sets and 13 utility vehicles.

“In the last two years, the commission has recorded a total of 41 incidents involving deliberate attacks on the commission’s facilities. Nine of these incidents happened in 2019 and 21 cases in 2020. In the last four weeks, 11 offices of the commission were either set ablaze or vandalised. Two of these incidents were caused by Boko Haram and Bandit attacks, while 10 resulted from thuggery during election and post-election violence.

“However, the majority of the attacks (29 out of 41) were unrelated to election or electoral activities. In fact, 18 of them occurred during the #EndSARS protests in October last year while 11 attacks were organised by “unknown gunmen” and “hoodlums.”

Nigeria will hold its all important 2023 general election, to elect a replacement for incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari. But before then, in less than six months, precisely November 6, 2021, the electorate in Anambra State, Southeast region, where most attacks have happened, will go to the polls to elect another governor; a replacement for Chief Willie Obiano, whose tenure ends in February next year.

Both polls, according to the electoral commission, now face reasonable threats, even as frontiers of insecurity are escalating in Africa’s most populous country, amid rising ethnic and religious tensions.

“These attacks, which initially appeared as isolated and occasional actions, have now become more frequent and systematic, targeted at demobilising and dismantling critical electoral infrastructure in the country,” Mahmood said.

“This will not only undermine the commission’s capacity to organise elections and other electoral activities but will also damage the nation’s electoral process and democracy. Indeed, these attacks on the commission’s facilities should now be treated as a national security emergency.”

Indeed, the country itself is sliding down into an emergency; war drums are sounding, as Boko Haram cum Islamic State of West Africa (ISWA) insurgency, now compounded by unabated banditry with elements of Boko Haram in the Northwest and central state of Niger, have met murderous activities – fast assuming genocidal proportion – of suspected Fulani herdsmen across the middle belt and Southern Nigeria. Not less than 150 individuals, have been killed in the violence in Benue and Ebonyi states in the past few days, while thousands have been displaced. At the weekend, at least 18 people were killed in Igagan, Oyo State by the suspected Fulani herders.

The activities of the herders, worsened by the perceived unwillingness of security agencies to reign in on them, have frayed nerves in the South, and given wings to pro separatist agitations. In the South West where any talk of secession would have been rebuffed by a wide majority of the populace five years ago, the idea of a separate state, Oduduwa Republic, spearhead by Sunday Adeyemo, popularly called Sunday Igboho, has been gaining traction. In the South East, leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu, in December last year, launched a militant wing of the group, the Eastern Security Network (ESN) ostensibly to fight “Fulani” herdsmen in bushes and forests. The outfit has since been having violent confrontation with security agencies, even as another set gunmen, now branded Unknown Gunmen, have made the country’s uniformed men and INEC facilities their targets, in what is assuming the colour of an insurgency; a potential big headache for already fragile country.

Igboho last week told a crowd of supporters in Ekiti that there won’t be an election in the Southwest in 2023, saying the Yoruba race was already weary of the Fulani alleged feudal and political dominance in the country.

According to him, Yoruba will never be slaves again to any other race, saying the only way to actualise this is by having an independent country and regain freedom from oppression.

Speaking on Thursday at a book presentation in Abeokuta, Ogun State, former president, Olusegun Obasanjo regretted that, “Right now, it (Nigeria) is a land flowing with bitterness and sadness, that is not what God wants this country to be.”

In a report few days ago, the United States Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and the Harvard Kennedy School, said Nigeria has transited from a failing state, failed state currently at the point of no return.

The report released by the council’s senior fellow, former US Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. John Campbell and Mr. Robert Rotberg, Founding Director, Harvard Kennedy School’s Programme on Intrastate Conflict and president emeritus, World Peace Foundation, warned that Nigeria was on the brink of collapse amid heightening security and economic troubles.
“Nigeria has long teetered on the precipice of failure. But now, unable to keep its citizens safe and secure, Nigeria has become a fully failed state of critical geopolitical concern. Its failure matters because the peace and prosperity of Africa and preventing the spread of disorder and militancy around the globe depend on a stronger Nigeria,” the report published on foreign policy (dot)com on Thursday said.
“With state failure, it can no longer sustain that vocation, and no replacement is in sight. Its security challenges are already destabilising the West African region in the face of resurgent jihadism, making the battles of the Sahel that much more difficult to contain. And spillover from Nigeria’s failures ultimately affects the security of Europe and the United States.”

The federal government, through the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, in response to the report, however, while acknowledging the security challenges, insisted that Nigeria was not a failed state
“This declaration is merely the opinions of two persons, former U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria and a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations John Campbell, and the President Emeritus of World Peace Foundation, Robert Rotberg,” Mohammed said.

“Declaring any nation a failed state is not done at the whims and caprices of one or two persons, no matter their status. Just because Nigeria is facing security challenges, which we have acknowledged and which we are tackling, does not automatically make the country a failed state.”

IPOB posses threat to Anambra polls
In the lead of to the last general election in 2019, Kanu, whose IPOB has been demanding for a referendum since formation in 2012, had insisted that there would be no election in the Southeast, his so called “Biafra land” until his demand for referendum is met. He encouraged his supporters to boycott the polls, insisting that “No Referendum, No Election.”

Days before the election, however, he backtracked and asked those who wished to vote to do so, as he was now certain that referendum would be granted. Buhari, the incumbent president and candidate of the All Progressive Congress (APC), eventually won the election, though his opponent, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the main opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) insists the polls were rigged. Southeast, a stronghold of the opposition party, which had in more recent elections, witnessed low turnout of voters, saw even a historic low turnout, what some blamed on Kanu’s order.

It’s been more than two years since the 2019 polls, the IPOB leader’s referendum, whoever promised him, has not been granted. The demand for referendum has increasingly gone mainstream, and Kanu has again, vowed that there would be no election in Anambra in November, and no election in “Biafra land” in 2023 if referendum is not granted.

“In November, there will not be any election in Anambra State, instead heaven will fall. We are going to put on television for you people to watch,” Kanu declared in his live broadcast on June 1st.

His earlier threat, he had perhaps, hoped to enforce by getting his followers to boycott the polls, but this time, attacks on the facilities of INEC in the region suggest that there is a plan to prevent the polls from being held altogether, a development many say is deeply worrying.
“It’s a concern. I wouldn’t know who is destroying INEC facilities in the Southeast, whether it’s IPOB or ESN or unknown gunmen. I don’t know what they want to achieve. But the development is very worrisome,” said Mr. Collins Okeke, head, public sector practice group at Olisa Agbakoba Legal.

“We are still better off with the representatives that are elected. I don’t understand the thinking behind that position. But I’m hopeful that election will hold. I have a feeling that with time, reason will prevail and people will understand why it is better to engage in dialogue instead of this violence.”

Amid the attacks, INEC on Monday May 24, held an emergency meeting in Abuja, at the end of which it’s spokesperson, Festus Okoye, warned that the development was a threat to upcoming elections.

“In the latest incidents, three offices of the Commission came under attack in Anambra, Imo and Enugu States. The Resident Electoral Commissioners (REC) for Anambra State, Dr. Nkwachukwu Orji; his Imo State counterpart, Professor Francis Ezeonu, and that of Enugu State, Emeka Ononamadu, have reported that the attacks took place at various times on the night of Sunday, 23rd May 2021,” Okoye said.

“The State Headquarters office in Awka was set ablaze in the most devastating onslaught on the Commission’s facilities so far. The attackers were systematic and selective in their targets. The Pavillion which serves as Collation Centre during major elections was burnt down. In what is a major blow to our preparations for the Governorship election scheduled for 6th November 2021, two stores housing electoral materials were burnt down.

“New and old (but serviceable) electric generating machines numbering 376 for all the Electoral Wards and the extra numbers for backup were completely burnt. The electric generators were recently relocated from the Local Government Area (LGAS) to the HQ in the belief that it is more secure than the LGA offices.”

Okoye who also emphasized that the attacks have become a national emergency, said the commission would brief the government and stakeholders on the incidents. Last week, it did at a meeting with President Buhari at the Aso Rock Villa. After the briefing on Tuesday, Buhari issued a statement saying he had assured that commission that his government would make everything available for it to work efficiently, “so that no one will say we don’t want to go, or that we want a third term. There will be no excuse for failure. We will meet all of INEC’s demands.”

But the president in the statement, made a somewhat careless reference to the Biafra war; a war in which an estimated three million people died, mostly civilians and children, killed or starved to death by the victorious Nigerian side, what many have described as a genocide, threatening to give the individuals carrying out the attacks “shock of their lives” and treat them in the language they understand.

“Many of those misbehaving today are too young to be aware of the destruction and loss of lives that occurred during the Nigerian Civil War,” Buhari had said “Those of us in the fields for 30 months, who went through the war, will treat them in the language they understand.”

The statement, coming a day after millions in the Southeast mourned their dead, 54 years after the state of Biafra was proclaimed, after coups and counter coups and systemic massacre of people of Eastern origin, triggering the bloody 30-month civil war, did not sit well with many who saw it as a threat to repeat the events of the war, amid security concerns in the region.

Jude Abaga, better known as M.I Abaga, rapper, recording artist and record producer, started a solidarity campaign with #IamIgbotoo, rallying thousands of Twitter uses to use the hash-tag to show support for the Igbo, ordinarily seen to be persecuted by the Buhari government.

Many reported President’s statement to Twitter, prompting the social media platform to block it, citing violation of its rules. The government in response, accused the platform, through the minister of information and culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, of double standards. According to Mohammed, Twitter allows “hate” tweets by Mr. Kanu.

In the meantime, the IPOB leader’s followers have continued to insist that there would be no election, and the attack suggests there is a spirited effort to ensure that it is the case.
“It is a very a very serious issue; it is actually very serious,” said Prof Francis Ezeonu, INEC resident electoral commissioner for Imo State. “Even the expansion of assets to polling units which we conducted was not easy.

“There was too much of fear around. We are hoping that the government should do something serious about the insecurity issue. If not, there is no doubt about it, it is going to be a very big threat to the 2023 election.”
Federal Government May Appoint Administrator
Mr. Okeke, a lawyer, warned that should the polls not hold in Anambra on November 6, the federal government may have to appoint an administrator to run the state, which according to him, would be a bad development.

“The implication of not holding the election is that we will not have representatives until elections are held. So, the federal government will either declare a state of emergency, in which case they will appoint administrators to run the state. That happened in Plateau and a couple of other states during Obasanjo’s time,” he said.

“They will appoint full administrators to run the place until we are able to conduct election, which will not be very good. You don’t know where the administrators are going to come from. During Obasanjo’s time, they appointed people who were not from a state to administer it.”

Okeke, however said he is hopeful that at the end of the day, reason would prevail.
“We are better off with representatives that are elected. I don’t understand the thinking behind that position. But I’m hopeful that election will hold. I have a feeling that with time, reason will prevail and people will understand why it is better to engage in dialogue instead of this violence.”

INEC chairman, Mahmood has, however, suggested that incessant attacks on the commission offices have created ample opportunity to prepare for a violence-free election in Anambra.

Speaking in a two days retreat on the Validation of the draft INEC 2022-2026 Strategic Plan and Strategic programme of Action in Lagos, INEC National Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, described the incessant attack as disturbing to the commission but said its gives the commission ample opportunity to organize free, fair and all inclusive election.

Mahmood who was represented by the National Commissioner and Chairman of Outreach committee, Dr. Adekunle Ogunmola said: “Part of what we discussed is what is happening to our local offices, so it is our desire to incorporate all these issues with our strategic plan.

“Anytime the electoral act is amended, we will also incorporate it into our strategic plan because the strategic plan is for 2022 to 2026. We still have one that is ongoing and it will expire by the end of 2021.

“We hope to find a lasting solution to it and the Anambra elections won’t be a difficult thing to plan. We ve’ similar situation in the past. For instance, in Ondo State, card readers were burnt, we were able to make amends and elections were conducted without hindrance. As for Anambra, I can assure you that we will conduct the election without any problem.

Rising Tension.

Across the Southeast and beyond, security situation is deteriorating, even as ethnic tensions are rising amid alleged extrajudicial killing and arbitrary arrest by the police. This is even as concern over alleged plot by the president to suspend the constitution and implement martial law, specifically targeting Southeast and Sunday Igboho’s group in the Southwest, has raised further fear of the country descending into a major civil strife.
The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, has, however, denied reports to the effect that he advised Buhari to suspend the constitution, describing himself as a true democrat. But not everyone is convinced.

In Imo State, the current epicenter of the separatist crisis, incidents of alleged extrajudicial killing of youth by security agencies are rife.

“They (security agencies) are arresting and killing people indiscriminately in Owerri and tagging them IPOB, many people are currently languishing in detention,” said an Owerri indigene who craved anonymity. “The situation is very bad, it appears to be a deliberate attempt to waste as many people as possible.”

Following the murder of Ahmed Gulak, a chieftain of the ruling APC and former aide of ex-president, Goodluck Jonathan in Owerri a fortnight ago, the Imo State police soon issued a statement saying it had killed his assailants after a shout-out. The assailants, the police suggested, had gone to loot onions after killing.
However, inquiries by this medium revealed that those killed and tagged Gulak’s killers, were random people who had to partake in the looting of onions from a truck coming from the North, which had been waylaid by hoodlums at Enyiogugu Market Square in Aboh-Mbaise, in an apparent targeting of Northerners in the state.
Amid the looting, soldiers and police arrived the scene and allegedly opened fire, killing unspecified number of people and arresting others. The victims, sources told our correspondents, were those the police later tagged killers of Gulak.

Yet, after the incident, some hoodlums, this time, of Northern extraction, allegedly aided by the Army and the Police, looted shops of traders within the Enyiogugu vicinity, carting away goods worth millions of naira, in the name of searching for Gulak’s killers. As a follow up to the incident, onion sellers in the North have suspended supply to the Southeast.
“Contrary to the statements of the Imo State Police Command, a lorry loaded with onions from northern Nigeria and moving from Umuahia to Obowo and Ahiara was waylaid at Enyiogugu Market Square in Aboh-Mbaise by aggrieved violent citizens leading to passersby, including church goers and returnees and some Okada riders, etc. scrambling for their share of the loot,” A civic group also, the International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law, on June 2, wrote a petition to the Inspector General of Police, the Chairman of the Police Service Commission and the Imo State Commissioner of Police.

“In reprisal, following phone calls by some northern Muslim civilians, soldiers stormed the scene and opened fire in the crowded Market Square and shot indiscriminately and in the end, scores of unarmed citizens were killed or injured. With the killing of Mr. Gulak, security agencies including the Imo State Police Command turned around and controversially linked the incident to the assassination and labelled the slain and maimed victims as ‘Eastern Security Network (ESN)’ hoodlums that killed Gulak”

“This was even after the violent deviants that waylaid the lorry-load of onions had left the scene. Cars displayed by the police as ‘operational exhibits belonging to the ESN hoodlums’ are said to be those belonging to motorists using the route,” the group said, while calling for detailed police investigation into the incident.

Meanwhile, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) in a statement issued by its spokesman, Uzor Enwere, in Owerri on Thursday, said it has set up a helpdesk to collate data of persons arrested and detained unjustly by the police in the state.

According to the statement, the helpdesk will address wanton arrest and detention of innocent residents of Imo to ensure their release.

Still, the separatists appear to have started targeting individuals within the region they perceive as saboteurs. OnTuesday last week, gunmen suspected to be assassins, killed the PDP youth leader in the Oru-East Local Government Area of Imo, Kenneth Amukamara, burnt his house and damaged the vehicles of his brother, who is said to be a retired soldier.

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