Irked by the growing wave of election -related violence across the country, President Muhammadu Buhari has warned politicians about the consequences of their actions, warning them to rein in their thugs or risk commensurate backlash from law enforcement agencies.
According to him, the federal government is concerned about the resort to violence by politicians, saying within a space of one month, 32 such incidents have been recorded.
The president’s admonition came as the Independent National Electoral Commission INEC also decried the spate of violence in the country, particularly in relation to electioneering ahead of next year’s general election, saying it has tracked 50 incidents of campaign violence in 21 states.
Specifically, the commission condemned the renewed attacks on its facilities, explaining that it has begun the process of identifying the 65,699 uncollected PVCs destroyed in its Abeokuta, Ogun state office with a view to reprinting them immediately.
INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu disclosed this on Friday in Abuja at an emergency meeting of the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security ICCES.
Speaking before the meeting went into a closed door, Prof. Yakubu said; “Two developments this week necessitated this meeting. First, the simultaneous attacks on our Local Government Area offices in Abeokuta South in Ogun State and Ede South Local Government office in Osun State.
“The attack in Abeokuta South happened around 1.15am while that of Ede happened around 6.00am yesterday Thursday 10th November 2022. Our immediate conclusion is that they may not be isolated, but we leave this determination to the security agencies who are investigating the incidents.
“Secondly, the spate of attacks during electioneering campaigns by political parties is increasing rather than decreasing.
“While the damage in the attack in Ede South was minimal, that of Abeokuta South was extensive. Materials destroyed include 904 ballot boxes, 29 voting cubicles, 8 electric power generators, 57 election bags, 30 megaphones, 65,699 uncollected Permanent Voters’ Cards PVCs and a host of other assorted items such as stamps and stamp pads.
“The Commission is taking urgent steps to repair the damage to the building and replace the facilities in the Ede South Local Government Area so that the office becomes functional again immediately.
“For Abeokuta South Local Government Area office, the destruction was total. Consequently, the Commission is relocating our staff to the old State office (also known as INEC Office Annex) in Oke-Ilewo area of Abeokuta. All activities involving the 15 Registration Areas (Wards) and 445 Polling Units in Abeokuta South Local Government Area will henceforth be coordinated from the new location in Oke-Ilewo.
“Similarly, the Resident Electoral Commissioner REC for Ogun State has been directed to compile the Voter Identification Numbers VINs of all the 65,699 Permanent Voters Cards PVCs lost in the attack from our database and submit the record for immediate reprint. We want to assure affected registered voters in Abeokuta South that no one will be disenfranchised as a result of this dastardly act.
“Turning to the spate of physical attacks during the ongoing political campaigns and rallies, the Commission has so far tracked 50 incidents across 21 States of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory. These unhappy occurrences are coming just a little over one month into the election campaign which is scheduled to last for about five months from 28th September 2022 to 23rd February 2023 for national elections (Presidential and National Assembly) and from 12th October 2022 to 11th March 2023 for State elections (Governorship and Houses of Assembly).
“The Commission is worried that if no urgent and decisive steps are taken, the attacks will intensify as we approach the election date. As we all know, a peaceful campaign heralds a peaceful election. We need to take decisive steps to stem the ugly trend”, Yakubu added.
He said as a body, ICCES brings together security, safety and other agencies responsible for securing the process and ensuring peaceful elections in Nigeria.
“Understandably, Nigerians expect a decisive action from ICCES. It is important that we move swiftly to apprehend perpetrators, prosecute them as required by law and reinforce security around election officials and electoral infrastructure around the country.
“As we have stated on several occasions, election is a multi-stakeholder activity involving not just INEC and the security agencies. The political class plays perhaps the most critical role in ensuring peaceful elections. We must all rise to the occasion. Nigerians are watching us. The world is watching us. We must never disappoint them.
“The Commission wishes to reassure Nigerians that we remain committed to delivering credible elections in spite of the challenges. The attempt to sabotage or weaken our resolve will not deter us from conducting transparent elections in which only the votes cast by Nigerians on Election Day will determine winners of elections”, he added.
Reading the Riot Act to politicians and their thugs, National Security Adviser NSA, General Mohammed Monguno (retd), said President Buhari has instructed him to convey his directives to the defence, security, intelligence and paramilitary services to be firm in stemming the tide of violence.
Monguno said; “There are issues that have emerged. From my statistics, I am aware of the fact that within a period of one month, from October 8 to November 9, we have had 32 cases of violence across 22 states. This is a bad signal. This is something that we do not want to continue.
“President Muhammadu Buhari is committed to safeguarding and upholding democracy. The president has also given his directive through me to all the operating intelligence and law enforcement agencies to ensure that the 2023 elections are held in an atmosphere bereft, devoid of any rancour”.
According to him, the president is “extremely pleased” with the outcome of elections in Anambra, Ekiti and Osun states and wants a repeat of such performances, which he described as the manifestation of the people’s will triumphing over any obstacle that might dismantle the democracy he is trying to protect.
“I want to assure you that the security agencies have been given clear cut instructions to preempt and deal with any situation on which any group or organization or institution decides to embark on what we consider to be a fundamentally criminal enterprise or undertaking whether it is an isolated incident or collective undertakings.
“Those people who have gangsters working for them, I want to send a very clear warning, a categorical and unequivocal warning to everyone regardless of whichever party, including the party of the president, for as long as you decide to scuttle the electoral process, the law enforcement agencies will equally be uninhibited in reacting to whatever action you have taken. You will be visited with appropriate and commensurate response and I am saying this with all sincerity.
“So, those who think they have a history of organizing and controlling crooks that have an inclination for expressing inordinate behaviour, I want to sound this warning to you; please, reassess, reevaluate your inclination or contemplation. Call your people and advise them that as long as they do not behave in a manner that suggests compliance with the Electoral Law, you will be held accountable.
“Already, the security and Intelligence agencies are tracking these people. Call your thugs and advise them to lay down whatever plans they have, because whoever wins in any state, that party has won. This is the intention of the president of this country. There can be no pretence, no excuse whatsoever”, he added.
Monguno warned those he called trigger-happy and blood thirsty thugs, foaming at the mouths, to either have a change of mind or go in for any crime they commit.
Earlier, Inspector General of Police IGP, Usman Baba Alkali said he had directed all his commissioners to scale up security in and around INEC offices nationwide.
“I have directed all Commissioners of Police to ensure that the protection of all INEC offices is upscaled. We need to look at the whole thing as essential.
‘From the information at my disposal, the Ogun office was not properly protected. I have directed that in all the offices, that we upscale our security presence”, he stated.
Alkali appealed to sister agencies for collaboration in securing INEC offices nationwide.