In the last three years, the Independent National Electoral Commission has lost a total of 9,836 smart card readers in over 42 attacks on its offices and workers nationwide.
In addition, more than 1,149 people were slain in the three elections held in 2011, 2015, and 2019, including INEC personnel and security officers. Similarly, ballot papers, cubicles, and other items were destroyed.
Last Friday, assailants shot and killed an INEC worker named Anthony Nwokorie while he was doing continuous voter registration in the Ihitte Uboma Local Government Area of Imo State.
The hoodlums were seen forcing registrants to lie on the ground while trashing registration documents and threatening that polls would not be held in the South-East, according to a viral video.
Following the violent attacks on its assets and employees, the electoral authority raised concerns about the 2023 elections, claiming that there would be no results at voting stations where violent occurrences were orchestrated
In an interview on Monday, the Resident Electoral Commissioner in Akwa Ibom State, Mike Igini, cautioned that when violence was purposefully induced to disrupt the electoral process, there would be no return of votes.
The resident electoral commissioner described the attacks on the commission as regretful, but assured Nigerians that the organization was developing ways to secure its offices, assets, and staff ahead of the 2023 general election.
Igini, who is also a lawyer, said it was a disgrace that the ruling elite prepared for elections as if they were going to war, stressing that the election season should be a time for taking stock and Election Day, a day for renewing the country’s journey in a new path.
In response to a question about what was being done to better protect INEC employees, assets, and voters, he said the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee would conduct a risk assessment to evaluate hazards and risks prior to the general election, which would include “mapping of persons of interests and so on.”
“There will be things done,” Igini said, “but most of it will not be a topic for publishing.” However, if we are to reassure the voting public, the commission must work with stakeholders to ensure that some people are held to a quick example, so that the public understands that there is zero tolerance for such hazards and that voters will not only be protected, but also seen to be protected.”
“There needs to be an election first before talking about result cancellation,” the REC replied when asked if results in regions where violent occurrences were recorded will be canceled. There will be no return and no cancellation when violence is used to purposefully undermine the process.
“Cancellation of election results is a delicate process that follows a step-by-step statutory auditing system, since, as I previously stated, political actors may incite violence for electoral objectives. If results are validly annulled, it will be in such a way that it does not reward intentionally premeditated election violence.”
On whether there would be special security arrangements for electoral officials during the 2023 polls, Igini said “If required, absolutely; if the risk analysis demands particular precautions, they must be in place for the affected region, otherwise, the commission will have to provide notice, as we have always done in the past, that the conditions are not favourable,” Igini added.
According to INEC, over 41 attacks, excluding the one in Imo State on Friday, have been carried out against its offices across 14 states since the 2019 general election, with the South-East recording 13 attacks.
The attacks which started in Abia on May 9 spread to Enugu and Ebonyi, with three incidents each; Imo, with two attacks; and Anambra and Abia with one each and in Bayelsa and Akwa Ibom states.
In all, the electoral body recorded nine attacks in 2019, 21 incidents in 2020 and over 12 as of May 2021. It also lost 9,836 smart card readers, 345 ballot boxes, and 135 voting cubicles, among other assets.
For instance, on February 12, 2019, shortly before the general election, two containers loaded with 4,695 smart card readers were destroyed along with other sensitive materials in a mysterious fire at the Anambra State headquarters of INEC.
The commission estimated in its budget that each card reader cost N167, 063 while each memory card cost N6,000.
It was estimated that based on INEC’s budget for such sensitive materials, the loss incurred was about N847m which also included batteries and Secure Access Module cards.
Similarly, on September 10, 2020, just before the Ondo State governorship election, about 5,141 card readers were destroyed in a fire at the INEC head office in Akure. According to budget estimates at the time, the Akure fire would have cost INEC at least N900 million.
The INEC office in Abia State’s Isiala-Ngwa South Local Government Area was mysteriously burned down weeks before the poll on February 3, 2019.
The commission’s facilities in the Arochukwu Local Government Area of the same Abia State was vandalized in October 2020, while those in Aba South were entirely destroyed in December.
On May 9, 2021, the electoral body’s office in Ohafia was also set ablaze, as did the one in Akwa Ibom’s Essien Udim Local Government Area on May 2, 2021. 345 vote boxes, 135 voting booths, megaphones, water tanks, and office furniture were among the items destroyed.
In fact on the eve of the 2019 general election INEC’s recently constructed prototype local government office in Ibesikpo Asutan was burned down, while two additional offices in the Mkpat Enin and Eastern Obolo LGAs were destroyed.
The losses were not limited to property as no fewer than 1,149 persons, including electoral officers, police officers and voters were killed between 2011 and 2019 during post-election violence in Niger, Kaduna, Rivers, Benue and other states.
A former Inspector-General of Police, Hafiz Ringim, had said 520 persons, including nine National Youth Service Corps members, died in the violence that followed the outcome of the 2011 polls won by President Goodluck Jonathan in Niger, Jigawa, Bauchi, Kano and Kaduna while hundreds were displaced.
Also, an estimated 626 persons, including one INEC worker, were killed across Nigeria in the six months between the start of the election campaign and the commencement of the 2019 general and supplementary elections, the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room said.
According to the report, the North-West region recorded the highest number of deaths with 172 killed during the elections, while the North-East followed with 146 fatalities. Also, the report revealed that the South-South and North-Central had 120 and 111 fatalities, respectively.
Three INEC workers were also killed in Benue State in 2015.
Commenting on the huge human and material losses, Igini, citing research on electoral violence, suggested the violence might have ‘electoral and quasi-electoral objectives.’
On the areas considered risky, the commissioner said the commission would be guided by pre-election analytics as presented by security agencies.
He added, “This will be determined by pre-election analytics; sometimes, some areas that appear quiet now may be evaluated as more hazardous given the intelligence on political actors and their activities. So some factors and dimensions can alter such analytics, some of these can be moving targets as the electoral ambience changes.
“Painfully, the unhappy truth about our tragic situation is the fact that the political elite is behind so many of the worrying tendencies threatening and putting our democracy at risk.
It’s unfortunate that those who didn’t raise a finger when the journey of this country and the prospect of democracy were less certain during the long fight for democracy are the ones responsible for all these disturbing tendencies.”
He also commented on the calls for a referendum in some parts of the country.
Igini stated, ” I listened to an audio recording in circulation on social media, in which one of the people involved in the violence, is saying they want a referendum, yet INEC is talking of an election. You can see a clear exhibition of a lack of understanding of the issues they are agitating about and the danger of ill-informed individuals now acting as philosophers.
“Why attack the body that is solely responsible for the conduct of election and referendum in the country? The killing of the INEC employees that will conduct a referendum that you are even calling for if granted is despicable. It is only INEC that has the statutory responsibility to conduct a referendum, so why kill the staff and destroy the commission’s property? This is nothing but crass ignorance. If a referendum that this group is calling for is granted, which body will conduct it and with which materials?
He also explained security arrangements during elections.
The REC said, “The idea of security personnel not being allowed to carry arms within polling units, during election management, is to create an atmosphere devoid of fear; the need to avoid shooting people under the guise of what they call accidental discharge. Voters’ rights and access must not be fettered so that freely they can exercise their franchise.
“However, there is a circle of higher arm-bearing security protection around the perimeter of election venues that can be called into action if the need arises. They ensure that armed persons usually political thugs are restricted from access to polling units.”
Igini also explained that the number of security agents that would be required would depend on the security assessment of specific areas.
He stated, “That (the number of security agents) will depend on the risk assessments as they affect different areas. Given what we now see, it may be necessary for security agencies to put in additional early-warning security as well as response and recovery measures, the use of devices such as drones with control centres, among others.”