In a move to protect the Independent National Electoral Commission assets ahead of the 2023 election, the Federal Government has deployed the Department of State Services’ personnel, soldiers, civil defence corps operatives as well as Federal Fire Service personnel in INEC offices nationwide.
It has also directed the security services to enhance intelligence gathering, sharing and utilisation of the same to stem acts of political violence which have assumed an increasing dimension in recent weeks.
The Inspector-General of Police, Usman Baba, who disclosed these during a meeting with the chairmen of leading political parties at the Force headquarters in Abuja, on Thursday, disclosed that the police recorded 52 violent cases in six weeks.
The meeting, which was attended by the Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, Iyorchia Ayu, the presidential candidate of the African Action Congress, Omoyele Sowore, the National Publicity Secretary of the All Progressives Congress, Felix Morka, and other parties’ chieftains, was sequel to the attacks on the Ogun and Osun state offices of INEC last week and other incidences of physical violence by party supporters in Borno, Kaduna, Zamfara and other states.
Other participants at the meeting included the National INEC Commissioner, Ms May Agbamuche-Mbo; the Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency, Ahmed Abubakar; the DG, Defence Intelligence Agency, Maj Gen. Samuel Adebayo; a representative of the DG, DSS and other paramilitary agencies.
Baba revealed that the NPF would also be working in collaboration with the Nigerian Army, the Department of State Services, the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps and the Federal Fire Service to take decisive lawful action against purveyors of hate speech, incitement to violence, mobilisation of thugs and other violations.
He said, “On our part, and as an outcome of the ICCES meeting, the Nigeria Police Force working in collaboration with other security agencies have resolved to enhance intelligence gathering, share and utilise same to stem acts of political violence; upscale the deployment of security teams to all INEC assets and facilities nationwide with teams drawn from the police, Nigerian Army, Department of State Services, Nigeria Civil and Security Defence Corps and the Federal Fire Service to take decisive lawful action against purveyors of hate speech, incitement to violence, mobilisation of thugs and other violations, including the prompt arrest, investigation, and prosecution of offenders in line with the provisions of Sections 92 and 93 of the Electoral Act 2022 as amended.”
He further declared that those already arrested would face prosecution, noting, however, that despite all these initiatives, it was recognised that the leadership of each political party was critical in eradicating the menace of political intolerance, threat, violence and other negative tendencies in the democratic culture.
IG accuses governors
The police boss also accused some unnamed governors of sponsoring thugs to incite violence.
He vowed to take a decisive lawful action against purveyors of hate speech, incitement to violence, mobilisation of thugs and other violations, including the prompt arrest, investigation, and prosecution of offenders in line with the provisions of Sections 92 and 93 of the Electoral Act 2022 as amended.
The IG stated, “This meeting became expedient following a noticeable trend within the national political space which, if not promptly addressed could evolve into a potent threat to not just our national security but the electoral process.
‘’Drawing from the experiences of the past, electoral violence both in the process leading to an election as well as the fallout of elections, has always constituted the most dangerous threat to our democracy.’’
Speaking further, he said, ‘’Political violence manifests in three forms. First is violence that is targeted at the personnel and assets of the Independent National Electoral Commission as recently witnessed in Ogun and Osun states.
“The second form of political violence manifests in the form of inter-party intolerance and violence which often become particularly pronounced during campaigns, elections and post-elections phases.
“It is on record that not less than 52 cases of such politically-motivated, intra, and inter-party violence have been recorded across 22 states since the official commencement of campaigns for the 2023 general election on 28th September, 2022.
Baba added, “The last form of political violence relates to the conduct of some state governors who manifest traits of political intolerance which often inflame political tension. In this regard, we have been receiving reports of some state governors who encourage political thugs and sub-national security outfits under their control to disrupt seamless and statutorily guaranteed campaign activities of parties or candidates with whom they hold opposing political views.
“In so doing, they deploy their powers and influences to either prevent the mounting of campaign billboards or pull them down, while also denying political opponents of spaces to undertake their campaigns or peaceful political congregations in contravention of the provisions of the Electoral Act 2022 (As amended).’’
Most of the recorded violent incidents or threats, the IG noted, resulted from political extremism, misinformation, intolerance, wrong political orientation, hate speeches, incitement, and the desperation of strategic actors within the political field who often place their parochial political ambitions over and above national security interests and the nation’s stable democratic order.
Such actors, according to him, usually give a wrong direction to their party faithful, arm them, re-orient them and encourage them to resort to the use of threat, violence, and other extra-legal means to frustrate competing political parties and impose their own faulty perception of politicking.
Decrying the politically-motivated violence, the IG recalled that 18 presidential candidates publicly made a firm commitment to the nation to maintain peace and abide by rule of law and the Electoral Act in their political activities with the signing of the Peace Accord on September 29.
He added, “To complement this, Mr. President had at various global and national platforms openly affirmed his commitment to deepen our democratic journey by encouraging the virtues of a peaceful electoral process in which the interests and wishes of the electorates take pre-eminence.
“This, ladies, and gentlemen, is the foundation of democracy, and a deviation from this standard can only engender chaos within the national security space and threaten our democratic heritage.”
Baba vows prosecution
Baba noted that in furtherance to a recent ICCES resolution, the Thursday meeting was convened with the main agenda of engaging the political parties’ leadership on this trend and to present a common front in addressing it in the overriding interest of national security and democracy.
He said, “In so doing, I must clearly emphasise that violence goes beyond politicking, it is a crime that is well captured under extant criminal laws, both in its planning and execution.
‘’If political thugs are armed with any sort of weapons and inspired by any political actor to advance an illegal act including attacking innocent citizens for political purpose or attacking INEC assets and personnel, or any other critical infrastructure in the country, such persons and those orchestrating them stand the risk of being brought to justice for the specific crime associated with their conducts regardless of their political affiliation, status, or ambitions.
“Beyond its impact on the political process, political violence also has a major consequence on our national security. Consequently, the Nigeria Police Force and all other national security agencies in fulfilment of their statutory obligations to the nation, remain duty bound to initiate enforcement actions that will restore order within the political and national security systems.
“Henceforth, therefore, we shall put machinery in motion that will in the most proactive manner identify, isolate, apprehend, and bring any political actor and the foot soldiers they might be motivating to engage in violence at political rallies or any other political engagement to deserved justice.”
The police chief urged INEC to scale up its compliance actions towards complementing the NPF and other law enforcement agencies in checkmating politically-motivated threats and violence.
He also said he was looking forward to an outcome that would address, in the most sustainable manner, the identified negative tendencies threatening the country’s democratic process.
Baba noted, “This requires that INEC should take decisive actions against candidates and parties that violate the Electoral Act in the areas of conduct of political parties, candidates, and other actors in relation to hate speeches; campaign funding regulations; encouraging, supporting, or inciting violence; and depriving political opponents of basic electoral rights guaranteed under the Act.”
The political parties welcomed the measures taken by the security agencies to protect the electoral process and urged the IG to also take the message to the states.
US threatens sanctions
Meanwhile, the United States has said it has no favourite candidate and would not support any political party in the 2023 general election.
The Political Counselor at the American Embassy in Nigeria, Rolf Olson, who stated this on Thursday, also expressed the support of the American government for the deployment of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System and electronic transmission of results for the election by INEC.
Olson, who stated these at the Hubert Humphrey Fellowship Alumni Association Annual Seminar 2022 with the theme, ‘Promoting electoral integrity in Nigeria: Prospects and challenges,’ in Abuja, affirmed that the BVAS and the electronic transmission of vote results sheets were to ensure the integrity of the 2023 poll.
The diplomat expressed the disappointment of the US at the stream of “unproductive criticisms directed at INEC and its officials in recent months, and which only seems to have expanded of late.”
He said, “The United States does not support any individual candidate or party in this election cycle (or for that matter, in any other upcoming election). Our interest is in supporting credible and transparent elections that reflect the will of Nigerian voters, in a process that is conducted peacefully. Full stop.’’
The US government threatened to impose sanctions, including visa restrictions on anyone who interferes with the democratic process or instigates violence in the 2023 general election.
“Individuals seeking to undermine the democratic process, including through violence, may be found ineligible for visas to the United States. We have imposed visa restrictions in the past against those responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic process, and remain fully willing to do so again in the context of the upcoming elections,’’ Olson warned.
He revealed that the US was impressed by the commitment, evenhandedness, and diligence exhibited by INEC thus far in the election cycle.
He added while nobody needed to forfeit their right to express legitimate concerns about the process or about the conduct of INEC, the rhetoric attacking INEC’s motives or overall competence is unhelpful.
Olson advised political parties, candidates, and their supporters to avoid language that tries to “guarantee” victory, adding that there is no true democratic election in which the outcome could be foretold.
Speaking further on the BVAS, Olson maintained that one of the most critical steps in conducting credible elections is confirming that the individual standing at the polling unit attempting to vote is who they say they are.
The BVAS, according to him, virtually eliminates the possibility of any systematic effort to replace real voters with impostors.
“It has not yet been used on a national scale, only in the off-cycle governorship and other elections in the past year or so and we encourage INEC to make every effort to provide the training necessary to ensure its smooth operation on election day,’’ he said
INEC National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus, Okoye, said that 176, 846 BVAS would be deployed in all polling units in the country.
He, however, said the commission would make available at least two BVAS devices as back up to each of the 8,809 registration areas.
Okoye said INEC is faced with the huge challenge of protecting its platforms and assets ahead of the 2023 elections.
Reps demand security
Meanwhile, the National Security Adviser, Major General Babagana Monguno (retd.), on Thursday, urged the House of Representatives to work with the security agencies towards ending the pains Nigerians suffer from the growing insecurity in the country.
Monguno said this while leading heads of the Intelligence community to defend their respective 2023 budget proposals before the House Committee on National Security and Intelligence.
The Chairman of the House Committee on National Security and Intelligence, Ibrahim Sharada, earlier in his welcome address, charged the security agencies with providing a safe environment for the conduct of the 2023 general elections.
Sharada said, “We are calling on you to put more efforts at ensuring a secured Nigeria especially before, during and after forthcoming elections. The role of the government in ensuring the corporate unity of Nigeria and sustainable internal security especially in recent times cannot be over emphasised.”