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Nigeria: Electoral Chairman Worries Over Safety of Staff and Voters During Anambra Poll

Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Mahmood Yakubu, on Tuesday, painted a rather disturbing situation report on the November 6 governorship election in Anambra State, saying never

Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu

Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Mahmood Yakubu, on Tuesday, painted a rather disturbing situation report on the November 6 governorship election in Anambra State, saying never before in nation’s history was the importance of governorship election security as urgent as it is today in Anambra.

The INEC boss, who raised concerns over the deteriorating security situation in the State, also expressed worry over the safety of his staff, voters and security personnel during the November 6 governorship election in the state.

Claiming that the situation in the state had deteriorated from what it was the last time a meeting of stakeholders was held on the Anambra election, Yakubu has requested for some 26,000 more staff to be deployed as well as asking for protection in no fewer than 6,000 locations in the state.

Yakubu spoke at a meeting with security agencies on election matters in Abuja, where the National Security Adviser, Babagana Mungunu, blamed security breaches and the increasing violence on those he described as separatist agitators, further declared that electoral facilities and materials could become targets of attacks during the election.

Meanwhile, the Inspector-General of Police, IGP Usman Alkali Baba, has ordered the removal of the Commissioner of Police (CP) in Anambra State, Tony Olofu and immediately posted Echeng Eworo Echeng as his replacement. Olofu been redeployed to the Force Headquarters, Abuja.

However, speaking on the dire situation in Anambra, Yakubu lamented that never before in Nigeria’s history had the importance of election security in a governorship election been this urgent.

He said, “The Commission is aware that this is by no means an easy task. We appreciate the enormous challenges that the security agencies are presently facing in Anambra State, which entail not only securing the electoral process, but also enforcing law and order generally. This is particularly worrisome because the security agencies have also become prime targets of these mindless attacks.

“It is in the light of these recent and seemingly escalating threats to the election that the Commission has convened this emergency meeting. We will continue to work with the security agencies and in consultation with respected opinion leaders in Anambra State and the National Peace Committee to ensure that these hit-and-run attacks do not derail the electoral process.

“The Commission is particularly concerned about the safety of voters and Election Day staff, including security officials, who have also become the targets of these attacks. The thousands of young Nigerians that we intend to deploy for the election, most of them National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) members and university students, need to be reassured of their personal safety.

“At the same time, deployment for the election will involve the movement of huge consignments of sensitive and non-sensitive materials to the 21 local government areas of the state, 326 wards or registration areas and 5,720 polling units.

“That means over 6,000 locations to be protected. If we add that to about 26,000 officials that will be deployed for the election, we begin to appreciate the magnitude of the challenge of securing the Anambra governorship election, which is only thirty-two (32) days from today.”

He told the security meeting that from the reports INEC had received, the goal of many of the attackers was that the governorship election must not hold.

According to him, “This is worrisome for the Commission. We are deeply concerned that specific electoral facilities and materials could once more become targets of attack. Recall that in May this year, our state office at Awka was attacked and all the non-sensitive materials assembled for the election at the time were destroyed.

“In addition, our store, collation centre and the main office building were either totally or substantially damaged. The Commission also lost several vehicles to be used for the election.”

He said though the commission had almost fully recovered from the attacks, as the destroyed buildings had either been completely repaired or were nearing completion, whilst they had fully replaced the materials destroyed.

He explained that the rapid recovery has only been possible, because the Anambra election was an off-season poll, adding: “We have sourced some of these materials such as the 326 electric generators and vehicles destroyed in the attack from neighbouring states. However, should we again lose vital materials and facilities, the ongoing preparations will be adversely affected.”

He, however, assured the people of Anambra State that the Commission was determined to proceed with the election as scheduled.

To underscore this determination, he said, “The Commission is implementing two more activities on the Timetable for the election in the next few days. The register of voters will be presented to political parties in Awka on Thursday 7th October 2021. On the same day, the Commission will publish the final list of candidates for the election.”

He declared that the commission was confident that at the end of this meeting, it would firm up on specific measures necessary to further guarantee the safety of all persons involved in the election from the voters to election officials, observers, media organisations and the security of election materials.

He informed the security meeting that INEC had received briefings and reviewed preparations for the election, saying, “You may also recall that a major concern raised by members was the security situation in the state in particular and the adjoining states in general and how this might affect preparations and possibly, the conduct of the election.”

Unfortunately, he said the situation has deteriorated markedly since the last meeting as many innocent lives had been lost and property destroyed.

The NSA, Monguno, represented by Sanusi Galadima, said security threat posed by violent activities of separatist groups in the South-East region were bent on scuttling the election in the state in furtherance of their separatist agenda.

This, he claimed, constituted a clear and present danger to the nation’s democratic process and consolidation.

“I wish to state that ONSA is working assiduously with relevant security and intelligence agencies towards arresting the foregoing ugly trend and other associated security challenges in the South East zone and beyond.

“This determination of the presidency is already being translated into action by the recent joint Military operation code-named ‘Golden Dawn’ in the South East as well as other security operations across the country.

“This is in addition to the increasing collaboration between the federal and South East Governors towards addressing the underlying socio-economic drivers of insecurity in the region,” the NSA said.

He reiterated the federal government’s commitment to the protection of lives and property of all law abiding citizens before, during and after the elections, while calling on all peace-loving Nigerians of the South East extraction to join hands with constituted authority to promote peace and development across the region and beyond.

On the change of guard in Anambra, Baba, after redeploying the police chief, also ordered the deployment of a detachment of NPF Special Forces to Anambra to bolster and complement the ongoing peace-building efforts of the Nigeria Police Operation Restore Peace in the state.

The IG, who was particularly concerned about the renewed incidents of attacks on innocent individuals and symbol of state authority, ordered the new commissioner to mobilise both kinetic and non-kinetic law enforcement and crime-fighting approaches to reverse the negative trend, reclaim public spaces from hoodlums and restore public peace in the state.

Echeng, who until his recent posting, was the Commissioner of Police in-charge of Bayelsa State, had his first degree in History from the University of Maiduguri.

An experienced peace-builder, he received extensive training on global peace support operations at Mission Training Cell, Kielce, Poland, amongst other tactical and leadership courses.

He has also served as a Police Component Commander, Joint Task Force, Operation Delta Safe and Deputy Commissioner of Police in-charge of Zonal CID, Zone-13, Ukpo, Anambra State, amongst other key positions.

Baba charged the new Police Chief to work with other stakeholders and patriotic forces in Anambra to restore law and order, leveraging his professional experience, even as he called on Ndi-Anambra to support and cooperate with him in his task to protect the lives and property of all.

Chuks Okocha in Abuja

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