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Nigeria: If Attacks on Our Offices Persist, Polls May Be Jeopardised, INEC Says

However, the armed forces plan to conduct a show of force across the country.

Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Mahmood Yakubu, on Monday, declared that should the present state of insecurity and attacks on offices of the commission continue, next year’s general election might be threatened.

Mahmood spoke in Abuja at a workshop on “Electoral Violence and Election Security in Nigeria”, organised by the Centre for Strategic Research and Studies of the National Defence College, in collaboration with African Global Empowerment and Development Network.

But to try to reassure citizens of its commitment to security during the polls, the military announced a plan to conduct a show of force across the country as a warning to criminal elements seeking to truncate the elections.

Commandant of the Nigerian Defence College, Rear Admiral Murtala Bashir, called for concerted efforts of stakeholders to rid the electoral system of fifth columnists.

At another workshop on, “Addressing the influence of money on the 2023 general election,” held yesterday in Abuja, the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU), Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), and Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), and INEC warned political parties and politicians against vote-buying, saying if caught they would face the full weight of the law.

Speaking at the workshop, Mahmood said the spate of attacks on INEC offices might affect the coming elections.

He stated, “The commission is preparing and preparing well for the 2023 general election. We recorded some reverses in some of the states of the federation in relation to attacks in some of our facilities due to the destruction of ballot boxes and voting cubicles and permanent voters’ cards. We have the capacity to recover.

“Since the 2019 general elections, up till 2022, we have recorded 50 attacks in 15 states of the federation, but the ones we recorded in 2022 are the ones we consider as systematic and coordinated and these are the ones that are targeted at derailing the preparations of the commission from conducting a free, fair, transparent and credible elections.”

The INEC chairman explained, “In our Abeokuta South Local Government office in Ogun Sate, we recorded so much losses, we have moved to a new location. In Izzi in Ebonyi State, we are moving to a new location.

“In all these attacks that have taken place, we have the capacity to recover, we are going to recover, because we are already replacing the permanent voters card, voting cubicles and ballot boxes that were already lost and also trying to rent offices for the ones we cannot repair.”

Mahmood, who was represented by the INEC Commissioner for Information and Voter Education, Festus Okoye, asserted that if the spate of violence continued until  February next year, the electoral umpire might not recover from the attacks.

He said, “But if these attacks go into January and February, it may be difficult for us to recover from these attacks. This is because if you look at section 134 of the Constitution, it has threshold that a candidate must meet before that candidate can be declared winner of any election.

“So we do not want this attacks to continue, we don’t want them to persist but we have the assurance of various security agencies that they are going to dominate the environment and neutralise some of these attacks we are having and that it will not continue.

“We need a safe environment; we need a secure environment to conduct a secure election. The Nigerian people want a secure election, they have embraced democracy, they want a technology-driven election and we are going to conduct an election driven by technology. The Nigerian people want a credible winner to be declared.

“We are going to declare only those, whom the Nigerian people elect. So we do not want any distraction and that is why we have made it very clear to the National Assembly that all INEC offices shall and must be declared priority areas that need adequate protection and safety.”

The military authorities said the armed forces would conduct a show of force across the country as a stern warning to criminally-minded elements that might intend to disrupt the elections.

In his submission at the workshop, Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Faruk Yahaya, said, “The Nigerian Army would conduct a show of force with other agencies, conduct stop and search operations, mobile patrols in vulnerable areas, escort INEC officials, if need be, and do all that is required to ensure peaceful conduct of the election.”

Inspector-General of Police, Usman Baba, stated that all hands must be on deck to mitigate election violence.

“We must join hands to ensure that factors that give rise to electoral violence are contained,” Baba said.

Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Awwal Gambo, said the situation required concerted effort.

Gambo said, “The military needs to organise a show of force. It will serve as a note of warning to criminals and give confidence to voters to come out and vote.”

Commandant of the Nigerian Defence College, Bashir, called for greater synergy among stakeholders to rid the electoral system of subversive elements.

Bashir said, “We must flush bad elements out of our electoral system in order to maintain sanity, credibility and public confidence in our electoral institution. Thus, we must be prepared and be willing to use all appropriate legitimate instruments of national power to confront our political and electoral challenges in a proactive and strategic manner. “Consequently, all hands must be on deck to support INEC in this critical national assignment so as to place our country on the path of democratic advancement for enhanced national security and development.”

Vote Buying: INEC, NFIU, EFCC, Police, ICPC Others Read Riot Act to Political Parties, Candidates

Meanwhile, INEC, Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU), Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), and Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) warned politicians against vote-buying. They all gave the warnings at a workshop on, “Addressing the influence of money on the 2023 general elections,” held in Abuja, yesterday.

The Nigeria Police, Advertising Practitioners Regulations Council of Nigeria (APRCON), and National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) also condemned hate speech by politicians and reeled out actions to tackle it during and after the 2023 general election.

Speaking at the occasion, Director General of NFIU, Modibbo Turkur, who commended the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) over its policy of limiting cash withdrawal and redesigning the currency, revealed that NFIU would seal up all government accounts in early January 2023.

The NFIU boss explained that many of those who engaged in vote buying did so because of free funds at their disposal.

He stressed, “We will also activate our flag up action on all politicians and the accounts of political parties. With the activation and flag up of the accounts, any withdrawals will be alerted and the report will be sent to the relevant agencies for action.

“We don’t arrest, but be rest assured that we will monitor all withdrawals of huge of funds done within the period of the elections. We will also activate flagging of accounts of the candidates of the political parties and others under our radar.

“We will also strengthen the policy of the CBN and with the non-cash banking economy, there would be no going back on our flag up on cash withdrawals and the early warning system.”

He said the financial intelligence unit was investigating over 15,000 transactions on governments’ accounts, adding that all efforts would be made to stop vote-buying in the country.

In his speech, Chairman of EFCC, Abdulrasheed Bawa, represented by his Chief of Staff, Hadiza Gamawa, said all instituted measures against vote buying would be applied during the election period.

The EFCC chairman stressed the need for effective collaboration by all security agencies, while calling on political parties and their candidates to be aware of the provisions of the Electoral Act for four to 14 years jail term on conviction.

He called for full disclosure of all funds meant for political campaigns by the political parties.

On his part, Chairman of ICPC, Bolaji Awansanya, commended the CBN for its new limits on cash withdrawal as well as the new currency redesign policy, explaining that if effectively implemented it would go a long way in checking vote buying during elections.

In his contribution, Inspector General of Police, Usman Baba Alkali, who was represented by the Assistant Inspector General (AIG) Operations, Bala Ciroma, said anyone seen moving with huge sums of money during the election period would be arrested. He also said plain clothes police officers would be deployed during the elections, while covert and overt operations would be used to the ensure that vote buying did not take place

Speaking at the occasion, the chairman of INEC, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, lamented the implications of vote buying, saying that it robs the country of capacity to elect credible leaders.

According to the INEC chairman, “The negative role of money in elections goes to the very heart of our democracy. It destroys the very basis of democratic elections, which is that citizens should freely choose those who exercise power on their behalf.

 “It renders the emergence of the right candidates for positions extremely difficult, undermines fair electoral adjudication and destroys the professional and independent conduct of INEC officials and other public agencies involved in elections. Even more worrisome is the high prospect that criminal money may find its way into our elections through money laundering.

“Above all, the pernicious use of money tremendously increases the likelihood of election violence due to a ‘win at all costs’ mentality among contestants who would have invested a fortune in election.

“Surely, election is not a business venture for profit. Instead, it is an application to serve the people with the understanding that they may prefer someone else on one occasion.

“But then, there would be an opportunity to reapply after four years. Citizens’ choices must never be subverted by the negative use of money.”

The INEC chairman said many Nigerians had demanded to know from the commission what it was doing about the deleterious influence of money in elections, particularly the diabolical purchase of Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) from voters ahead of the election and vote buying at polling units on election days.

He added, “Over the years, we introduced a number of measures, including the slight reconfiguration of our polling units to bring the ballot boxes closer to the voting cubicles to discourage the exposure of the marked ballot papers by voters to vote buyers.

“We also banned the use of smart phones and photographic devices by voters in the voting cubicles. Yet, these measures have recorded limited success.

“Today, we commence yet another initiative to sanitise and strengthen our electoral process. We believe that in dealing with the corruption of our elections by money, the commission cannot do it alone. To succeed, we must mobilise every relevant national institution to support our effort.

“We must rely on the professional and other capacities of cognate agencies in our determination to improve electoral administration in Nigeria. That is why we appreciate the collaboration with the Police, the ICPC, the EFCC as well as the regulatory bodies, such as the NBC and ARCON.

“We welcome the assurances of full collaboration, commitment and partnership of these agencies to credible elections based on their statutory responsibilities. We look forward to their initial ideas about how to deal with the problem when they address us shortly.”

Director General of ARCON, Dr. Olalekan Fadolopa, and Balarabe Shehu of NBC said their offices were presently keeping records of hate speeches and controversial advertisements placed by politicians and the political patties.

 Chuks Okocha and Kingsley Nwezeh in Abuja

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