Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has said that the continuous burning of its offices in some states should be regarded as a national emergency.
INEC National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Mr. Festus Okoye, said in a statement yesterday that the commission held an emergency session Monday, as attacks on its facilities in some states of the federation continue unabated.
In the latest attack, a total of seven Toyota Hilux vans belonging to the commission were burnt down in a Sunday night attack on its headquarters in Awka, Anambra State.
The commission’s collation centre and storehouse containing over 50 generating sets and other equipment were also razed.
It also lost valuable assets in the attacks carried out by hoodlums on its local government offices in Enugu and Imo states on Sunday.
Reacting to the incident, the commission said the attacks were systematic.
It added: “The attacks on the commission’s facilities have now become a national emergency. Accordingly, the commission will brief the government and stakeholders on these incidents.”
Despite the setbacks, Okoye said the commission was determined to continue to discharge its responsibilities, including the conduct of the scheduled Anambra State governorship election.
He said in the latest incidents, three offices of the commission were attacked in Anambra, Imo, and Enugu States.
According to him, the Resident Electoral Commissioners (REC) for Anambra State, Dr. Nkwachukwu Orji; his Imo State counterpart, Professor Francis Ezeonu, and that of Enugu State, Mr. Emeka Ononamadu, have reported that the attacks took place at various times on Sunday night.
For Anambra State, Okoye said: “The state headquarters office in Awka was set ablaze in the most devastating onslaught on the commission’s facilities so far.
“The attackers were systematic and selective in their targets. The Pavillion, which serves as a collation centre during major elections was burnt down. In what is a major blow to our preparations for the governorship election scheduled for November 6, 2021, two stores housing electoral materials were burnt down.”
He stated that new and old (but serviceable) electric generating machines, numbering 376 for all the electoral wards and the extra numbers for backup were burnt.
He said the generators were recently relocated from the local government areas to the state headquarters in the belief that it is more secured than the LGA offices.
On Imo State, Okoye said INEC’s office in Ahiazu Mbaise Local Government Area was attacked about 6.45 pm in an obvious attempt to set the building ablaze.
But the damage was limited to a section of the building, specifically the windows and part of the roof as “no electoral materials or office equipment were destroyed.”
In Enugu State, Okoye said: “At about 1.00 pm yesterday (Sunday), our Igboeze South LGA office was attacked. The store was completely burnt down before the Neighborhood Watch and the Enugu State Fire Service responded and prevented the inferno from razing other parts of the building.
“This is the third attack on INEC facilities in the state in less than two weeks following the destruction of our Udenu LGA office on 13th May 2021 and the state headquarters building in Enugu on 16th May 2021.”
Meanwhile, the police have recovered three Hilux vans used by the attackers of the commission’s headquarters in Anambra State, after the gunmen abandoned them due to the police operatives’ superior firepower.
The three vans sighted by THISDAY at the INEC headquarters were unregistered.
While one of the vans was shot at by the police, another ran into an electric pole while trying to escape and was demobilised.
The third was abandoned by the attackers.
Anambra State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Chris Owolabi, who led journalists to inspect the affected facility, said the police registered over 90 per cent success in combating the attackers.
“The hoodlums first went to “B” Division Police Station and were repelled; then they came to INEC and our men repelled them too.
“I can tell you that we recorded about 95 per cent success. There were no casualties on the part of the police. I want to appeal to journalists to report carefully because we read where people reported that scores of policemen were killed.
“Since last night, we have been moving from hospital to hospital, because we are sure some of the attackers escaped with serious wounds. We are appealing to hospital management to help us track them.
“I want to plead with Anambra people to go about their legal activities,” he added.
Eight rifles, consisting of AK-47 and pump-action, were recovered from the attackers, including live ammunition and clothing items.
INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) in Anambra State, Dr. Nkwachukwu Orji, who addressed the journalist, expressed happiness about the success recorded in repelling the attackers.
“The damage is very minimal; we lost six operational vehicles; they also burnt our collation centre and a part of our storehouse. It would have been worse, but I thank the police for their efforts,” he stated.
Chuks Okocha in Abuja and David-Chyddy Eleke in Awka