Posted by News Express | 1 June 2021 | 878 times
By JOHN NWOKOCHA
The spate of destruction of offices of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in the country, by arson, especially in the South-East is troubling.
The seemingly coordinated attacks are a dangerous dimension to the terrorism challenge facing the country. This scary uprising is worsening the insecurity situation across the country, and claiming hundreds of lives in its wake.
And, unless, a drastic action is taken by the Federal Government to checkmate the spread, the security agencies may sooner than later be overwhelmed.
Judging from the unfolding scenario, the act of torching INEC offices, which started like a one-off happenstance now appears as an orchestrated plot by self-seeking but inconsequential few, with a hidden mission.
What do they want? What do they intend to achieve? If they are disgruntled, how is burning of election umpire’s offices the right way to unleash their bitterness?
Over the past years, political actors have been found with a secret agenda to unsettle the polity. Since the ’90s down the years, some politicians have been caught in the desperate acts, including setting important public buildings on fire in order to cover their past deeds. They are not alone. They find willing tools among idle youths and even staff of the organisations. They, with insider collaborators, set public facilities ablaze, mainly to burn secret and useful documents linking them to corruption. These corrupt politicians have been linked to attacks on INEC facilities, in protest against election results.
On February 23, 2019, INEC office in Oriade Local Government Area of Osun State was attacked at 3:00 AM, by suspected ballot box snatchers who burnt down the facility.
In October 2020, some hoodlums vandalised and ransacked the INEC office in Arochukwu LGA, Abia state.
On Thursday, September 10, 2020, about four weeks before the Ondo State governorship election, about 5,141 card readers were destroyed in a fire at the state head office of the Commission in Akure, the state capital.
In Plateau State, shortly before the 2019 election, the INEC office in Qua’an Pan Local Government Area was engulfed in fire. The fire was allegedly caused by a drunken security man.
Even in the nation’s capital, Abuja, the story is the same. On Friday April 17, 2020, a section of INEC complex in FCT/Abuja was gutted by fire.
The Director of Publicity and Voter Education of INEC, Mr Oluwole Osaze-Uzzi, confirmed the incident, saying that the fire affected the office of the director, Election and Party Monitoring in the building.
On March 9, 2019, thugs reportedly attacked INEC staff in Ezza North Local Government Area of Ebonyi State and carted away sensitive election materials. The thugs stormed INEC's Registration Area Centre (RAC) at Okposi Umuoghara Community Secondary School at about 2:15 AM. The following day, March 10, suspected political thugs set ablaze INEC office in Ngor-Okpala Local Government Area of Imo State.
The suspected hoodlums broke into the office around 2:00 PM, when the collation of results for the governorship and state assembly elections was ongoing, before setting the office on fire. In Rivers State, a similar scenario played out during the collation of election results.
Monday, April 20, 2021, INEC announced that its Data Processing Centre in Kano State was gutted by fire. Also, its office in Essien Udim, Akwa Ibom State suffered an attack by arsonists.
On Sunday night of May 9, 2021, INEC office in Ohafia LGA, Abia State, was set ablaze. The recently renovated INEC office was said have been virtually destroyed. Besides furniture, all electoral materials and office equipment were reportedly damaged.
In Enugu and Anambra states, its headquarters were attacked. Three INEC offices were burnt down the same day in three states of Akwa Ibom, Enugu and Abia by yet to be identified attackers.
Meanwhile, national chairman of INEC, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, has disclosed that the commission has recorded in two years, 41 deliberate attacks on its offices and facilities across the country. Sadly, Imo State topped the list.
The alarming wave of attacks on INEC offices and facilities raises the question as to how the incident will affect future general elections, particularly the 2023 elections.
Lamenting the development, Ms Faith Nwadishi, Executive Director, Centre for Transparency Advocacy, a civil society organisation, said: “This is a dangerous trend; if not checked, it will impede the process of organising the November 6, Anambra State governorship election.”
Nwadishi noted that in recent times the coordinated attacks have affected three states in the South-East in particular.
She listed the episodes: “The INEC office in Ahiazu-Mbaise LGA in Imo State was razed by unknown men, followed by the burning of the Igboeze LGA office in Enugu State. Not enough for the perpetrators, they stormed Udenu office on May 16, 2021 and sustained their dishonorable act with the attack on the INEC headquarters in Enugu where vehicles were burnt and offices ransacked.
“On Sunday night, May 23, 2021, the INEC headquarters in Awka, Anambra State, was invaded and set on fire. It appears that these dastard events are targeted at truncating and sabotaging the forthcoming Anambra election.”
Speaking in the same vein, President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Prof George Obiozor, decried the wave of attacks and growing violence in the region, stressing that this was due to the Igbo quest for the 2023 presidency.
Obiozor made the remarks during a visit of the British Deputy High Commissioner, Peter Thomas, to Ohanaeze Secretariat in Enugu.
The Ohanaeze president expressed sadness over the burning of not only INEC’s facilities, but also, police stations in the region by unknown gunmen and also used the opportunity to clear the air about insinuations that youths from the region are behind the attacks. He stated that people of the South-East were not known for violence, but believes in hard work.
Obiozor added: “The Igbo were the most exemplary in peace and security as well as the most organised with a vigorous grassroots economic activity until most recently. The Igbo are a unique set of people in terms of hard work, ingenuity, perseverance and inventiveness.”
He said the violence in the zone was giving the Igbo a bad name.
Also expressing worry over the incessant attacks on INEC’s facilities in the region, governor of Imo State, Hope Uzodinma, challenged INEC to search within itself for the perpetrators. He alleged that its former national commissioner should be quizzed over the attacks. He insists that a proper investigation will unmask the perpetrators.
Speaking on the issue, the Presidency assures that burning of INEC offices and police stations in the South-East will not stop the 2023 general elections. Presidential Spokesman, Garba Shehu, said last week that burning of INEC offices and police stations won’t stop the 2023 elections.
But Festus Okoye, INEC’s National Commissioner on Voter Education, has already warned that its preparations for the 2023 general election may suffer a huge set-back.
Against this backdrop, Nwadishi said her organisation is in sync with INEC’s call for declaration of state of emergency to protect INEC’s property.
She said: “We support INEC’s call for the Federal Government to declare a security emergency and define a definite strategy to protect INEC’s properties and personnel not only in the South-East but across the nation.”
Also, Nwadishi’s CSO charges all stakeholders and Nigerians, indeed, to rally INEC in its important duty of organising general elections in the country. The CSO equally tasks the National Orientation Agency (NOA) to up its game in educating the citizens on the importance of supporting INEC by protecting INEC offices and personnel with the aim of sustaining democratic process and good governance in Nigeria.
It is imperative that Nigerians should care about INEC’s facilities across the country, as they should do to all public buildings. Because they were built with their monies deducted from taxes.
Perhaps, the desperate politicians are bent on rubbishing INEC’s track records under Professor Yakubu, so far, by causing tension in the polity. How will destruction of the nation’s election body facility help to realize their ambition? Whatever is their grand plot, the Federal Government must rise urgently to the occasion.
This trend must not be allowed to continue unchecked. In destroying public property to settle scores, the perpetrators must be brought to justice because this is a serious crime against the Nigeria state, probably worse than corruption. It is both unpatriotic and treasonable.
But the conspiracy of the arsonists and their sponsors will neither undermine nor derail Mahmood Yakubu. He would not be stopped.
While the government is finding measures to address the development, Nigerians must rise and protect INEC facilities in the country. They cannot afford to watch nor look away. Because, it’s erroneous to think it’s not their headache or say it’s public property. In the event of rebuilding the wantonly destroyed facilities, the citizens would ultimately bear the brunt.
•Nwokocha is News Express Managing Editor, Nation’s Capital.
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