Ahead of the first set of elections, arsonists went on the rampage, burning offices of the Independent National Electoral Commission in some states and destroying, in the process, electoral materials and uncollected Permanent Voter Cards. These evil acts, which occurred almost simultaneously, can hardly be happenstance.
Arson is a criminal offence under the Criminal Code Act Sections 443 to 446. Therefore, offenders should be subjected to the law. States affected by this act of hooliganism are Abia, Anambra, Plateau, Akwa Ibom and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. A total of 4,696 Smart Card Reader machines were destroyed at INEC’s office in Awka, while its office in Qua’an Local Government Area, Plateau State, was reduced to rubble.
The fire incident at Isiala Ngwa INEC office, Abia State, reportedly occurred at 2 am, a time that removes any doubt about the criminal motive. Being the second episode, having also occurred in the build-up to the 2015 governorship election, it should get the security agencies cracking. The inferno at INEC’s Electoral Institute, Abuja, only consumed old materials used in the 2011 polls, just as the commission’s 11 operational vehicles were set ablaze in Akwa Ibom State.
However, these attacks resulted in the loss of 8,966 PVCs, 14 generators and 755 ballot boxes, buses and 4,695 card reader machines, among others. The burnt card reader machines have been replaced; certainly not the PVCs. This means that their owners will be disenfranchised. These sporadic conflagrations raise a lot of questions about the integrity of the electoral process and safety of INEC personnel on election days. Security agencies should not allow these arsonists to reduce Nigeria’s election to that of Democratic Republic of Congo, whose presidential election in December was preceded by the burning of the electoral commission’s warehouse in Kinshasa. About 7,000 out of 10,000 voting machines for the polls were destroyed.
In Nigeria, blame nobody for this undemocratic behaviour except the politicians, who, in their desperation to win at all costs, mobilise and pay hoodlums to commit heinous crimes. Rigging of polls takes many forms; the destruction of PVCs in a given area, undoubtedly, smacks of an orchestrated plot to undermine the chances of a party or candidate, weighed to be stronger in an electoral constituency. If PVCs are not destroyed or stolen, campaign posters and hoardings are either defaced or removed. After 20 years of sustained democratic experiment, the country ought to have overcome these malevolent imprints in its electoral system.
Therefore, the law enforcement agencies should rise up to the occasion by ensuring that all those involved in the pre-election malfeasance are brought to book. Anambra State is one of Nigeria’s notorious electoral flashpoints. For instance, the state’s Election Tribunal said in respect of the 2007 polls, “A ward…where only 2,089 voters registered, INEC declared 7,226 votes.” This is an abracadabra that politicians accustomed to subverting the will of the people are trying again to impose on the country’s electoral process.
Attahiru Jega, the INEC chairman who superintended over the 2011 and 2015 elections, ostensibly in a postscript to his tenure, said clearly: “Our political arena increasingly resembled a bloody battleground with many maiming, killings and unimaginable destruction of lives and property.” This should not be allowed to continue.
In response to the current wave of arson, the acting Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, has ordered tight security around INEC offices throughout the country. This is a basic duty; but the police should go beyond it by apprehending all those adjudged culpable for the fire incidents in the five states in question and deal with them in line with extant laws of the land. It is by so doing that the right message would have been sent, as governorship and state assembly elections would hold soon.
Election maladies such as what have been observed so far were why the Muhammadu Uwais panel on electoral reforms recommended the setting up of a special commission to handle electoral offences. The proposal was a sequel to the 2007 electoral debacle. Local and foreign observers condemned the poll for its deficiency in even minimum standards.
INEC clearly stated in the last general election that it lacked the capacity to legally cope with electoral offences. Therefore, President Muhammadu Buhari’s government should consider the implementation of the Uwais report that made far-reaching recommendations on electoral reforms. This will be the best way to give meaning to his splenetic outburst on Monday to the effect that the police and military personnel should deal ruthlessly with thugs who might want to instigate violence or snatch ballot boxes during the elections.
Nigeria is considered a leader on the African continent. It should demonstrate this by handling a seamless democratic transition. It is a devotion that Ghana, South Africa and even our immediate neighbours, Benin Republic and Togo, have excelled in. The country should join the league.