Insurgency, which is being perpetrated by Boko Haram in the North-East, has provoked serious concerns about how the Independent National Electoral Commission will conduct next month’s general election there. The commission insists, however, that elections will hold in the zone, subject to a security clearance. The Federal Government must do everything possible for this to happen, as it is in Nigeria’s best interest.
The governors of Yobe, Borno and Adamawa states underscored this in their demand to President Goodluck Jonathan at an expanded emergency security meeting in Abuja. Governor Ibrahim Geidam of Yobe State told State House correspondents after the meeting, “The troops that we have on (the) ground in our various states are not enough to contain the situation. So, we have appealed to the Federal Government to deploy additional troops with full equipment to contain the situation … Elections will hold; that is the position of the electoral commission and definitely in all these areas where insurgency exists.”
Boko Haram jihadists’ campaigns since 2009 have made these states the most insecure in the country, almost ungovernable, forcing the government to declare a state of emergency in May 2013 in the three North-East states. Relentless bombings and gun attacks, targeted at schools, marketplaces, worship centres, motor parks, the police and the military have left in their trail carnage of unspeakable proportions. Just last week, while soldiers put up a scant fight before abandoning their base and leaving residents defenceless, the terror group launched its most appalling devastation in Baga, killing more than 2,000 people.
Obviously, conducting elections in these troubled states is a real challenge to both INEC and our military. They cannot afford to fail. To fail would mean strengthening the fundamentalists. This is why the President must respond swiftly to the governors’ request for more soldiers in the area.
But deploying ill-equipped, ill-motivated and under-fed troops, whose allowances would not be paid as and when due or are corruptly slashed by their superiors as being alleged, will definitely undermine the objective of ensuring order that would guarantee holding of elections there. We believe that more local government areas under the jihadists’ control could be recovered to make it possible for more citizens in these areas to participate in the February polls.
No sovereign nation capitulates to insurgents, especially during elections. This is why the military might of the state was unleashed on the insurgents in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and even in Mali during their recent polls.
In Afghanistan, for instance, one of the voters in the June 2014 presidential election, Hikmatullah Shadman, a businessman based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, who flew to Kabul, the Afghan capital, to vote, said, “We want to show them we are the owners of this country; we are the people who are choosing the leader of our country.” Nigeria has no choice but to learn from these countries, some of which even have more turbulent political and security climates than ours.
Pakistan too, won the war against the Talibans who attempted to intimidate its citizens out of the election by the massive deployment of 91,000 troops that helped to deliver 650 tons of ballots to polling centres and keep the outlaws in check.
Here, a lot really depends on Jonathan and his service chiefs. They have to end the frequent freezing of our soldiers in the face of attacks from the jihadists. The latest of such disgrace in Baga, the base of a multi-national force, saw soldiers from Chad and Niger Republic fleeing home.
The electoral body should do everything in its powers to nip in the bud anything that might wilfully disenfranchise the North-East voters. INEC began the Permanent Voter Card distribution in Borno State on Friday. From the initial 12 LGAs, which Tukur Sa’ad, Borno State’s out-going Resident Electoral Commissioner had said the PVCs will be distributed, it has now been reduced to just two LGAs. The remaining 25 LGAs have reportedly been seized by the insurgents.
The REC on Friday said, “The issuance of PVC to registered voters and the CVR (Continuous Voter Registration) will take place in Maiduguri and Jere LGA considered relatively safe now.” One account says that 13 LGAs in Yobe State were also allegedly under the Islamists control. Adamawa State might also have its own share of this bizarre case.
With the PVC distribution in just two out of 27 LGAs in Borno State, it is apparent that more than 90 per cent of its indigenes are already disenfranchised. Included in this category also are residents that fled the state as the security situation spiralled out of control. Many of them live in Bauchi, Abuja and other states they consider safe, as Internally Displaced Persons.
But there are some IDPs in camps in Yobe, Borno and Adamawa states, which INEC had before now started considering how to assist to discharge their civic duty. Late in December, INEC Chairman, Attahiru Jega, set up a task force that included the RECs of these states to explore its workability. According to Kayode Idowu, the INEC chairman’s spokesman, in a statement, the task force will “review the experience of other jurisdictions in dealing with the challenge of IDP voting.” The modality for this engagement should be released without further delay for other relevant authorities that might be involved to start preparing in earnest.
The indigenes of Adamawa, Yobe and Borno states must be helped to live their dreams of taking part in the forthcoming elections.