The attacks and consequent destruction visited on the offices of the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) across the country, particularly the Southeast, is a cause for grave concern, considering also that the nation’s next general elections is less than 22 months away. By the latest count, about 41 of the electoral commission’s offices and other valuables had been burnt or vandalised in the last two years.
According to INEC, the attacks occurred in 14 states between February 2019 and May 2021. Imo State topped the log with the most attacks during the period under review.
“These are attacks as a result of election-related violence, protests unrelated to elections and activities of thugs and unknown gunmen,” INEC chairman, Mahmud Yakubu, said.
These attacks pose a threat to the country’s nascent democracy and should be condemned by all, while the relevant security authorities should do all within its power to bring the culprits to face the law. While Nigerians may have been critical of the role played by INEC in the conduct of elections, it is, however, without any doubt that the electoral body is very significant to the sustainability of the nation’s democracy. Tumultuous as it may have been, it fares better when paired against the bitter days of military dictatorship.
The commission has, over the years, had to grapple with inadequate budgetary funding, even though it needs to be more innovative to align its expenses with Nigeria’s economic realities. Not minding the cost of conducting elections, which is enormous by itself, now the body would have to factor in the cost of replacement of these items now destroyed by criminal elements in the country.
While Nigeria is considered to be one of the worst countries in the continent with a case of voter apathy due to the abysmal turnout during its general elections, the most populous black nation is equally renowned for its enormous expense on the conduct of these elections, which is fraught with a number of irregularities. For instance, the 2019 general elections was reported to have cost the nation over N242 billion. Yet, there were reported cases of irregularities and other electoral malpractices in some quarters, which questioned the integrity of the exercise. One can only imagine the outcome of an election conducted by an electoral body the vast majority of whose facilities have been destroyed.
The implication of vandalism of public facilities is the necessity to replace such facilities with funds that would have, otherwise, been directed towards the development of other critical areas such as, road and housing infrastructure; areas where the nation still suffers huge deficit. For instance, the Lagos State government had reported that it would require N1trn to rebuild public properties and other infrastructures destroyed by hoodlums during the #EndSARS protest. A single fire incident at the INEC, Akure Office, sometime, in September 2010, destroyed about 5,141 Electronic Card Readers worth close to a billion naira. Unfortunately, funds for the purchase of these items and their replacements constitute the labour of tax payers who already lament the poor state of infrastructure in the country in spite of tax remissions received by the government.
The situation also calls to question the efficiency of the country’s security agencies. The Police need to be proactive and do more in the areas of crime prevention and where they happen, deploy its personnel and other resources to ensure thorough investigation and prosecution of offenders to serve as deterrence to others. It is quite disturbing to note that none of the perpetrators involved in the attacks and destruction of these public facilities have been apprehended let alone prosecuted.
Nigeria currently faces, perhaps, its worst case of insecurity and other forms of unrest with threat of secession by various groups; it, therefore, stands to reason that adequate measures should be put in place to safeguard critical government installations.
Nigerians have been rightly critical of the performance of the electoral umpire in times past, considering its flip-flop performance on which stakeholders have, however, observed an improvement judging by the commission’s outing in the Edo and Ondo state governorship elections. The commission has promised to do even better if the challenges posed by its enabling law are addressed with the review of the Electoral Act. Well meaning Nigerians are already looking forward to a fair and credible electoral process as would enable them vote the candidate of their choice and it will be disheartening to allow criminal elements in the midst of law-abiding citizens to truncate a process to which an enormous amount of state resources has been devoted. The idea of treating public properties as belonging to no one should be discouraged. Nigerians should, therefore, consider the preservation, safeguarding and defence of critical government infrastructure, particularly those of INEC, as the preservation of the nation’s democracy, development and unity. Security is everybody’s business.