As the country inches closer to January 25, the day for the presidential and National Assembly elections, Nigerians have serious concerns about the capability of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to deliver a hitch-free election.
The country’s electoral umpire until this moment maintains that it is capable and ready to conduct free, fair and credible elections.
At any rate, no one is doubting INEC’s capacity, given that it had delivered on its mandate in polls held in the last few years (as seen in the Edo and Osun governorship elections) in a clinical fashion that won the confidence of Nigerians.
What is worrisome for Nigerians, however, is the tense atmosphere in the country which is capable of scuttling INEC’s best efforts and voters’ determination to elect new leaders.
With just 48 hours to D-Day, two major challenges threatening the peaceful conduct of the Saturday poll are the worsening insecurity in parts of the country, especially the South East, and the choking naira redesign policy recently introduced by the Central Bank of Nigeria that has inflicted new hardship on the citizenry.
The fears that these challenges may undermine INEC’s efforts are valid and logical.
The incessant targeted attacks on police stations, courts and INEC offices and staff constitute real threats to the election. The cycle of violence by unknown gunmen (and their threat that election will not hold in the South East) has created a climate of fear capable of eroding public morale and with a cumulative effect that could lead to a low turnout on election day.
Over 50 offices of INEC had been attacked in 15 states in four years, with at least 11 of them happening in Imo State alone, seven in Osun, five in each of Akwa Ibom, Enugu and Ebonyi, four in Abia and Cross River, two in Anambra, Taraba, Borno, and one in Ogun, Lagos, Bayelsa, Ondo and Kaduna.
As the polls draw nearer, the attacks intensify, despite the efforts of security organisations.
In the last 10 days, no less than eight police officers were gunned down in escalated attacks on police divisions in Anambra State. In Imo and Ebonyi states, the orgy of violence targeting opposition political figures across communities continues unabated.
Despite police assurances, the situation is dire enough for Nigerians to worry whether or not a peaceful election can be held in some parts of the country on January 25.
Nonetheless, INEC continues to insist that elections would be held in every part of the country and that no Nigerian would be disenfranchised. The INEC chairman recently reiterated this assurance during a meeting with members of the international election observer Mission led by former South African President, Thabo Mbeki at the Commission’s office in Abuja.
The bases for INEC’s assurances were outlined by Prof Mahmood Yakubu at a crucial meeting with security agencies on Tuesday, January 21, where he avowed: “The commission is encouraged by the assurances of security in all locations, where elections and electoral activities will be conducted and equally importantly, the commission is aware that security agencies [are] going to protect not only our officials and facilities, but also accredited observers, journalists, service providers, and above all the voters themselves.”
Similarly, National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno at the meeting, represented by Sanusi Galadima, also gave a firm assurance of full security for everyone participating in the election.
Indeed, police commands and formations across states, in collaboration with other security agencies, have commenced mobilisation and show-of-force movement meant to bolster public confidence.
As for the other major worry― the cash crunch triggered by the Central Bank of Nigeria’s naira redesign policy, INEC admitted the policy could affect its activities in critical areas that require immediate cash response such as the election logistics services that would be rendered by the “unbank” citizens and thus required cash for service delivery.
But CBN last week assured INEC of its total support in making cash available for logistics when Prof Yakubu led a delegation to the apex bank to seek support in addressing the challenge posed by the naira policy.
CBN Governor Godwin Emefiele at the meeting assured that the apex bank will provide the support needed for INEC to pay for its logistics and deliver a successful election.
It is hoped that this development and others going on behind the scene between both bodies, will ameliorate the situation but their effectiveness will not be known until the day of the elections.
In the meantime, public sentiment about INEC’s preparedness for the polls is cautionary at best and built mostly on hope.
Dr Ejike Orji, a member of All Progressives Congress, APC, and a senior special adviser to the Federal Capital Territory Minister, told DAILY POST: “At every turn of the road going to this election they (INEC) have always said they are ready. Just yesterday, one of the officials said that they have distributed nonsensitive materials to all the local government areas and so remaining the nonsensitive materials which would be delivered at the last minute.”
He added: “Regarding the cash crunch and transportation, anybody that knows how government processes work, all the vehicles that would pick those materials. I’m sure the contracts would have been done before now and the government doesn’t pay you in advance. The government pays you after you’ve done the job and if they’re going to give you money, they’re going to pay you electronically.”
“And if it is petrol to fuel the vehicles or even diesel, if you go into any filling station you can pay with your ATM card to buy fuel.”
As far as he is concerned, INEC is ready for the election.
“Prof Yakubu has on countless occasions said they are ready for this election unless something else happens. So, nobody will give an excuse that the cash crunch will stop the election based on INEC facts,” he submitted.
Okpokwu Ogenyi, Convener, Concerned APC Members and Civil Society Directorate, also avowed that INEC has done all it should do, but there are still areas of concern.
“INEC needs cash for logistics and some ad hoc activities; I’m not sure if INEC has received such physical cash,” he noted.
He further said: “I must tell you that comparing the preparations for the 2023 election to that of 2019, there’s a wide gap. By this time in 2019, all the sensitive materials have been moved and every other thing was moving. So for INEC to cry out less than two weeks to the election that they don’t have cash for logistics movements, it shows that there may be hiccups here and there for the commission.”
He concluded that INEC needs to make a public statement before the election day.
“INEC should come out and tell us whether they have been able to access money from CBN or not. We need that from INEC,” he said.
As security agents continue the hunt for the shadowy unknown gunmen and work round the clock to remove agents of destabilisation from the election equation, Nigerians across political divides are in one accord in their determination to vote at the polls on January 25.
The ball is in INEC’s court to get its act together and conduct a credible election that will be judged favourably by posterity.