By Levinus Nwabughiogu
Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof Mahmood Yakubu has said that the 2023 general elections were in danger should the incessant attacks on their offices and facilities continue unabated.
Acknowledging that the commission can replace some destroyed essentials, the chairman said that there was a limit to which the attacks could stretch them. Yakubu spoke at the commencement of an investigative hearing of the Ad-hoc Committee of the House of Representatives investigating the attacks on offices and the facilities of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC on Friday in Abuja.
The House of Reps committee had also expressed its displeasure with the office of the Attorney General of the federation, for saying it has not received any request for the prosecution of suspects responsible for the attacks on INEC offices.
Yakubu said: “We are determined and we will continue with our preparations for the 2023 general elections. So far, all the facilities would be rebuilt or alternatives found and materials would be replaced. However, should such attacks continue at the pace at which they are happening at the moment, the Commission may find it increasingly difficult to recover in time for the election. If it is about stopping the attacks, yes we can recover, but if the attacks continue, it would be very difficult for the commission to recover. That is why concerted efforts to stop these attacks have become imperative and we hope this public hearing would contribute to the required outcome.
“The attacks have far-reaching implications on preparation for the general elections. First, the facilities that are destroyed, especially offices, would take time to rebuild. They are not like items of procurement that you can procure off the shelf. So, an alternative arrangement has to be made. So, in some of the states, in addition to these malicious attacks, and other matters that have arisen as a result of fire and flooding, we would have to make alternative arrangements by renting. In some places, we can find facilities to rent. In some of the remote areas, we may not find facilities to rent. So, we have to look for alternatives to damaged facilities.
“Secondly several materials lost would have to be replaced. In the recent attacks, some of the PVCs, for instance, were lost. But for the PVCs, we have instructed our state offices to send the Voter Identification Numbers of the PVCs lost so we can reprint them. We can, from our database, quickly regenerate and reprint the cards so that citizens are not disenfranchised.
“The commission and security agencies must also continue to provide safety around the facilities and this, as I said earlier, may be very challenging, because the security agencies are also protecting all of us and other national assets.
“Now, we have to rebuild the facilities and our funds are overstretched by a number of factors. We cannot continue to replace and rebuild. And what is even more worrisome for us is the attack in Izzi LGA of Ebonyi State. The building was first attacked on 18th may 2012. We found the resources in our election project plan budget to rebuild the office and we did so. We rebuilt the office and our staff moved in on Friday. That weekend on Sunday, the office was burnt down again and there are five such offices nationwide where in spite of our best efforts, the facility was attacked not only once but twice. We have five offices in which even after rebuilding or trying to rebuild, the offices were attacked again.”
Responding to the committee’s displeasure with the office of the Attorney General of the federation for not arresting and prosecuting suspects, the Deputy Director in charge of Prosecution at the office of Attorney General Yusuf Abdullahi told the lawmakers that no formal request for that had been made.
He said: “The office of the Attorney General is in charge of the prosecution, whether IG, DSS or other security agencies. As far as the office is concerned, we have not formally received any request for prosecution. That is the content of our letter. But however, as soon as we receive, whether terrorism, banditry, or attacks, once we receive, we will commence an action and prosecute.”
But the Chairman of the Committee, Hon Taiwo Oluga was not satisfied.
“Are you saying since we have been having these incessant attacks, your office has not received any request for prosecution? Are you saying that from 2019 the office of the Attorney General has not received, from the police or INEC, any request to prosecute anybody? That means they have not made an arrest. I said something, when a crime keeps going without punishment, it grows with impunity and the office of the attorney general is the only one that can help us once they are apprehended, prosecuted and punished.
“You know the argument of the Committee is that the office of the AGF is before Nigerians and telling Nigerians that you have not received any. If you have received, how many? If you are coming before this committee, you are supposed to have been prepared to let Nigerians know that you have been working.
“What we would do to move on is that we are going to take you on a separate day. Because you are not ready for us. Even from your submission, you are not ready for us. Unfortunately, we only have three weeks to complete this assignment. We would write to you again and you will forward your submission so we can marry it with the report we would give to the House”, she said.
In his presentation, the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Usman Baba Alkali attributed the attacks to the clandestine acts of some politicians and secessionist groups in the South East and South West.
Represented by DIG in charge of the Department of Operations, Dandaura Mustapha, the IGP said: “The Nigeria police being the lead agency in internal security and elections generally are always at the receiving end. Whatever happens — it is the duty of the police to protect here and there.
“When INEC finally made campaigns open — the campaigns commenced and what we realized initially was inter and intra-party dispute. We realized that members of political parties were destroying billboards, posters, and the destruction of campaign offices in some parts of the states. We quickly alerted the commissioner of police in charge of the commands and gave them a clear directive that it is the right of every political party to go to all the nooks and crannies of society and campaign.
“It is a constitutional right, so why will a state governor or any state actor prevent political parties from moving about to do their campaigns? Of recent, one took place in Osun and Ogun, and then last week in Ebonyi, Imo and Enugu.
“What we discovered is that — we all know in this country, it is a well-known fact that in the south-east geo-political zone we have issues of secessionists — the IPOB and ESN. These groups are bent on stopping elections from taking place in the southeast.
“They have been attacking and killing our personnel. They have been retrieving arms from members of the security agencies, not only the police — the military and other paramilitary organisations that are there.
“They have been doing it, especially now that the embargo on campaigns has been lifted. The election is approaching very fast and they are putting much pressure to see that these elections do not hold in the south-east political zone.
“In the south-west, we equally have the pro-Yoruba secessionists that are equally bent on not allowing election to take place in their areas, hence the attacks on INEC in Osun and Ogun of recent. Those ones are also sponsored by politicians and other stakeholders.