A motley of eminent persons, the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Pastor Enoch Adeboye, among them, and several concerned groups have expressed apprehension recently about the possibility that escalating insecurity in the country might jinx the prospects of the 2023 elections. The basis for their foreboding is not far-fetched, given the accelerating tempo of bloody unrest, killings, escapades, audacious attacks on mass and elite transportation around the country, the Northern part especially. One of the most recent and frightening of these murderous activities of terrorists is the explosion of bombs on the Abuja-Kaduna rail line, the killing of at least eight persons as well as the carting off to a hideout of no less than a hundred passengers. As we speak, most of these hapless passengers are still in captivity with the terrorists alternately demanding ransom and threatening to kill all of them if ransom is not expeditiously paid to them.
Rising statistics of victims apart, there is something tawdry and unwholesome about a gang of hoodlums holding the Nigerian state to ransom with the state looking helpless or wearing the face of helplessness in what has become a characteristic scenario. The Kaduna attack was especially worrying, partly because the city is one of the most fortified urban centres in Nigeria and because there was a concerted onslaught on road, rail and air transportation within a number of days. Of course, going by road from Abuja to Kaduna has always been a distressing, often fatal option with many losing their lives or ending up in the kidnappers’ den. But attacks on railways and the Kaduna airport are novel, drawing the lament from many whether there is a plan to seal off Kaduna from the rest of the country in order to make it extremely vulnerable.
There are several contending theories about how Nigeria came to this treacherous pass; some argue that what is playing out is a consequence of an incapable state which has over time underdeveloped its institutions of law enforcement, others maintain that insider collaboration with terrorists is a potent factor, considering how easily entry was made for example to the elite military institution, the Nigerian Defence Academy. This latter theory has been blown up in some quarters to include the possibility of religious sects with sympathy in high places, muscling their way into state capture with the objective sooner than later of a religious revolution. Such opinions have pointed to the tardiness or reluctance of the current government to deal with those it claimed to have fingered as sponsors of terrorism. Whatever tentative inferences and conclusions are drawn from these hypotheses there is little doubt that there is a clear and present danger in several of the scenarios being enacted.
As public intellectual, Prof. Chidi Odinkalu, alerted recently (The PUNCH, Monday, April 11, 2022), it is difficult on present terms to know what to expect were Nigeria to be invaded by a foreign adversary. What Odinkalu did not say is that any such invasion would be preceded by the kind of terrorism currently afflicting Nigeria, considering that the groups masterminding these forays would have gained intimate knowledge of the capability, levels of weaponry, morale and resistance levels of both the military and the police. Granted these are not necessarily the seasons of gunboat diplomacy, if we exclude the ongoing invasion of Ukraine by Russia, but far-sighted nations are smart enough to maintain their institutions of warfare–offensive and defensive–on the cutting-edge of battle readiness.
This brings us to the question raised by the title of this intervention, namely, the prospects of the 2023 elections being derailed by spreading terrorist and insurgent penetration. Objectively, a country can hold elections in the face of turbulence and actual terrorist escapades as has happened in several countries especially in Latin America, parts of Asia and even Central Africa. One may not like the Philippines’ brand of democracy in view of its several flaws but you cannot dispute that in spite of a protracted campaign including a militant Islamic insurgency, it has successfully held elections. In other words, and on the face of it, nothing will prevent elections from holding next year unless the matter has degenerated into anarchy or more widespread bloodletting. Indeed, last year’s gubernatorial election in Anambra State is an example of an election that was held in unlikely circumstances—in the face of a sit-at-home order by the Indigenous People of Biafra. But is that all to the matter? I doubt it, for even in the case of Anambra State, there were casualties even among the Independent National Electoral Commission officials when a bus in which they were travelling was ambushed by so-called unknown gunmen. That apart, many prospective voters ‘commonsensically’ stayed away from the polling booths as self-preservation is the first law of existence. That is to say that were the omens clearer and the circumstances less fraught, there would have been a higher voting turnout in that election.
As some expert surveys have revealed, two principal reasons for low voter turnout in our elections are distrust of the electoral process and gathering insecurity. In recent years, thanks to improved performance and credibility in INEC, there is decreasing pessimism about the conduct of our elections. Regarding insecurity, however, INEC has no control, since its workforce were not recruited on the basis of their military prowess or ability to survive dangerous attacks. It is those who are assigned and mandated by the 1999 Nigerian Constitution (as amended) to secure and defend the realm that can deal with that. So, even if technically elections can be held in contentious and violent circumstances, such elections will carry the debit and drawback of extremely low voter turnout, especially in those areas where terrorists hold sway. That is not all.
It is well known that the locations of the terrorists are for the meantime in the rural areas where the weight of law enforcement is barely noticeable because there is continuing resistance to the introduction of state and local police. If elections are to be held in these same rural areas where the bandits’ republics are located, this will pose a threat to election administrators and even to law enforcement who may be deployed without full battle readiness.
True, for now, the terrorists have not announced a political agenda, being more interested in the lure of easy cash from ransom but who says they may not develop one and actually begin to attack the infrastructure of elections or persons in the wake of performing their civic duty of voting. At any rate, and as this columnist has consistently argued, it is strange, if not tragic, that it is the terrorists that are steps ahead of law enforcement and not the other way round.
Considering that government has flatly turned down the option of using mercenaries to smoke out the terrorists from their dungeons just like former President Goodluck Jonathan did in 2015, it must brace up to do what the mercenaries would have done. It cannot both reject that option and sit back watching the terrorists amass capability and fine-tune their strategies.
The warning about a botched election on account of insecurity ought to jerk all stakeholders, especially the military and the police wide awake and into frenzied action.
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