Destruction of INEC facilities; one attack too many

Analysts have warned that there is no justification for destroying public infrastructure as it is widely considered as economic sabotage.

The effects according to them include disruption of services, economic loses and waste of public resources.

These, among others effects, have always make patriotic citizens not only to be concerned, but also to seek measures to halt such acts.

While the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has continued to strengthen the electoral processes to improve on transparency and ensure credible elections, no fewer than 23 of its offices in different parts of Nigeria have be set ablazed or destroyed between 2019 and May 2021.

It could be recalled that close to the conduct of the 2019 general elections, three fire incidences were reported on INEC offices within 12 days.

The first incident occurred in Isiala Ngwa South local government area office of the commission in Abia on February 2 while the second occurred at the Qua’an Pan local government area office of the commission in Plateau state on February 9.

The third incident occurred at Anambra state headquarters of INEC on February 12, 2019, barely four days to the Presidential and National Assembly elections where the commission in its initial assessment said a total of 4,695 Smart Card Readers (SCARs) asides other facilities, were destroyed in the inferno.

Also on September 10, 2020, the commission lost more than 5,000 SCRs stored in a container in its Akure, Ondo state headquarters to a fire incident, barely a month to the state governorship election.

On December 13, 2020, INEC local office in Aba South was completely burnt, while that of Arochukwu local government area office was vandalised and ransacked in October same year.

Other states where INEC offices gutted inferno were between 2019 and May include Akwa Ibom, Borno, Ebonyi, Jigawa, Kano, Ondo, Rivers, Enugu and the FCT with some of the states experincing more than one incident.
On May 2, the resident electoral commissioner for Akwa Ibom, Mike Igini, reported that INEC office in Essien Udim local government area was set ablaze at the early hours of Sunday morning.

This was followed by the fire incident at the newly renovated Ohafia local government area office of INEC in Abia on May 9, where all electoral materials and office equipment were destroyed.

On May 13, INEC office in Udenu local government area in Enugu State was set ablaze and barely one week on May 17, there was another attack on its Enugu state headquarters office by unidentified men.

The unidentified persons, who arrived around 9 pm overpowered the security personnel on duty, set the foyer ablaze, vandalised some offices in the main building and caused extensive damage to some of the commission’s movable assets within the premises.

Six utility vehicles were burnt down while two vehicles were smashed and damaged.

The most recent destruction happened in Ebonyi on May 18 where three INEC offices in the state were attacked.

The Ezza North local government office and Ebonyi local government office of the commission were burnt, while Izzi local government office in the same state was vandalised on the same day.

Reacting to the persisted attacks, INEC describes it as worrisome and another setback that may affect its ongoing activities and preparations for upcoming electoral activities as well as future elections.

INEC national commissioner Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, recalled that on the eve of the 2019 general elections, INEC’s newly-constructed prototype Ohafia local government area Office in Ibesikpo Asutan was burnt down while two more offices in Mkpat Enin and Eastern Obolo local government areas were bombed.

The national commissioner expressed the commission’s determination to continue to discharge its responsibilities, including the conclusion of the expansion of voters’ access to polling units, resumption of CVR, capacity-building activities, the review of the draft Strategic Plan 2022-2026, engagement with stakeholders as well as all scheduled and pending elections.

He however said the latest destruction of the commission’s physical infrastructure and electoral facilities call for immediate review of measures necessary to secure INEC’s assets across states.

In the light of this, INEC recently convened an emergency meeting in Abuja attended by all resident electoral commissioners (RECs) in the 36 states and FCT to discuss the disturbing trend and to evolve ways of protecting its facilities nationwide.

The commission’s chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, speaking said the spate of arson and vandalism of its facilities and property was worrisome, as it would adversely affect its commitment to improve the electoral processes.

Yakubu said the attacks had been on the rise since the 2019 general elections and has now developed into a crisis, as more of INEC facilities were being systematically targeted and attacked.

Yakubu said although there was no casualty in Ebonyi office attack, damage to physical infrastructure and electoral materials was total.

Yakubu said that the commission would certainly work with security agencies to deal with the perpetrators according to the law for which he said INEC would hold a meeting with all security agencies on May 24.

He urged all and sundry, particularly communities where INEC assets were located to see themselves as owners and custodians of those facilities with a view to protecting them.

He expressed delight that some of the communities were already doing so as they shared with INEC, the commitment of improving electoral services to Nigerians by supporting the commission during all electoral activities.
He said, “Some of them actually donated the land on which some of our local government offices are built.

“Even in the recent events of arson and vandalism, many of them have demonstrated exceptional willingness to support the commission.
“For instance, following the vandalism on our offices in Osun during the #EndSARS protests in October 2020, the Ikirun community in Ifelodun local government area and two communities in Ede South local government area offered to contribute to the repairs of the offices and promised to work with the commission to protect them in future.

“Also, in Nnewi North in Anambra, the community also offered to repair our local government office destroyed during the #EndSARS protests.”
Yakubu said the commission did not take such partnerships for granted, rather appealed to them to continue to see INEC property as both national and local assets to be protected.

The INEC boss expressed the belief that INEC would dig deep and draw from its longstanding partnership with communities protecting its facilities in addition to depending on the invaluable support of security agencies.

“The challenges posed by these threats notwithstanding, we are still positive that we can find lasting solutions to the spate of attacks on our facilities.
“However, this must be done quickly to forestall disruptions to several upcoming electoral activities, particularly the CVR exercise which we plan to undertake continuously in 2,673 centres nationwide for a period of over one year, involving thousands of INEC officials supported by security personnel,” Yakubu said.

Lovers of democracy in the country are worried that if nothing is done to stop the recent ugly trend, the gains achieved by INEC over the years may be affected with negative impacts on the country electoral process in the nearest future.

The chief whip of the Senate, Sen Orji Kalu, has also expressed concern about the attacks, describing the act as undemocratic, needless, uncivilised and unacceptable.

The former Abia governor urged law enforcement agencies to commence full-scale investigation into the attack to identify and bring the perpetrators to book.

While calling on the political class to uphold democratic virtues in their endeavours, Kalu emphasised that politics is not a do-or-die affair.

“Nigeria’s electoral body, INEC, has sustained its leading role in the promotion and sustenance of democratic tenets in the country.
“I implore security agencies to fish out the people behind the attack in a bid to forestall recurrence,’’ he said.

The national publicity secretary of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Mr Kola Ologbondiyan, said the party is worried about the development.

Arising from a recent INEC meeting with Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES), Nigerians expect the perpetrators of this dastardly to be arrested and prosecuted by the security agencies.
Expectations are also high that these facilities would be secured for INEC to concentrate on its various preparations for 2023 general elections and future elections.