Violence, assassinations becloud 2023 polls

…Rivers’ Atiku campaign DG Sekibo escapes death, rally venue razed

…27 killed in 57 politically-motivated attacks in 2022

…APC warns Kano NNPP, vows to defend members

… CAN, CISLAC caution, urge INEC, stakeholders on peace

Barely two weeks to the epical February 25, 2023 presidential and national Assembly elections, there are fears and concerns over increasing violence, politically-motivated attacks and killings across Nigeria which threaten the credibility of the polls.

This scenario is further compounded by wanton attacks and destruction of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) facilities, especially in the South-east of the country, amid the boisterous activities of the unknown gunmen in the area.

In a recent meeting with the Senate over the crisis following the Naira redesign policy of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the electoral umpire acceded to the fact that the most potent threat to the 2023 general elections is violence and threat of violence, “which could affect the credibility of the elections.”

Rivers’ Atiku campaign DG Sekibo escapes assassination

The Director-General of the Peoples Democratic Party Presidential Campaign Council in Rivers state, Dr. Abiye Sekibo, escaped assassination by the whiskers at midnight of Thursday, February 9, 2023.

It was learnt that gunmen dressed in police uniform, opened fire on Sekibo’s vehicle, a Land Cruiser bulletproof jeep at the Rainbow Town in Port Harcourt, where he went to inspect the venue of a proposed presidential rally of the party.

Confirming the incident at a news briefing on Friday, Sekibo said his car was riddled with bullets and the venue of the proposed rally set on fire, while policemen watched the inferno.

“As we approached the site, those policemen who were watching the inferno opened fire on our vehicle. I looked at the Hilux vehicles, they were police Hilux vehicles attached to the Governor of Rivers State,” he said.

CP orders probe

In reaction, the Commissioner of Police, Rivers state Command, Effiong Okon, Friday, ordered full investigation into the assassination attempt.

Sekibo, a former Minister of Transport, Friday morning, fingered the policemen attached to the Rivers governor, Nyesom Wike for allegedly opening fire on him and his driver at Amadi-Ama, Port Harcourt, where he had gone to inspect the venue of the planned presidential campaign of Atiku Abubakar.

But the Rivers police command in a statement by its Public Relations Officer, Grace Iringe-Koko, confirmed the attack but blamed it on ‘suspected thugs’.

She said; “There was a distress call to the control room at about 2 am on Friday, 10th February 2023, that Dr Abiye Sekibo was attacked by suspected thugs along Intel in the Rainbow axis of Port-Harcourt.

“On the basis of the call, six patrol teams were immediately mobilized to the scene. By the time the teams arrived, the suspected thugs had fled.

“Nonetheless, the teams remained to forestall further destruction. Meanwhile, normalcy has returned, and the Rivers State Commissioner of Police has ordered investigation into the incident.”

27 killed in 57 politically-motivated attacks

A geopolitical research firm, SB Morgen, in a recent report revealed that 27 Nigerians were killed in 57 politically-motivated violent incidents between January and December 2022.

 This is contained in a report entitled “Insecurity and the 2023 Elections,” stating that the elections in Nigeria are a hotly-contested affair, with vested interests from the politicking to the aspirants.

 Giving an in-depth analysis of the forthcoming elections as per insecurity, the organisation revealed that early signs have shown that the violence that characterised previous elections in the country were set to beset the 2023 general election, citing the current security climate. “Nigeria faces a plethora of different and sometimes strikingly similar security crises,” it said.

 According to the report, Nigeria has hardly had it good during elections in its history, adding that the 1993 presidential election was judged the freest and fairest in the country’s history. However, violence followed the military’s decision to annul the polls. Six years later, a successful presidential election was conducted for the first time in 20 years.

“The 1999 polls were expected to usher in a new era of politics, but the successors have not lived up to the billing. The closest thing to free and fair elections in the current democratic dispensation was the 2011 elections which international observers judged credible. Still, the process was marred by violence which left over 800 people dead in at least three days of violence in many parts of Northern Nigeria.

“The 2023 general elections take place in about seven weeks. Early signs have shown that the violence that has characterised previous elections is set to beset it, especially because of the current security climate. Nigeria faces a plethora of different and sometimes strikingly similar security crises.”

 According to the group’s report, a lot goes into what makes or mars the conduct of an election, citing raging Boko Haram insurgency in the North East, with bigger problems for the military as it now fights a more formidable enemy-the factional Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) whose recent attacks in Taraba tell of a strong presence beyond the fringes of the Lake Chad.

“The group’s activities have targeted not only the state but every symbol associated with it, including INEC (Independent National Electoral Commission). Towards the end of 2022, attacks against INEC offices were launched in states of Osun, Ogun, Imo and several other parts of the South East.

“It is amid these challenges that the elections will hold in February and March. The federal elections lead the way to be held on 25th February, and for the first time in Nigeria’s history, it is likely to be headed for a run-off. The uncertainty that has trailed this possibility has male political actors and proxies battle it out, sometimes taking advantage of the decrepit state of security in the country to stage attacks on perceived enemies.

 High-profile assassinations

The report said, in July 2022, the deputy governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress in Rivers state, Dr Innocent Barikor, escaped death in Port Harcourt. In mid-December, gunmen allegedly killed the 2003 Labour Party candidate for Onuimo local government area state constituency in Imo, Christopher Elehu. A month earlier, the campaign convoy of Atiku Abubakar, the Peoples Democratic Party presidential candidate, was allegedly attacked in Maiduguri.

 According to SB Morgen, in October, the campaign train of the Lagos Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidates, including the governorship candidate, Dr Olajide Adediran and his deputy, Funke Akindele, were attacked by suspected political thugs.

 Noting how political violence escapes scrutiny under the air of general insecurity, it recalled that three delegates of the PDP governorship primary election in Minna, Niger state, and one other person were killed by gunmen in late May.

“The security landscape presents worrying challenges to the political stakeholders and the country. Under the present circumstances, it is nearly impossible to conduct a hitch-free election in every part of the country.

“As a result, INEC is preparing itself for supplementary elections in areas where voting might not hold due to violence. Such a solution is within the realms of acceptance for thinly-stretched security services already battling insecurity on multiple fronts,” the report said.

 APC warns Kano NNPP

In a similar vein, the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Kano state has warned that if steps were not taken by security agencies to stop further unprovoked and mindless attacks and vandalisation of its campaign materials by the opposition New Nigeria People’s Party (NNPP), the ruling party will not fail to defend its members.

Spokesperson for Gawuna/Garo Campaign Council and Commissioner for Information, Malam Muhammad Garba, who said this in a statement, said any further attack on members or supporters of the APC will be met with the full vehemence of the law.

He said the NNPP should call its members to order and make them stay on the path of peace, otherwise they should realized that violence is not the monopoly of any party.

Malam Garba said Kano has relatively been peaceful in recent times and the APC is fully committed to peaceful campaigning and working day and night to ensure victory at the polls, which the opposition is afraid of.

The commissioner pointed out that it was unfortunate that the NNPP, which is not comfortable with the massive support the APC has been getting from the people in the state, is now resorting to violence to show their frustrations.

He further said that while the NNPP is unleashing violence against the APC, its chairman Haruna Doguwa, in an attempt to cover up the atrocities, was crying foul.

Malam Garba said the APC has documented evidence on what the NNPP  thugs have been doing, including killing, bodily harm, destruction of branded and campaign materials.

“The NNPP Kwankwasiyya has now unleashed a reign of terror on our members. They killed our member in Kutama, torched the residence of the APC chairman,  they descended on our members in Makoda, Gezawa, Tarauani, inflicted bodily harm on some of them and also dispossessed  them of their phones and other personal effects, as well as night operations to pull down our posters in the metropolitan area,” he added.

The commissioner averred that the NNPP’s deafening silence over attacks on the APC confirms not only their implicit support for  violence  but also afraid of free and fair elections and also plan to precipitate violence in order to frighten people not come out to exercise their civil rights.

CISLAC cautions on violence in Rivers

 Meanwhile Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), a non-governmental organization, has cautioned political parties and other stakeholders to exhibit non-violent approach in handling their campaigns.

Executive Director CISLAC,  Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, gave the advice in Port Harcourt, the Rivers state capital during a media interaction on peaceful 2023 general election.

Represented at the event by Lovely Agbor Gabriel, manager, Monitoring, Accountability and Learning, Rafsanjani explained that the act of political parties coming together to sign a peace accord is commendable, as it will serve as a monitoring tool for non-violent election in Rivers state.

 He maintained that the peace initiative was imperative, especially with the report of violence happening towards the build up to the 2023 general elections, noting that the key reasons for the peace pact, include the need to build consensus among electoral stakeholders in the state, which include confidence building among voters.

 Rafsanjani further explained that the commitment of political parties to shun hate speech, fake news, political thuggery and other acts that unnecessary heat up the polity and stoke up electoral violence, but will help them to focus on issue based campaigns, while tasking the media and CSOs to play their roles to ensure peace before, during and after the elections.

He stated that Rivers State has its fair share of violence in the past, which is detrimental to development, as relationship between the people and security agencies is key to peaceful elections.

Election peaceful transition not war – CAN

The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) on its part has called on citizens to resist any attempt to cause disharmony and disaffection.

CAN said elections must be seen as a time of peaceful transition of leadership and not war. It, therefore, harped on the need for all Nigerians to put away religious and ethnic bigotry and allow the will of God to prevail.

This is contained in a statement signed by CAN President, Archbishop Daniel Okoh and made available to journalists.

CAN alsocharged the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to ensure that this election is seamless, credible, and violence-free.

The Christian apex body said the INEC has no excuse to fail, stressing that four years is enough time to perfect the process and eliminate the glitches featured in past polls.

“CAN calls on the authorities to beef up security, especially in communities vulnerable to attacks and ensure that no citizen is disenfranchised owing to the precarious security situation in parts of the country.

“We charge the security agencies to be unbiased and remain neutral while discharging their duties, especially during the forthcoming general elections.

“CAN urge all the political parties and candidates seeking elective positions during the forthcoming general elections to accept the results of the polls in good faith in the interest of Nigerians and the unity of the country.

“We note the current sufferings of the people, which is gradually becoming unbearable due to the gross shortage of Naira notes in the system and plead with President Muhammadu Buhari to intensify efforts to mitigate the hardship.

“The national leadership of CAN urges all the faithful in the country not to relent in praying for our dear country Nigeria because prayer is the most potent instrument of warfare at our disposal.

“Let us remind ourselves that the country’s economic, political and security situations do not give joy to anyone, but keep our hopes alive at this time,” the statement added.

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