*By Paul Ejime
The phrase “State of Emergency” is being applied to virtually all aspects of life that it has become a cliché, especially in Africa. Indeed, security is now considered a national emergency in Nigeria, so is access to food, health care, education, religious worship, travelling, human rights, and governance. The freedom to live or die could be added to the long list of emergencies.
Even so, the safety of life and property can never be treated with levity or taken for granted. Their protection or preservation is the primary responsibility of government.
Equally paramount and indispensible are the structures or institutions of a nation-State. Governments come and go, but State structures and institutions are treasured and cherished not only because of their value/worth but also because of their indispensability to the nation-State’s very existence, functioning, and sustainability.
In this context, the spate of arson and vandalism targeting the facilities and assets of Nigeria’s security apparatus, especially the police and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), should be of grave concern as part of the general insecurity bedevilling the country.
According to the INEC Chairman, Prof Mahood Yakubu, the Commission recorded 41 such attacks against its facilities between 2019 and May 2021.
Addressing a recent meeting of the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES) in Abuja, he gave a breakdown of the attacks as nine in 2019 and 21 in 2020, while “in the last four weeks, 11 offices of the Commission were either set ablaze or vandalised.”
“Two of these incidents were caused by Boko Haram and Bandit attacks, while 10 resulted from thuggery during election and post-election violence,” the INEC Chair said, adding: “However, the majority of the attacks (29 out of 41) were unrelated to elections or electoral activities.
“Eighteen of the attacks occurred during the EndSARS protests in October last year, while 11 were organised by ‘unknown gunmen’ and ‘hoodlums,” Prof Yakubu told the Committee, which membership includes, the Chiefs of Defence, Armed and Uniformed Forces and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
With elections and electoral activities in Nigeria becoming an “all-year-round undertaking,” the INEC Chief noted that the attacks, which “initially appeared as isolated and occasional actions have now become more frequent and systematic, targeted at demobilising and dismantling critical electoral infrastructure in the country.”
He, therefore, urged that “these attacks on the Commission’s facilities should now be treated as a national security emergency,” warning that if unattended to “(the attacks) will not only undermine the Commission’s capacity to organise elections and other electoral activities but will also damage the nation’s electoral process and democracy.”
Given that INEC is still conducting several off-season elections, with major national elections due in 2023, this warning could not have been more eloquent and timely.
Experience shows that democracy requires strong and effective structures and institutions to take root or thrive.
The 6th of January 2021 invasion of the American Congress by angry supporters of former President Donald Trump probably represented the lowest point of that country’s democracy. However, it was also on that day that the American democracy demonstrated its greatest resilience and strength.
The “constitutional coup,” “insurrection,” or “mob action” incited by “a powerful President” to hang on to power, having lost the vote through the ballot, failed spectacularly, and democracy prevailed, simply because Congress proved itself as a solid and vital institution.
Apart from the key roles played by the government tripod – Legislature, Executive and Judiciary, the agencies involved in electoral security and the electoral umpires are critical to the conduct of credible elections and the entrenchment of true democracy.
Where and when the security architectures are vulnerable to arson and incessant attacks, national electoral commissions, such as INEC, are in jeopardy without adequate protection.
The INEC facilities being destroyed cost money and are repositories of sensitive national records. They serve the local communities for the most fundamental aspect of democratic governance – election. The facilities are also used for other critical electoral activities such as voter registration, the coordination of stakeholder engagements, voter education, and sensitisation. Therefore, the host communities should own and protect the facilities and properties as their contribution to enable INEC to deliver on its mandate.
In the midst of the ugly narrative, Prof Yakubu cited the exemplary support provided by some communities to the Commission over the years.
“Some of them actually donated the pieces of 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,” he said.
“For instance, following the vandalism of our offices in Osun State during the #EndSARS protests in October last year, the Ikirun community in Ifelodun Local Government Area and two communities in Ede South Local Government Area have offered to contribute to the repairs of the offices and promised to work with the Commission to protect them in future.
“In the same vein, in Nnewi North in Anambra State, the community has also offered to repair our Local Government office destroyed during the #EndSARS protests. The Commission does not take such partnerships for granted. I wish to thank our host communities in all parts of the country and appeal to them to continue to see INEC property as both national and local assets to be protected,” Prof Yakubu affirmed.
Given that electoral umpires alone cannot secure their assets, it is the obligation of the relevant authorities and citizens to secure and protect these facilities, which are public/State assets that will outlive governments.
Experience has shown that electoral umpires in Africa only receive major attention from the government mainly on the eve or during national elections. Many of them bear the “Independent or Autonomous” title, but only in name, given the severe political pressure they face from the politicians and governments, which control their budgets and recruitment of their members.
In most cases, the electoral legal framework or Acts are riddled with ambiguities and loopholes for exploitation by the politicians or are observed in the breach by government agents.
For instance, Nigeria’s draft Electoral Reform Bill is still pending before the National Assembly. Recently, a civil society group led a protest march to the National Assembly calling for the passage of the Bill, which all agree could improve the conduct of credible elections in the country.
It is an understatement that adequate and prompt release of funding, clarity of electoral legal framework, security and protection of the facilities and property of Electoral Management Bodies (EMB) are critical basic minimum requirements for building strong democratic institutions in any nation.
*Paul Ejime, an Author and former Diplomatic/War Correspondent, is a Consultant on Communications, Media, Elections and International Affairs.