There are concerns over renewed attacks on facilities of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in the South East region of the country as the 2023 general elections approaches.
Daily Trust on Sunday reports that with the latest incidents in Ebonyi and Imo States, the INEC has suffered 49 attacks on its facilities and offices since February 2019.
In recent times, INEC facilities have come under attacks in South East States leading to destruction of thousands of Permanent Voters Cards and other electoral materials.
In recent times, INEC offices in Ebonyi, Enugu, Anambra, Abia and Imo have been razed by gunmen suspected to be IPOB militants.
The latest is the Friday’s attack on the INEC’s office in Orlu Local Government Areas of Imo State.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Friday night said its office in Orlu Local Government Area of Imo State was set ablaze.
The national commissioner and chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, noted in a statement that the INEC office was attacked on December 1, 2022.
The latest attack came on the heels of recent simultaneous attacks on INEC offices in the region.
On November 27, several Permanent Voters’ Cards (PVCs) and other items were destroyed when some hoodlums set the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) office in the Izzi Local Government Area of Ebonyi State on fire.
Similar attacks were also carried out on INEC offices in Abia, Enugu and Anambra in the past, raising fears over the conduct of the general election in the region.
Speaking on the Imo incident, Okoye said, “The building, which is undergoing extensive renovation following an earlier attack, was vandalised and partially set ablaze. Three out of seven construction workers were abducted but later released.
“The damage would have been more extensive but for the quick response of the police, which deployed its personnel to the site.
“The commission once again expresses concern over the spate of attacks on its facilities and the negative consequences on our preparations for the 2023 general elections.” Okoye stated.
How we chased IPOB militants from INEC office in Imo – Police
Speaking on the latest Imo State attacks, the Imo State police command narrated how its men engaged militants in gunfire at one of the INEC offices in the state.The command’s spokesman, CSP Mike Abattam, said gunmen suspected to be members of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and its armed affiliate, Eastern Security Network (ESN), stormed the electoral office in Orlu Local Government Area of the state.
Abattam, however, said the militants were prevented from burning down the entire INEC building.
“They threw improvised explosive devices (IEDs) into the office from outside the fence and shot sporadically, fighting their way into the office but were repelled by the command’s tactical teams.
“The police operatives who positioned themselves strategically and professionally, engaged the hoodlums in a gun duel, and in the process, they were suppressed, having suffered a huge defeat, with a number of them sustaining varying degrees of bullet wounds. They later retreated into their vehicles and zoomed off, but were given a hot chase by the operatives.
“In the course of the foiled attack, no life was lost and no arms/ammunition carted away. The INEC main building was not affected by the explosives. Only minor damage was done on the security post caused by the fire from the explosives, which were put off immediately by the police operatives,” he stated.
He also said the commissioner of police, CP Mohammed Ahmed Barde, commended the officers and men for their gallantry, and urged them not to relent in their efforts until all criminal elements and their partners were apprehended and made to face the full weight of the law.
INEC counts losses, seeks arrest, prosecution of attackers
Lamenting the attacks, the INEC chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, called for immediate arrest and prosecution of those involved.
He made the call at an emergency meeting of the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES) in Abuja following spate of attacks on their facilities.
Also speaking in Lagos State at the opening of a two-day induction retreat for the commission’s resident electoral commissioners, Yakubu counted the losses the recent attacks had brought to the commission.
He stressed that only a timely arrest and prosecution of perpetrators would end the trend.
He lamented that in the last four months, five local government offices of the commission were attacked by unknown persons, saying that critical facilities and assets were lost; hence the need to curb the trend urgently.
He said, “These facilities include a total of 1,992 ballot boxes, 399 voting cubicles and 22 electric power generators, as well as thousands of uncollected permanent voters’ cards, among many other items.
“These attacks must stop and the perpetrators apprehended and prosecuted. Our responsibility is to conduct elections. The best solution for us is the arrest and prosecution of perpetrators,” he said.
On their parts, the National Security Adviser (NSA), Major-General Babagana Monguno and the Inspector-General of Police, Mr Usman Alkali Baba, warned those planning to undermine the 2023 general elections to have a rethink or be ready to face the wrath of the law.
Monguno said that President Muhammadu Buhari had given all security agencies and intelligence agencies the order to deal decisively with any individual or group who wants to disrupt the peace and success of the election.
IGP Baba, on his part, said the police were committed to ensuring that the 2023 general elections were peaceful and credible, urging the political actors to play by the rule to enable security agencies protect them.
CSO seeks decisive action
Worried by the situation, the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) has called for decisive actions on the rising spate of attacks on the offices of INEC in parts of the country.
The CDD director, Idayat Hassan, told Daily Trust on Sunday in an interview yesterday in Abuja that the attacks signified an ominous sign for the 2023 elections and national stability and perpetrators must be arrested and prosecuted.
She said there had been heightened attacks on INEC facilities since the 2019 general elections, with an average of 48 incidents.
“In each incident, the commission is losing election materials and infrastructure, but thankfully, there has not been any death,” she said, adding that the situation would have enormous implications for the 2023 elections.
Reps probe attacks
Also worried, the House of Representatives has resolved to investigate the attacks. At last Wednesday’s plenary, the lawmakers asked security agencies to identify, investigate, arrest and prosecute perpetrators of the attacks. This followed a motion by Olarewaju Ibrahim, the lawmaker representing Ido/Osi/Moba/Ilejemeje constituency of Ekiti State.
Originally published in Daily Trust