The 2023 general elections may be in jeopardy, unless concerted efforts are made to halt the worsening insecurity, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) warned yesterday.
According to the electoral agency, the mounting security challenges and electoral impunity cannot guarantee a conducive atmosphere for the electoral process.
INEC said the fear of deployment to conflict areas by adhoc staff is worrisome, adding that many of the over one million non-permanent workers, who participated in the 2019 polls, showed apprehension.
Threats to peaceful elections highlighted by the commission include communal conflicts, farmer/ herder conflicts, insurgency, secessionist agitations, banditry kidnapping, and “plain criminality”.
However, the agency assured that it would find ways of navigating through the challenges.
INEC National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, who spoke with our correspondent in Abuja, maintained that the challenges are real.
He said the country must break the circle of impunity, violence and identity theft to have peaceful polls.
Okoye said: “There will be challenges for the 2023 elections. There will be challenges of heightened insecurity in most parts of the country and the commission must find ways and means of navigating through these challenges. These become difficult in situations where ad-hoc staff members are nervous at being deployed to conflict areas as they are not sure of their security.
“The country must also break the cycle of impunity accentuated by electoral violence and make our elections as civil as possible. The commission must also find ways and means of populating some of the newly created Polling Units. The commission will therefore, accelerate voter education around the communities and also engage in batch transfer of voters.
“There is also the challenge of trust and confidence in the electoral process. The commission has increasingly deepened democracy through the use of technology and those that are engaged in multiple voting and identity theft will have a hard time during the 2023 general elections.
“There are different dimensions to the security challenges in the country. We have communal conflicts, we have farmers/ herders conflicts, we have insurgency, we have secessionist agitations, we have serious cases of banditry, we have breaches of territorial integrity of the country, we have cases of kidnapping and plain criminality in different parts of the country.
“The commission has offices in the 774 local government areas of the country and we have information on the different problems and challenges in the country.
“The law gives the commission the power to do all that is possible to enable persons displaced by one challenge or the other to vote. We will remain confident and courageous and maintain robust consultation and engagement with the security agencies in degrading security challenges in the country.
“INEC has been conducting elections in difficult and challenging circumstances. Presently, we have 176,846 polling units in the country and these polling units must be serviced during elections.”
Okoye, who recalled that 73 political parties participated in the 2019 elections, said new parties may be registered while some existing ones may be deregistered.
He added: “During the 2019 general elections, the Commission engaged over a million ad-hoc staff and these staff must be deployed, their allowances paid and they must be housed.
“As you know, a total of 73 political parties fielded candidates during the 2019 general elections, and the commission printed ballot papers and result sheets for 84 million registered voters.
“The commission also registered and created polling units for Internally Displaced Persons in various parts of the country and made sure that they voted during the election.
”The management and organisation of a political party is a serious venture. In Nigeria, and as far as the commission is concerned, all political parties are equal and have the same incidents of registration.
“The fact of application does not automatically result in registration. A political association wanting to transmute to a political party must satisfy constitutional, legal, and administrative requirements.
“Only associations that satisfy that qualifying threshold will be registered. The commission also has the constitutional and legal right to deregister political parties that are not productive. Our resolve is to remain within the context and ambit of the law.”
A former INEC Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega had a year ago warned that unless the security challenges in the country were tackled, the 2023 elections may not hold.
“As we look forward to the 2023 general elections, there is increasing apprehension that the pervasive insecurity situation in the country may present a formidable obstacle if not an obstruction to the elections,” Jega said at the 72nd posthumous birthday of former Oyo State Governor Abiola Ajimobi.
He added: “Unless elections are conducted in an environment that is peaceful and secure, their integrity and even the legitimacy of the outcomes will be questioned.”