As the presidential and National Assembly elections hold on Saturday, thousands of Nigerians living in communities where non-state actors such as armed separatists and terrorists are active may face automatic disenfranchisement. In many such areas, thousands of residents have fled, many have lost properties including voters cards and electoral officials, for safety reasons, may be reluctant to conduct elections in some.
Security has been one of the most important talking points in this election circle. According to the Global Terrorism Index, Nigeria is the sixth most terrorised country in the world.
Since 2009, Boko Haram, an Islamic State affiliate group, has waged a brutal insurgency in the country’s northeast region. An estimated 350,000 people have been killed as a result of the insurgency and according to the United Nations Humanitarian Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), more than 3 million people have been displaced.
In the country’s North-west region, a gang of terrorists locally referred to as bandits have sacked rural communities, targeting travellers and educational institutions. They have carried out perhaps the largest kidnap-for-ransom franchise in the history of the country. Their activities have left millions displaced in the region.
In the South-east of the country, the separatist group, the Indigenous People Of Biafra (IPOB), and its affiliate criminal gangs have continued to wreak havoc, carry out killings and abductions, as well as attacks on government institutions and police stations.
As expected, all the 18 candidates contesting to take over from President Muhammadu Buhari have promised to tackle insecurity. However, in many communities across the country where, despite assurances from the government and security agencies, there are fears that the election may not for reasons such as the safety of voters and electoral officials.
Also, the electoral commission could not carry out the registration of new voters nor distribute Permanent Voter’s Cards (PVC) to registered voters in some of these areas.
PREMIUM TIMES spoke to residents in some communities with a high prevalence of attacks by non-state actors in states such as Katsina, Sokoto, Zamfara, Borno, Niger, Kaduna, Imo, Enugu and Anambra states.
This newspaper also spoke to officials to gauge the plans, if any, being made to provide protection to electoral officials and materials.
The biggest challenge to electoral success
Security experts say insecurity remains the main challenge to the success of the polls.
“The integrity of the election may be questionable for people who are wilfully disenfranchised on the basis of the government’s failure in its duty to protect them. Everyone has the right and civic responsibility to participate in the process of choosing those who will govern them, and if they are unable to do this because of insecurity, it is a violation of this right,” said Malik Samuel, a researcher at the West Africa Office of the Institute for Security Studies.
Mr Samuel, who has been to dozens of communities affected by terrorism in the North-west, believes the situation is worse than what is being reported.
“A lot of people in the North-west communities do not have voter cards because they were unable to register, as INEC officials could not deploy to insecure communities and the next registration centres were too far from them. Others who registered lost their voter cards in the fires that destroyed their homes and properties while others lost theirs on the way as they fled attacks,” he said.
Living with bandits
Haruna Abdullahi, a 42-year-old IDP in Talata Mafara area of Zamfara State, told PREMIUM TIMES over the phone that he felt bad he would not be participating in the voting process after he lost his PVC while fleeing his community of Gandi in Raba Local Government area after terrorists invaded the village.
Umar Audu is a resident of Nahuta in Jibia area of Katsina. He has been seeking refuge in the main town for over two years and has already made up his mind never to go back home to vote.
“Well, I have it (PVC) but I would not go back to Nahuta to vote because it is very risky. Look at it here with my National ID card but who will guarantee my safety when half of the people in our community have fled,” he said, displaying his PVC.
Umma Asmau, a resident of Tulluwa, a community that shares boundaries with Jibia but in Batsari Local Government Area, echoed Mr Audu’s position. She said Tulluwa has become a no-go area for her.
Aminu Aliyu from Nahuta community is also seeking refuge in Batsari town.
“My brother, there is no hope for the common man. As you see me here (Batsari) I’ve promised that I’ll never go back to that area. From Tulluwa, Kasai, Dodo, up to the Jibia area, most of the villages are empty due to bandits’ attacks. How could anybody risk his life to go there in the name of elections?”
Wasa Manta from Manta and his family have been displaced from their home town for two years. He regrets that he has been disenfranchised by insecurity.
“We have settled in communities like Maikunkele,Tudun Fulani, Bosso and Fadikpe. We can not even vote because we have no voter cards except when we return to our homes and we can not return because of these bandits.”
In Sokoto State, Basharu Guyawa, who researches conflict in the North-west, said several communities in the eastern part of the state are under terrorists’ control.
“So, it is not even about having the PVC, are the areas safe? You go to villages in Niger like Tudun Sunna, Yar Basira and Dankano; all the IDPs you will see are from Eastern Sokoto. We are about 10,000 people from this part of Sokoto seeking refuge in those Niger Republic communities,” he said.
“Of course, there are people in these areas, but most of them may not be participating in the election. First, the election officials may not be able to go to those areas and second, the remaining residents may be afraid to come out to vote. Gatherings in those areas attract bandits and the residents may not like such unwanted gatherings,” Yusuf Muhammad, a local journalist in Sokoto told PREMIUM TIMES.
In the South-east where IPOB militias have declared a mandatory seat-at-home on election day, many are scared for their safety. In parts of the region, several people who were displaced by communal clashes and conflict between farmers and pastoralists may not also vote.
Eric Ibe, a community leader in Eha-Amufu, Isi-Uzo Local Government Area of Enugu State, told this newspaper that many of the residents who fled to neighbouring communities had returned and were ready to cast their votes. But he said there are still issues to contend with.
“The only problem is that some of the farm settlements where they (suspected herders) burnt houses, some people had their PVCs burnt,” he said.
He said, unfortunately, the razing of houses by the attackers happened after INEC had ended the Continuous Voters Registration exercise.
To ensure the safety of the voters, the Nigerian government must increase the number of security agencies deployed to flash points, Nnamdi Anekwe, a security expert, told PREMIUM TIMES.
Mr Anekwe said the government, including state governments, had not been able to articulate a proper strategy for security ahead of the polls.
The security expert said a comprehensive security strategy can guarantee the safety of voters, especially in volatile areas, during the polls.
“The strategy can be created in such a way that (Nigerian) troops can be deployed in flash points to raise an alert. So, every formation across the country, not just South-east, has to be on high alert,” he said.
Despite the threats by IPOB, Victor Okafor, the spokesperson of INEC in Enugu State, told this newspaper that the commission has been collaborating with heads of security agencies in the state to ensure the safety of voters in volatile communities in the state such as Eha-Amufu.
Asked if INEC would consider those whose PVCs were recently burnt during attacks in the communities, Mr Okafor said the commission would only allow those with their PVCs to vote.
“There is no way one can vote without PVC,” he said.
No election in seven local government areas in Borno
In Borno State, the epicentre of the Boko Haram insurgency, there will be no elections in seven out of the 27 local government areas.
The spokesperson of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Borno State, who is also the Head of Voters and Publicity, Shuaibu Ibrahim, said the election cannot hold completely in Guzamala area and environs due to security advice.
The spokesperson also told PREMIUM TIMES that in seven out of the 27 local government areas in the state, the elections will take place at the IDPs camps in the local government headquarters
He said the local government areas are Abadan, Dambuwa, Dekwa, Gamzei, Marte, Manguno and Kalabalge.
“The areas that are well fortified with security measures elections can hold at the polling units and there are others that can hold their elections at their ward levels.
“Election is going to take place in all the polling units within the three areas in Maiduguri city. They are Maiduguri Municipal Council (MMC), Jere and Konduga”, Mr Ibrahim said.
He said there are about 15 military divisions established in different areas in the state to protect the election officials and the voters.
In these states, PREMIUM TIMES gathered that it will be hard for voting to take place in some areas going by the vulnerability of the areas and or the presence of terrorists in the area.
A top security source in Zamfara State who asked not to be named told PREMIUM TIMES over the phone that some areas under Shinkafi, Zurmi and Maru local government areas would be difficult to access.
“There is no plan not to hold the elections in these places, but we fear that we don’t have the number to man the places. INEC officials may not want to go to those areas just as the residents may be afraid to come out to vote,” the intelligence officer said.
The Resident Electoral Commissioner in Zamfara State, Saidu Babura – Ahmed, agreed there are areas battling the security situation but insisted it may not affect the elections.
“According to the data by the police there are areas that still has up to 50 per cent or some 60 per cent of the security incidents and we will continue to monitor the development and act accordingly, but we are optimistic that the development may not have any implication for the scheduled election,” he said.
In Sokoto State, areas like Suruddubu, Modaci, Dan Zankai, Lumu, Tozai, Gazau, Tafkin Filin Danfako, Tarah, Gatawa, Kurawa, Gangara are some of the areas that have been largely deserted by residents due to incessant terrorist activities, according to Mr Guyawa.
In Wurno, Goronyo and Rabah areas of Sokoto State, areas like Masama, Jodo, Doliyal, Digim, Gundumi, Kamitau, Tursa, Rakaka, Kuryar Gandi and Sabarru are considered to be volatile.
The police spokesperson in Sokoto State, Sanusi Abubakar, said as far as the police command is concerned, elections would hold in every part of the state.
“All the local government areas in the state, there’ll be elections. As far as we’re concerned, the elections will hold as planned. We’ll provide enough security as usual and we’ve not been informed of places where there is a polling unit but there’ll be no election because of insecurity,” he said in a phone conversation.
In Katsina State, residents said they doubt if the election will hold in the following local government areas: Dutsin Ma, Jibia, Kurfi, Safana, Danmusa, Dandume, Faskari, Bakori, and Batsari.
However, the Director of INEC Voter Education in the state, Shehu Sa’idu, said the election will hold in all polling units.
“I want to confirm and to reassure the public that elections will be held in all local government areas in all polling units in the state regardless of the security issues we’re having in some places, the public should have confidence in the commission and come out and vote,” he said.
But a resident said the official was not being truthful.
“The INEC official that told you there would be elections, did he tell you the situation of areas like Yelwa, Faru, Shimfida, Tamawa, Gwanzo and Tsaskiya? These areas are in Danmusa, Jibia, Kurfi and Safana and I can swear to God that even if the officials go, the people will not even come out to vote because of fear,” Shamsu Sama’ila, a native of Tamawa village living in Katsina metropolis said.
In Niger State, areas like Shiroro, Paikoro, Mashegu, Rafi and Kagara are the most volatile areas and some villages under these areas have come under terrorist attacks with many of them now deserted.
The police spokesperson in Niger, Wasiu Abiodun, told PREMIUM TIMES said the command and other security agencies in the state have mobilized manpower, logistics and other equipment as election security committee for adequate deployment of security personnel before, during and after the general elections.
“Personnel will be deployed to escort sensitive and non-sensitive materials to their various LGAs and Wards.
“Security personnel will equally be deployed to cover polling units and other layers of deployment for visibility policing and confidence-building patrols of every nook and cranny of the state,” he said.
In Kaduna state, Birnin Gwari is the hotbed of terrorist attacks but areas in Kachia, Kafanchan and Kauru have been witnessing both terrorist attacks and ethnoreligious crises.
Calm in Imo, Anambra
In Oguta, a local government in Imo State which has recorded heavy attacks in recent times, residents said the recurring attacks in the area had waned and that the elections will most likely be held in the council area.
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Like other parts of the South-east, armed separatists are carrying out deadly attacks mainly on government facilities and security agencies in the council area.
As previously reported by PREMIUM TIMES, several police officers have been killed and police facilities destroyed in recent attacks by the gunmen in the council area.
Like in Oguta, communities along Ihiala-Orlu Road, in the Ihiala Council Area of Anambra State, have also witnessed a string of attacks by the pro-Biafra gunmen.
But unlike the Eha-Amufu Communities in Enugu State, the residents of communities in Ihiala did not flee the area, sources told this newspaper.
“There is no peculiar fear here. Elections will hold and we will vote,” said Chukwuma Okoye, a resident of Azia, one of the communities in the Ihiala Council Area.
(The production of this report was supported by the Centre for Democracy and Development, CDD).
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