Despite assurances from President Muhammadu Buhari and the service chiefs that there is no cause for alarm over security threats to the 2023 elections, Nigerians are still worried about the spate of insecurity in the country.
This is heightened by the recent terror alerts from some foreign missions and high commissions, warning its citizens not to travel to Abuja and eight other states in the North.
Yesterday, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) disclosed that 242 polling units with 142,261 registered voters in 10 Councils of Katsina State were under serious security threat.
The Commission’s Head of Department of Electoral Operations in the state, Husseni Jaafar, who revealed this at a stakeholders meeting in Katsina, said the polling units may be affected in the forthcoming general elections.
He said: “We have 242 polling units in 10 security-prone councils of Katsina with 142,261 registered voters. Before, there were 13 councils that were under security threat.
“In an attempt to ensure that all elections are held in all polling units of the state, every month we sit with all the electoral officers of the councils after they have consulted with security officers and critical stakeholders in their respective local governments to discuss the prevailing situation.
“As we keep on reviewing the situation based on the reports we received from the electoral officers, currently we have only 10 councils that we now confirm have security challenges that we cannot hold elections there.
“All the same, nobody can say what will happen in these councils tomorrow, and despite the fact that we have this problem, INEC is still working within the electoral law to come up with another plan that will enable all eligible voters to vote.”
He said the Commission has directed all electoral officers of the affected councils to liaise with security agencies, traditional and religious leaders to propose a safer place that would enable INEC to relocate the affected voters so that they can cast their vote.
The recent security alert is not unsettling only Abuja residents, as over a dozen states have now been added to the ‘no travel zone’ following a renewed alert by the United Kingdom High Commission on Monday.
The development has triggered fear that 2023 general elections may not hold. Members of the intelligence and security community in the country have also expressed fear that current security indices are not promising free and fair election.
Lawmakers at the National Assembly have not bothered to cut short their recess in the wake of security challenges. Several calls put to some of the lawmakers yielded no result as they refused to comment on the matter.
A lawmaker, who insisted that his name should not be mentioned, stated that though there have been several security reports of threats to the elections, such plans wouldn’t stop the general elections, assuring that democracy has come to stay.
Recall that days after the release of terror alerts in Abuja, lawmakers had tightened security around the National Assembly complex.
Also, following the recent terror alert issued by foreign governments, security personnel at the National Assembly complex last week commenced thorough search of all vehicles coming into the compound.
There was no exception to the search, as representatives of Ministries, Departments and Agencies of the Federal Government, who came for the 2023 budget estimates’ defence were checked by security agents strategically positioned within and around the complex.
The NASS Security Management Committee, in a memo, stated that the stop and search exercise was to prevent the complex from being a vulnerable target for insurgents.
The memo signed by Director, Administration, Dr. Tahir Sani, read in part: “One of such measures is the directive to security agencies and the Sergeant-at-Arms Department to ensure that, effective October 31, all vehicles coming into the National Assembly premises are thoroughly searched. This entails that the drivers of the vehicles shall by themselves open the booths of their cars and submit their vehicles to comprehensive checks.
“Honourable Members and Distinguished Senators are by this notice advised to use the Presidential gate, unless they are willing to submit themselves to this stop and search policy. While regretting the inconvenience that this policy may cause to our visitors, staff, it is important to state that this measure is due to the exigent demands of our security challenges.”
According to a former director of the Department of States Services (DSS), Dennis Amachree, “the campaigns are in full gear but the security indices are not promising a free and fair elections. This is the greatest opportunity for the security and law enforcement agents to rescue Nigeria and secure our democracy.
“Anything less than free and fair playing field for all political actors can scuttle the election process. On the part of politicians, it is also the greatest opportunity to be patriotic and demonstrate their statesmanship.”
President of an umbrella body, Good Governance Initiative, Nnosike Nwanko, expressed reservations over the security alert, which is said to be a threat to the polls.
According to Nwanko, “Nigerians have every reason to be apprehensive. The government must rise up to the occasion by ending all forms of insecurity now before the conduct of the elections.”
Nwanko further put the President to task, urging him to use resources at his disposal to stem the tide of insecurity and rebuild confidence in the electorate as the nation draws closer to another round of elections.
A criminologist, Albert Uba, said: “The UK and U.S. terror alert was based on intelligence of an imminent attack by terrorists. It is doubtful whether it has any connection with the 2023 elections. Terrorism cannot stop the conduct of election in all the states of the Federation, because most of the attacks would be guerilla. What government needs to do now is to galvanise all known security apparatus, including the military in preparation for the elections.
“Terrorists have no wherewithal to scuttle a general election, they may only cause hiccups in some states. This is why the menace of bandits, terrorists and Boko Haram insurgents should not be treated with kid gloves. The government must muster the political will to be decisive in liquidating them.”
For Certified Protection Officer, Frank Oshanugor, “the fears being nursed by the United Kingdom and other foreign governments about impending terror attack in Nigeria may not be unfounded because of their level of advancement in intelligence gathering. They may have found credible intelligence that largely point to the fact that disastrous terror attacks are in the offing.
“Since Nigeria is not yet developed technologically to operate on the same wavelength with such advanced countries, it would be a very serious error of judgment for government officials and security agencies to dismiss the alarm or fears being expressed by the advanced countries.
“I personally feel that the 2023 elections would hold as planned if our security agencies can upscale their intelligence gathering measures so as to proactively checkmate all those likely to cause terror attack.
“This is the time to involve all stakeholders in the security sector both public and private to share ideas and chart a common cause. Government officials and security agencies should talk less in condemning foreign governments for raising the alarm.”
MEANWHILE, in the face of the current security challenges bedeviling the nation, retired military officers of the 33rd Regular Course have asked the Federal Government to consider engaging the services of ex-servicemen to add to the number of troops in the military.
Speaking to newsmen on the sidelines of their Annual General Meeting in Kaduna State, President of the 33rd Regular Course Association, Air Commodore Ibrahim Umar (rtd), urged government to engage ex-servicemen to overcome banditry, terrorism and kidnapping.
According to him, the nation’s Armed Forces is currently over-stretched, hence the urgent need to bring back retired military officers who are willing and capable to assist in the training of younger officers and men.
In addition, the retired officers also demanded the recruitment of more officers and men into the Armed Forces to police some of the ungoverned spaces in the country and around the nation’s porous borders.
The group also believed that the time has come for the Federal Government to consider erecting walls around the nation’s borders to safeguard the country from external aggression and checkmate illegal immigrants coming into the country.