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IPOB Attacks On INEC Facilities Depriving Residents Of Voter Registration Opportunities

The attacks on facilities belonging to Nigeria's electoral body in the Southeast could undermine or lead to less participation in the 2023 general elections.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), on April 14, suspended the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) Exercise in the Ihitte-Uboma Local Government Area of Imo State, Southeast Nigeria, following the murder of its staffer by suspected members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).

INEC spokesperson Festus Okoye said the victim, Nwokorie Anthony, was killed in Amakohia while registering community members for the 2023 general elections. Two other employees were also kidnapped during the tragic incident.

Okoye noted that the commission had suspended the CVR exercise in Orsu and Njaba LGAs of the state before the incident because of insecurity. As a result, the exercise takes place only at the INEC offices in the Oru East, Oru West, Orlu, and Ohaji–Egbema areas of the state.

The attack that led to Anthony’s death was one of many the commission has recorded across its regional offices and facilities in the last three years.

Burnt INEC office at the Ubenu Local Government Area of Enugu State. Photo: INEC/Twitter.

Like Imo, INEC offices in Enugu, Anambra, Abia states, and some South-south parts have recorded several attacks. The commission said that at least 41 of its offices were attacked by armed non-state actors between Feb. 2019 and May 2021. Regarding the cases, INEC chairman Mahmood Yakubu said Imo State topped the log with the most attacks. 

“Clearly, these acts of unjustifiable aggression may undermine the commission’s capacity to organise elections and dent the nation’s electoral process. The facilities of the commission are there to serve the local communities for the most fundamental aspect of democratic governance, which is elections,” Yakubu said. 

The trend, however, did not stop after the INEC boss’s outcry. 

Most of the perpetrators are suspected to be separatist agitators who have severally threatened that elections would not be held except their leader, IPOB founder Nnamdi Kanu, is released from detention. Kanu is currently standing trial for treasonable felony, unlawful possession of arms, and illegal importation of broadcast equipment at a Federal High Court in Abuja, the country’s capital. 

One video shared on social media showed armed men attacking an INEC registration centre on April 14, shooting in the air as people lay on the ground. “As you can see, these are the stupid people; we are fighting for their freedom, they are here planning for election,” the person filming said. “We don’t want any election. No more election. No more voter’s card… Next time, we are going to set this place ablaze.”

Ridwan Eshinlokun, an election observer and public affairs activist, says he is surprised the separatist group is going about its agitations in this manner.

“The major reason the people in the southeast are calling for secession is alleged marginalisation. It is, however, surprising that they refuse to understand that partaking in elections is one of the methods to address their grievances by voting for candidates of their choice and driving home their demands,” he told HumAngle.

“The attacks on INEC facilities will make one wonder what exactly they want.”

Some of the vehicles burnt at the INEC office in Enugu in 2021.  Photo: Channels TV. 

The current wave of attacks implies that many affected community residents are denied access to CVR as Nigeria prepares for its next general elections.

INEC itself confirmed this in its Election Project Plan (EPP) released in May, where it stresses that physical attacks, kidnapping of its personnel for ransom, and arson attacks on its offices and facilities would affect the registration of voters.

Okolie Emmanuel in Okporo, Orlu LGA in Imo, told HumAngle that many residents in the area are yet to register because they are scared of attacks by armed non-state actors. 

“My friends and I are yet to do our voters’ registration because of the attacks by armed men who had threatened that they wouldn’t allow the election to be held. I am particularly scared because I lost my uncle to an attack by IPOB while they were enforcing their sit-at-home. Based on this, I am being more careful, so I would not be prey. We need INEC to assure us of adequate security before we can risk the registration.”

Some Nigerians have taken to social media to give accounts of the difficulties in registering. “Dear @inecnigeria, pls make the registration process of pvc in the Southeast easy and accessible… Many people are finding it difficult registering due to insufficient equipment,” Emmycruz recently tweeted.

Eefey Precious wrote, “There aren’t enough gadgets and materials in the INEC offices here in the SouthEast. Some constituencies here don’t have enough materials for people to register. And the PVC registration process is frustrating.”

Burnt INEC facility in Enugu. Photo:  INEC/Twitter.

Idayat Hassan, Director of the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), believes that the series of attacks on INEC facilities in the Southeast and some parts of South-south is not an isolated issue against the background of Nigeria’s security challenges.

According to her, the spate of attacks demonstrates that “the Nigerian state is under attack, not democracy. This is so because the Nigerian democracy has not delivered the development people desire in terms of corporate sincerity for the public good.”

Meanwhile, the INEC boss has hinted at the possibility of extending the CVR deadline to make room for more people to sign up for their voter cards.

If the registration is extended, security agencies must have their jobs well cut out by ensuring adequate security of INEC officials and their facilities.

The Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, a coalition of over 70 civil society organisations that monitor Nigeria’s electoral process and elections across the country, had earlier called on the Federal Government to wake up to its responsibility of protecting democracy and citizens. 

“Security agencies are urged as a matter of urgency to beef up security around INEC facilities nationwide, to forestall further attacks and ensure the security of the Commission’s personnel and the electorate at all times,” the group advised. 

“All election stakeholders, community members and the entire Nigerian citizenry are enjoined to play their part by reporting suspicious activities around INEC assets within their localities.”

This report was produced in partnership with HumAngle Services.

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Adejumo Kabir

Kabir works at HumAngle as the Editor of Southern Operations. He is interested in community development reporting, human rights, social justice, and press freedom. He was a finalist in the student category of the African Fact-checking Award in 2018, a 2019 recipient of the Diamond Awards for Media Excellence, and a 2020 recipient of the Thomson Foundation Young Journalist Award. He was also nominated in the journalism category of The Future Awards Africa in 2020. He has been selected for various fellowships, including the 2020 Civic Media Lab Criminal Justice Reporting Fellowship and 2022 International Centre for Journalists (ICFJ) 'In The Name of Religion' Fellowship.

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