The spate of arson on the facilities of the electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), in parts of the country few days to the 2019 general elections, is a new trend in Nigeria’s chequered political history. Without a doubt, the dastardly act is not only criminal and reprehensible but it is also condemnable as it is targeted at truncating the nation’s evolving democracy.
It is unfortunate that barely four days to the Presidential and National Assembly elections, fire on Tuesday gutted two containers housing smart card readers for the conduct of elections at INEC headquarters in Awka, Anambra state. Confirming the fire, the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) in Anambra state, Dr Nkwachukwu Orji, said he was yet to ascertain the extent of damage. He said the sensitive materials affected were smart card readers meant for the general elections.
“I don’t have the details of how the fire started.
All I know is that there was a fire incident involving the containers that house some of our sensitive materials. We have to do an assessment before we can ascertain the extent of damage, we have been storing equipment in that facility since 2011,” he said.
The Anambra fire is coming on the heels of two separate fire incidents at Isiala Ngwa, Abia state and Qua’an Pan, Plateau state.
INEC office was penultimate week gutted by fire by unidentified persons in Isiala Ngwa South local government, Abia state while the incident at Qua’an Pan local government area of Plateau state occurred last Saturday. “Some of the items destroyed in Isiala Ngwa South local government include 2979 Permanent Voters’ Cards (PVCs) and other materials.
At the Qua’an Pan office, items destroyed include 5987 uncollected Permanent Voters’ Cards (PVCs), 380 Voting Cubicles, 755 ballot boxes, 14 generators, election forms and official stamps,” Festus Okoye, Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee of INEC, said late on Sunday. Okoye said the commission has raised the matter with the police chief, Mohammed Adamu, of the emerging trend of the burning of the local government offices of the commission close to the conduct of the elections and at a period when the commission is engaged in the massive movement of election-related materials nationwide. Okoye said in view of these developments, the commission has taken the following steps:
1. Notified the inspector general of police of this new trend and requested that additional security measures be provided to enhance security around INEC offices and other critical structures of the commission.
2. Directed the resident electoral commissioner for Plateau state to open a register for all those in the affected local government area who approach the commission to collect their PVCs within the specified period. The commission will print the PVCs and make them available for collection in good time before the elections.
3. Reprinted and delivered the permanent voters’ cards of the affected registered voters in Isiala Ngwa South in Abia state. 4. Made temporary arrangements for the relocation of the burnt offices of the commission. The said offices will be ready for the conduct of the February 16 and March 2, 2019 elections.
5. The commission will proceed as planned in the affected local government areas and all the burnt materials will be replaced in good time and as such will not affect the conduct of the elections.
All relevant security agencies have been requested to arrest and bring to justice, persons or groups involved in the attacks on the offices of the commission. The two fire incidents did not affect the smart card readers that are presently being configured in the respective state offices of the commission.
The commission wishes to assure all Nigerians that it will not succumb to the antics of arsonists whose motive might be to create fear in the minds of voters and sabotage the conduct of the 2019 general elections.
Following INEC’s request, the police chief on Sunday ordered watertight security around offices of INEC across the country ahead of Saturday’s election. He also ordered 24-hour security to safeguard all the materials to be used for the election from all forms of crimes and mischief, before, during and after the polls.
Regrettably, in spite of the swift response of the police hierarchy to INEC’s distress call by the deployment of security personnel to the commission’s offices nationwide, barely 48 hours after, the arsonists still had a field day, torching INEC’s facilities in Awka.
How sadistic and unpatriotic anyone could be! It is, however, heart-warming that INEC has remained undeterred in its resolve to not only conduct free, fair, credible, and acceptable elections but also to stick to its time table, declining the prompting to postpone any of the elections scheduled for this Saturday and February 2, 2019.
This commendable gesture will most assuredly go a long way to deepen the nation’s democratic culture and instill confidence in Nigerians as well as command the respect of the international community. While urging INEC to remain steadfast in its determination to deliver hitchfree elections to Nigerians, we call on the police chief to ensure that the arsonists are apprehended and expeditiously prosecuted in order to nip this dangerous dimension in our politics in the bud.