AS Nigerians gear up to elect new set of leaders who would pilot the affairs of the country for the next four years, insecurity has been identified as one of the major challenges that may mar the process as the safety of electoral personnel and voters cannot be guaranteed in some parts of the country battling insecurity. Nurudeen Akewushola reports how security situation in some terrorised communities in Kaduna threatens citizens’ participation in the 2023 polls.
As many Nigerians are enthusiastic about casting their votes, the situation is a bit different for 30-year-old Hussaina, a resident of Kaduna state. Election is the least of her worries because her husband is currently lying helplessly on a sick bed after being shot twice by terrorists during an attack that occurred earlier in February prior to The ICIR visit.
On that fateful day, residents of Ringin Unguwan village were swallowed by fear when they woke up to the sight of sporadic gunshots by bandits. While women and young children scampered for safety, the grown men picked up their local guns and exchanged fire with the attackers.
The attack is not the first of its kind. Before then, terrorists had attacked the community several times, robbed them of their possessions, and kidnapped residents in exchange for ransom, but due to the failure of the government to find a lasting solution, they often resorted to self-defence.
On that fateful day, Hussaina’s husband, Magaji Ringin, 67, was one of the men that volunteered to face the bandits to protect the lives and properties of the residents from the grip of terrorists. Magaji was shot twice in the leg during the fierce encounter.
Recounting his encounter with the terrorists, Magaji said, “I decided to join them to protect our people because I’m aged, and I don’t need to fear death. I just faced them, and we were exchanging fire when two bullets pierced my leg.”
– Politicians shun troubled communities –
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“We don’t have peace, and we cannot participate in the election on the election. I don’t think elections would hold in our community because no politician came to our village for election campaign”, Magaji told The ICIR.
“Our community has been taken over by bandits, our Animals have been carted away by them. So who will stay back to vote, or who would bring the boxes on election day? Even some of us that lived in the community later left because of fear of terror. What will happen to somebody that’s not from the community? If the security situation improves, we can go back to our community and cast our votes, but if the situation remains the same, we cannot go back,” Magaji explained.
Nigerians are set to choose who leads them in the next four years. The Presidential election is scheduled for February 25, while the Governorship and State Assembly is scheduled for March 11. However, experts have said rising insecurity across the country could deny many citizens from participating in the elections.
Kaduna, a North West state, has been identified as one of the most terrorised states in the country despite being armed with heavy presence of the military and police.
A total of 723 attacks resulting into 3,672 deaths have been recorded in the state in the last four years, while 124 kidnapping incidents were also recorded during the period, according to Nigeria Security Tracker.
Some local government areas in the state, such as Chikun, Kajuru, Kachia, Zangon Kataf, Kauru, Lere, Birnin Gwari and Giwa local government areas of the state are battling with this alarming humanitarian crisis.
– Activities of terror groups –
Earlier, a terrorist organisation, Ansaru enacted a law in some communities in the state banning all forms of political activities ahead of the elections.
The Jama’ar Ansarul Muslimina fi Biladi Sudan, also known as Ansaru terrorist group, is known to have an extremist ideological posture against democracy and secular authorities.
On June 25, 2022, the fundamentalist group also released audio against any form of political campaigning in the area. The statement specifically mentioned some villages as “no political campaign” zones.
The governor of the state, Nasir El-Rufai, also confirmed this development in a letter written to President Buhari seeking the federal government’s support to tackle the insurgency operations in the state.
However, security experts have argued that terrorism reins in the country due to lack of political will by the government to deal with the situation decisively, weak engagement, and slow response to intelligence.
The failure of the the authorities to address the widespread insecurity in the state threatens the safe conduct of the 2023 general election as the safety of electoral personnel and voters cannot be guaranteed in parts of the state that are prone to terror attacks.
Displacement leading to disenfranchisement
Like some other states in Northwest Nigeria, the insecurity in Kaduna is fueling a growing displacement crisis. The development has left many villages deserted, with many disenchanted and distraught even as election remains few days.
Thousands of people from the affected villages have been forced to leave their homes, and those with nowhere to go have to live at the mercy of the terrorists.
According to the International Organization for Migration, about 1.08 million have been forced to flee their homes in Nigeria as of September 2022. In Kaduna, 92,852 IDPs were identified.
The report identified insecurity which includes armed banditry, kidnapping, communal clashes, and attacks by gunmen, as the reasons for the displacement of 95 per cent of the IDPs in Kaduna.
Although the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Mahmoud Yakubu said Nigerians living in internally displaced person camps would vote in the 2023 general elections, but the INEC framework only covers the internally displaced persons who reside in formal IDP camps.
The policy does not capture IDPs that reside in host communities despite the fact that they account for 80 per cent of IDPs in the country
“Unfortunately, in some states, it is difficult to identify the IDPs because they are not in camps but rather settled among extended family members, relations and good Samaritans within safer communities where they are not registered voters. As a result, it is very difficult for the Commission to provide necessary electoral services to such IDPs. However, those in camps within Nigeria will be catered for in line with the Commission’s policy,” Yakubu said at Chatham House.
Aisha Musa, 40, is one of the survivors of insecurity not covered by this policy. The mother of seven is seeking refuge in an uncompleted building donated by a philanthropist in Iyatawa village of Giwa local government after terrorists forced her and her family to leave their village.
The terrorists murdered her 2-year-old son, injured her daughter and shot her husband in the leg when one Wednesday in 2021.
Aisha and her husband managed to exit the community after spending a week in the bush before coming to Iyatawa to seek refuge.
“We don’t know anything like political activities, no politician comes to our village to campaign, because our community has been sacked by terrorists. There’s no peace there again,” she told The ICIR.
Aisha, who said she left everything behind in her village, said she lost her Permanent Voters Card (PVC) during the relocation.
“I would not vote for anybody because they fail to protect us and our properties. I even don’t know where I put my PVC. I don’t think the election will hold in our community because there’s no peace. Most of us have departed from the village.”
– Residents not willing to return to villages sacked by terrorists –
Hussaini Yakubu was a vice Imam of a Juma’at Mosque at Bakali Kidandan village before he ran for his life. Yakubu said he has his PVC but the village where his polling unit is located has been sacked by bandits.
Yakubu, who lost three of his brothers to terrorist attack, cannot vote at Iyawa village, where he lives as an IDP and cannot risk returning to Bakali, his former village.
“I don’t think terrorists will allow elections to hold in Bakali, because most of the inhabitants have deserted the village. No political activities taking place there because there are no people in the community,” Yakubu said.
Terror victims express mixed reaction
Some victims of insecurity in Kaduna who spoke to The ICIR expressed mixed reactions over the forthcoming polls. While some of them expressed apathy, some expressed their willingness to cast their ballots.
A 42-year-old Ibrahim Lawal was one of the persons that narrowly escaped the bandit attack at Kerawa village in Igabi local government area of Kaduna State which led to the death of several persons including newborn babies.
According to him, most people have deserted the village and can no longer go back, even for the elections, but he expressed willingness to cast his ballot.
“I have PVC and would vote for a credible candidate. My family also have PVCs, and they will all go out and vote for the political party of their choice.”
Unlike Lawal, Hannatu Bakali, 32, from Bakali village, said she will not to go out on the election day.
The mother of two narrated how she had lost all her possession, including her PVC, to bandits’ attack. She said she raised millions of Naira to secure the release of her kidnapped husband.
“I don’t think elections will hold in Bakali because they scattered the village, even the politicians do not go there for campaigns. I would not go out to vote because safety is our priority now. My PVC got lost during the migration,” she said.
Sunusi Isiyaku, 54, from Karau Karau village bemoaned the incessant kidnapping in his community. He said a large part of their yearly harvest ends up as a ransom for the bandits.
“The issue of insecurity is highly alarming. Even yesterday, the terrorists kidnapped one of our people in Karau Karau, I have just come back from the village to condole with the family of the victim,” he said.
Sunusi reiterated his resolve to cast his ballot despite the insecurity in his community. He expressed his hope for a safe election.
A community head at Iyatawa community, Abbas Abdullahi, Sarkin Bakin of Giwa local government bemoaned the incessant attack by bandits in the community.
Abbas appealed to the government to provide adequate security for the community to enable the constituents to cast their votes on the election day.
“My call to the government is that Giwa Local government area is in terrible condition, we are urging the government to rescue good people of Giwa because if this problem is not tackled decisively, terrorists would likely take over all the villages in the local government.”
2023: Stakeholders express concern over insecurity
Nigeria’s elections have historically been fraught with violence and other abuses. Voter turn out has been on steady decline since 2007.
Experts have said disenfranchisement caused by insecurity could lead to voter turnout figure dropping again this year.
Even though the INEC chairman had always reiterated that the election would hold as planned, the chairman of INEC’s Board of Electoral Institute was quoted to have said: “If the insecurity is not monitored and dealt with decisively, it could ultimately culminate in the cancellation and/or postponement of elections in sufficient constituencies to hinder declaration of elections results.”
The Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) identified insecurity as one of the critical issues that may frustrate the outcome of the 2023 elections.
The Director of the Centre, Idayat Hassan had, said that various gangs of criminal elements and terrorists group are working towards disrupting the poll.
Idayat noted that the insecurity in the country may make logistics difficult for the INEC and hinder its ability to mobilise personnel for the voting exercise properly.
Idayat called for the intensification of military operations to tackle insecurity in the run-up to the forthcoming elections.
In an interview with The ICIR, a security analyst with the Lagos-based SBM Intelligence security firm, Confidence MacHarry, said the influence of Ansaru terrorist group, who earlier banned political activities in some parts of Kaduna communities, has been stemmed, but the rise in banditry attacks remains a major challenge.
“I don’t think the activities of terror groups is going to stop the election, and even if it does, there’s provision for a supplementary election as they did in 2019 and other past elections”, he noted.
Roadmap to Safe polls : Nigerian Police force expresses readiness
As part of measures by the Nigerian Police Force to ensure hitch free polls, the Inspector General of Police, Usman Alkali Baba disclosed that 404,106 security operatives will be mobilised for the February 25 presidential election.
The IGP said the Nigerian Police, with support from other security agencies, have perfected plans to deploy in a coordinated and collaborated manner to cover all locations.
He asserted that an intelligence unit is in place to track and apprehend those who may engage in vote buying and others who may want to disrupt the exercise.
Alkali said the security operatives will include officers of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF), Federal Road Service Corps (FRSC), Nigerian Correctional Service (NCoS), National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), and Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
He said a minimum of at least two personnel drawn from the above agencies would be jointly deployed to each polling unit across the country.
“The deployment will cover the national collation centre in Abuja as well as other collation centres across the states of the federation, FCT, and 774 LGAs,” he said.
“In view of the above, the Nigeria police will deploy 310,973 personnel for election security operations. The manpower required for this exercise will be completed by the military and other security agencies.
“In this regard, aside the military and DSS, other security agencies would contribute a total of 93,495 personnel for the election security operations.”
On plans to mitigate violence, Baba assured that a unique technical intelligence assets and special intelligence unit of the police are working with other security agencies and INEC, are in place to track and apprehend culprits.
Calls and text messages sent to the Public Relations Officer of Kaduna State Police Command, Mohammed Jalige, to confirm the command’s preparedness for the polls were not responded to as of the time of filing this report.