Insecurity: The dark clouds over 2023 general elections
Amid the shifting grounds and double-speak by political parties over the contentious issue of zoning the Presidency and concerns about the threat level of insurgents and other non state actors, the silent questions on the minds of Nigeria are many: Would it hold? What is the guarantee that the party in power wants to organise elections? How secure would contenders be as they embark on electioneering? What happens if the elections do not hold?
While the national apprehension rages, eminent lawyer and founder of Afe Babalola University, Ado Ekiti (ABUAD), Chief Afe Babalola (SAN), has called for a hold on the planned general elections in the country.
In his well-publicised essay the legal luminary enjoined the Federal Government to suspend the 2023 elections and in its place set up a six-month interim government after President Buhari’s tenure. The senior lawyer went further to explain the composition of the anticipated Government of National Unity (GNU).
Although the eminent lawyer is not known to make political statement, his intervention let off a flurry of reactions. While some kicked at the suggestions, others wondered why he was flying the kite at a time when it was expected that the third leg of Nigeria’s tripod should have a go at the Presidency.
It was obvious that Babalola’s cryptic suggestion for a restart of the statecraft in Nigeria was coming as a response to the tense socio-political situation in the country, which has underscored the two-nations-in-one geo-polity.
Alleging that Babalola’s framework for an interim government and stoppage of 2023 elections was a poor rehash of its position in 2021, the Nigeria Indigenous Nationalities Alliance for Self-determination (NINAS) rejected the proposal.
Secretary to the organisation, Tony Nnadi, said rather than allow President Buhari to serve out the remaining months of his tenure; the period should be used to conduct a referendum on the ethnic nationalities of the country to re-commit to Nigeria.
He said it is only after that the questions of writing a new constitution and composition of delegates should be addressed. It could be recalled that on August 17, 2021, NINAS, at a media briefing in Lagos, declared that all lawful means would be explored to abort the 2023 general elections.
NINAS comprises self-determination groups from Southwest, South/South, Southeast and Middle Belt as well as Ilana Omo Oodua led by Prof. Banji Akintoye, Mr. Tony Nnadi and Prof. Yusufu Turaki.
Apart from Babalola and NINAS, some stakeholders had previously expressed the fear that glossing over the fundamental structural imbalance in the country, especially given the disputed credibility of the 1999 Constitution as the will and testament of Nigerian people does not augur well for the 2023 poll.
A presidential aspirant on the platform of African Democratic Congress (ADC), Dr. Nonyerem Davidson, while announcing his withdrawal from the race, said available indices in the country do not guarantee that the 2023 poll would lead to sustainable peace and harmony.
“I am persuaded by the strength of the argument recommending that the 2023 election be suspended and that an interim government setup, while a new progressive and uniting constitution is drafted, debated and approved.”
Also, Chairman, Board of Trustees of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Dr. Walid Jibrin, said the insecurity in the country is not only a threat to the 2023 poll, but very worrisome for the survival of the nation.
But National Chairman of New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP), Prof. Rufai Alkali, contended that there was no basis to botch the democratic process, stressing that politicians will come together to find a way around the challenges to ensure the survival of the country.
Consequently, as the 2023 general elections draw near and with President Buhari’s second term in office coming to a close, apprehensions are high that history might repeat itself, especially against the background of national angst over mounting insecurity in the country.
In attempt to curtail insecurity and engender social harmony, some state governors came together to establish regional security outfits, particularly the Amotekun, which is the security outfit of Western Nigeria Security Commission (WNSC).
Conversely, while the Southwest was able to legalise the framework for the establishment of Amotekun, other geopolitical zones could not achieve similar unanimity among the states making up the zones, especially South/South and Southeast.
In the Southeast, the secessionist agitation of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), which insists on a referendum for the Igbo states, was made worse when group’s leader, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, set up the Eastern Security Network (ESN).
According to the IPOB leader, the ESN was set up to guarantee the safety and security of old men and women in their farms and ward-off the rampaging violent herders.
The attempt by Southeast governors to implement the resolutions of the Southern Governors’ Forum, particularly on the issues of anti-open grazing law and setting up of security outfits, ended in a stalemate as some governors out of fear of possible political backlash failed to set the machineries in motion.
It was discovered that some states that tried to set up security outfit code named Ebubeagu had a running battle with the ESN, which accused the governors of sleeping on the wheel while itinerant cattle herders molested, abducted and killed their helpless subjects.
In the middle of crisis of confidence and legitimacy, a new phenomenon called the Unknown Gun Men (UGM) came into force. The UGM, which began its activities shortly after the IPOB leader’s rendition from Kenya, compounded the security situation in Southeast as they targeted security personnel.
As Southeast continues to grapple with the activities of the UGM, bandits, who seem to have been infiltrated or working in cahoots with terrorists, levy fear and terror in the Northwest and parts of North Central.
Although the bandits were associated more with cattle rustling and mass abduction of innocent civilians for ransom, the attack on Abuja to Kaduna train on the eve of March 27, during which scores were killed and about 169 persons abducted, gave them away as terrorists.
Nonetheless, while it appeared that Nigerians had accepted the murderous campaigns of herdsmen and bandits/terrorists as a new national burden, what happened in Imo State on April 14 renewed fears that the 2023 General Elections might not hold after all.
That fateful Thursday in Ihitte Uboma Local Government Area, five gunmen wearing masks, killed an official of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) at the polling unit, where the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) was taking place.
The gunmen scattered the INEC registration materials as well as computer parts on the ground. Spokesman of INEC, Festus Okoye, who confirmed the killing of the commission’s staff (Anthony Nwokorie), disclosed that two others taking part in the exercise were missing.
In an interview with The Guardian, spokesperson of the Northern Elders Forum (NEF), Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, ruled out any kind of moratorium in elections to set up a GNU.
He said it is possible to get a government of national unity through credible elections that throw up leader chosen by Nigerians. According to Baba-Ahmed, “We do not need to stop election to have a government of national unity. The political process through the electoral process can actually create a government of national unity.
“All you need is a leadership that emerges legitimately, every Nigerian needs to know that when you say this is the leader that he has actually won the election. First, you need a leader that knows he is leading a diverse nation and therefore create a leadership system and a structure that gives every element a sense of participation.
“Do not practice nepotism, do not isolate any group, make sure in everything you do, that you reflect the nature of the Nigerian states in the manner you allocate resources and pay attention to tendencies that alienate groups of people.
“If you hear things like Biafra, Oduduwa or what have you, ask yourself, what are we doing wrong and create the government of national unity. Stopping election in order to create a government of national unity created by fear is one that is held by force.
“We want democratic process to grow and develop leaders of how Nigeria should grow and gives everybody an idea that this government is mine, is taking a decision for me, that is how you get a government of national unity. Who is going to head this national unity, on what law would he stand to create national unity?”
Also, at the height of the murderous activities of bandits, former Sokoto State governor, Dr. Attahiru Bafarawa, said the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) should not hide behind insecurity to call off the 2023 general elections.
The former governor said the election should be allowed to hold so that Nigerians could sack APC, “because they are the bandits. The electorate are ready to chase them away back to the bush were they belong.”
Although the call for suspension of 2023 election seems to be predicated by the unremitting insecurity in virtually every part of the country, the political angle would not be lost. Ever since the Southern Governors revived their forum as a balance to their Northern counterparts’, the issue of where President Buhari’s successor would come from has been raising anxiety.
Power sharing or distribution of political positions has been at the root of the leadership tussle that has defined the country’s statehood, even during the various military regimes that held sway in the country after independence.
Stakeholders maintain that the case of insecurity may not be sufficient alibi to quash the 2023 poll, arguing that previous exercises in 2015 and 2019 held inspite of the Boko Haram insurgency. However, the issue of power sharing arrangement seems to be assuming a dangerous dimension.
As the zoning frenzy continued, chairman of Southern Governors’ Forum, Governor Rotimi Akeredolu, charged APC to toe the path of equity. He recalled how APC recently elected officers on the established principle of giving every part of the country an important stake in the political calculus.
In the same vein, the Southern and Middle Belt leaders responded to Ango Abdullahi’s declaration that zoning is dead and buried. In a statement signed by Chief E. K. Clark, (PANDEF leader and Chairman); Chief Ayo Adebanjo, (Afenifere leader); Prof. George Obiozor, (Ohanaeze President-General, Ohanaeze) and Pogu Bitrus, (National President, Middle Belt Forum), SMBLF enjoined “political parties and political stakeholders not to tinker with the issue of zoning and rotation of political offices, especially, the presidency.”
While warning that doing so would further threaten the bear threads of the nation’s unity, SMBLF declared: “It is rather unfortunate and absurd that Ango Abdullahi and his Northern Elders Forum would make such twaddle. Are they now ready to dissolve the country?
“What has happened that zoning, which has been a sine-qua-non in the nation’s political progression has now become a ‘dead and buried’ issue, in the irrational contemplations of Ango Abdullahi and his co-travellers? Could it be due to the incapacity, insipidity and disastrous performance of the Buhari administration or the narcissistic desire to perpetuate Hausa/Fulani Hegemony?” the leaders queried.
SMBLF noted: “The history of zoning between the North and the South is well-known to everybody in this country and has been respected by all the major political parties in Nigeria. In the Second Republic, the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), adhered to the policy of zoning. PDP, has also, since its formation in 1999, adhered to the zoning of principal elective offices.”
On APC national chairman’s equivocations, the SMBLF said: “Senator Abdullahi Adamu, ought to know better because he has been in the nation’s political space for quite some time, since the Second Republic and should have a broad understanding of the political interplays that have sustained Nigeria’s oneness to date.
“Thus, (he) should not dance to the drumbeats of political pillagers, but rather, as National Chairman of the ruling party, firmly uphold the patriotic and democratic considerations that have kept Nigeria together as a country.”
For the fact that INEC has not indicated any threat level that could scuttle its conduct of next year’s general election, especially after the recent attacks in Imo State CVR centre, it could be said that the greatest fog threatening the 2023 poll is politics of who gets what.
Former Kaduna State governor, Senator Ahmed Makarfi, had said that the next President after Buhari should be one who can operate a government of national unity to give all parts of the country a sense of belonging.
It could therefore be against that background that Babalola sought for, not only the suspension of the 2023 general elections, but also a creation of GNU and return to parliamentary system of governance.
Nigeria’s current socio-political situation gives cause to worry about the way forward for the nation. How the political parties conduct their Presidential primaries, as well as, how far the country’s security agencies are able to stem the tide of insecurity in the coming days and months would determine what becomes of the 2023 poll.