With less than 40 days to the general elections, voters in Sokoto, Imo, Katsina, Zamfara, Anambra and some other states have expressed apprehension over the spate of insecurity in their communities, saying they may not participate in the electoral exercise unless the situation improves.
They insisted that their communities were not safe enough for elections to take place and urged the Federal Government to devise urgent strategies to address the situation.
However, the Defence Headquarters told Sunday PUNCH that more troops would be deployed in the affected states and communities, assuring that they would be safe enough for the elections to hold.
A member of the Sokoto State House of Assembly representing the Sabon-Birni Local Government, one of the local government areas facing security challenges, Aminu Boza, said until the security situation improved in the area, elections might not take place.
The lawmaker, who spoke to one of our correspondents on the telephone, said more than 40 villages in the council were affected by insecurity.
He said only the headquarters of the Sabon Birni, Isa and Goronyo local government areas were safe for elections.
He stated, “I can tell you that most of the people in the villages in those three local governments have run away from their homes; who is going to participate in the elections?
“In fact, in all the eight local government areas comprising the Eastern Senatorial District, I doubt if there is going to be any election unless the situation improves from what we have today.”
The local governments are Isa, Sabon Birni, Goronyo, Rabbah, Gwadabawa, Ilela, Gada and Wurno.
Boza, however, commended the state Commissioner of Police, Muhammed Gumel, for dispatching security personnel to the local governments to restore law and order.
Also speaking, Mallam Haruna Abbah, a resident of Isa LGA, corroborated the lawmaker, saying only the local government headquarters and a few villages were safe for elections in the state.
Abbah called on security agencies and the Independent National Electoral Commission to ensure that peace returned to the local government before the polls.
But the Head of Voters Education, INEC, in Sokoto State, Muhammad Takai, gave an assurance that security agencies would ensure the safety of all before, during and after the polls.
He said the commission had held a series of meetings with the heads of security agencies in the state with the assurance that things would improve before the elections.
The police spokesman in the state, Sanusi Abubakar, could not be reached for comments, but a senior police officer said everything was being done to restore peace in the affected areas.
In Anambra State, the residents said the insecurity ravaging parts of the state must be curbed before the February 25 presidential election.
In recent times, arsonists have burnt down a number of buildings belonging to INEC in the Idemili North, Ogbaru and Ayamelum local government areas, among others.
The hoodlums have also threatened that elections will not hold, insisting on the creation of Biafra Republic.
The Ihiala, Ogbaru, Orumba North and South local government areas have remained some of the most volatile as the security situation continues to worsen in these areas.
A resident of Ihiala, Gabriel Eche, expressed doubts that elections would hold in the area.
According to him, hoodlums have continued to overrun Ihiala communities on a daily basis without security operatives providing any solution or protection for the people.
Eche stated, “Right now, our security is more paramount. Of what use will it be if one steps out on that day and gets killed by hoodlums. Although I have collected my PVC, if the security situation continues like this, I don’t think I will come out to vote.
“Hoodlums have continued to unleash terror on our communities, burning down INEC offices and forcing people to abandon their ancestral homes. Unless security is beefed up, most people may remain indoors. The Federal Government must address the security issues on the ground before the elections.”
It is also the same story for residents of Ogbaru as insecurity has remained a painful reality for the communities.
A resident, Mr Silas Ukachukwu, said the worsening security crisis in the area was causing serious apprehension as most of the people remained undecided about the forthcoming polls.
The Resident Electoral Commissioner in the state, Mrs Queen Agwu, could not be reached for comments as calls and a text message sent to her telephone did not elicit any response.
However, the police spokesman in the state, Tochukwu Ikenga, asked the residents not to panic, adding that security operatives would be on the ground to ensure smooth and hitch-free elections.
“Many security personnel will be deployed, especially in the volatile communities, to ensure protection for the people and that the elections go on smoothly,” he added.
In Imo State, men of the Eastern Security Network have continued to strike terror in the hearts of the people.
Despite the killing and arrest of many suspected ESN members, the militia has not relented in its violent attacks on individuals, government offices and assets.
On Saturday, gunmen reportedly killed the uncle of the spokesman for the Coalition of United Political Parties, Ikenga Ugochinyere.
Ugochinyere in a tweet said the attackers killed four persons and set ablaze his uncle’s residence.
“We need help in Akokwa Ideato North Local Government Area, Imo State. My uncle has been killed now. They are setting everything on fire. Please help,” he tweeted.
In a video obtained by one of our correspondents, a man who was narrating the incident said several vehicles were destroyed.
The police spokesperson in the state, Michael Abattam, confirmed the incident.
A resident, Mr Innocent Onyesiaba, said that he would not vote due to the high level of insecurity in Nempi, Oru West Local Government Area of the state.
Chief Martina Odimegwu, who hails from Awo-Idemili in the Orsu Local Government Area of the state, said the time had come for Nigerians to take their destiny in their hands, adding that she would vote regardless of the security situation.
Residents of Kaura in Southern Kaduna, which was attacked on December 18, 2022, expressed fear that they might be disfranchised as their burnt voter cards had not been replaced.
A resident of Malagum community, Nathan Yashim, who lost his parents and siblings during the carnage, said, “We are calling on the government to provide an avenue for us to vote for leaders who are willing to protect us.
“We are willing to come out en masse to vote, but the government must deploy security agents to enable us to exercise our franchise.”
Another resident, David Luka, noted, “What happened in our community was enough not to make us come out to vote. Any eligible voter in the community must vote irrespective of the security threats.”
The Kaduna State Peoples Democratic Party deputy governorship candidate, Dr John Ayuba, observed that the coordinated attacks on selected communities were a calculated attempt to disenfranchise the people of Southern Kaduna.
“Most of the communities that were attacked are against the present administration. The eligible voters in the Southern Kaduna region must come out and elect leaders who have the fear of God at heart,” he advised.
A traditional ruler in the Sakong community, Mr Haruna Daniel, said the monarchs had made it mandatory for the people to vote on account of the attacks against their communities.
“We have experienced violent attacks on our community; the 2023 elections offer an opportunity for us to elect leaders who will protect our lives and property,” he stated.
Residents of Katsina, who spoke to Sunday PUNCH, called on the government to beef up security across the state ahead of the polls.
Mallam Muntari Muhammadu, a farmer in Zamdam village, Jibiya LGA, said the government was aware of the bandits’ attacks on the rural communities.
He said this was not enough to stop the people from exercising their civic responsibility.
He stated, “The 2023 elections will hold insha Allah and we in my village ( Zamdam) will vote. What I am not sure of is whether we shall vote in our village because of the current security challenges. I learnt that we might be conveyed to Jibiya, our local government headquarters, to vote. I also learnt that we might be moved to any community that is safer.
“All I know is that the terrorists still come here unannounced and the government is already aware of this. In fact, I was told that INEC is aware too and has made necessary arrangements that will enable us to vote.”
Mr Haruna Daniel, who lives Ummadau, Safana LGA, expressed the confidence that the necessary security arrangement would be made to protect the electorates.
Some residents of Zamfara said they might not participate in the elections if the security challenge persisted.
A villager, Shehu Umaru, stated, “Our community was attacked more than five times by bandits who also collected huge amounts of money from us as ransom.
“Many of our people have fled to other places and those of us who have the courage to stay in the village will not risk our lives to go out and participate in the forthcoming general elections.”
According to him, the villages can be attacked on Election Day “because the bandits are looking for such an opportunity to attack the villages.”
An indigene of Randa village in the Maru LGA, Musa Usman, said he would not risk his life by going to his village to cast his vote for fear of being killed by terrorists.
Usman, who left his village three months ago and settled in Gusau due to frequent bandit attacks, ruled out the possibility of casting his vote in the coming elections.
DHQ gives assurance
Responding to inquiries from Sunday PUNCH, the Defence Headquarters said it would deploy substantial troops to areas ravaged by terrorists, bandits and gunmen to ensure the safety of electorates during the polls.
The Director, Defence Information, Maj Gen Jimmy Akpor, said, “Nobody is sleeping; we’ll continue to do our utmost and scale-up our operations, intelligence and physical, kinetic and non-kinetic activities to ensure that the environment is safe for socioeconomic activities.
“In those areas mentioned, you would have done justice by having feelers from security agencies in the areas. Yes, there are security challenges; they keep evolving and so also are we reviewing our processes to ensure that we are able to deal with them.
“Mind you, this is not a conventional threat; this is an asymmetric operational environment we are talking about. Just imagine somebody who will commit an offence against the state will not write it on his face. That is the asymmetric environment we are talking about.
“We are also reviewing our processes to deal with it. Mind you, it is an all-agency affair and you can imagine the level of synergy between the armed forces and all other security agencies.”
Akpor noted that the military was collaborating with other security agencies to further scale up the successes it had recorded against criminals and bandits.
He added, “No agency is doing it alone, there is collaboration in so many areas. On a fortnightly basis, you see the successes we recorded against the enemies of the state. The police, DSS, and other security agencies have their own achievements too. We are all doing our best to ensure the environment is safe.
“It is not (only) a matter of deployment. In an asymmetry environment, intelligence is key and the intelligence community is up-scaling their operations to ensure that terrorists are picked up before they strike.
“In Plateau State and other areas, you are aware of our operation, which is ongoing in that area; also in Zamfara and the likes, we have Operation Hadin Kai. Every operation is being scaled up as well as intelligence and you have been hearing of our successes.”
The Force spokesman, Muyiwa Adejobi, could not be reached for comments on what was being done to eliminate the security threats to the polls as his number was unavailable.
The INEC spokesman, Festus Okoye, had yet to respond to calls and a text message sent to him as of the time of filing this report.
The National Publicity Secretary, Pan Niger Delta Forum, Ken Robinson, insisted that the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), and the security agencies must ensure that everything was done to provide a conducive atmosphere for the conduct of the general elections as scheduled.
Mr Afam Osigwe (SAN), said Nigerians needed to understand that elections were to be conducted by humans for humans.
Osigwe, who was a former Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association, said, “If there is full-blown civil disturbance by non-state actors, killing people, then, how will elections be conducted in those parts of Nigeria? Surely, the elections will be postponed. This now will be solely under the control of the electoral commission. It is about reality.”
In his view, Ahmed Raji (SAN), said the polls could be postponed if there were sufficient grounds, saying that was not strange.