With only four weeks left in what is shaping up to be the most contested election in Nigeria’s recent history, the country’s electoral landscape is feeling the heat. The past week witnessed candidates intensify outreaches. The presidential campaigns of the leading candidates have driven much of the discussion and activities from the political scene. However, the past week saw more gubernatorial candidates entering the fray, even in states where it is thought that the ruling party (in the state) is putting up a lacklustre showing because its victory is seen as a slam dunk. This has not only charged the political atmosphere but also increased the likelihood of violence as proxies of ruling parties (at state levels) are taking the battle to their perceived enemies.

Furthermore, INEC’s preparedness for the election remained in the spotlight following difficulty in the collection of permanent voter’s cards by prospective voters, some of whom have alleged tactical voter suppression, especially in areas like Lagos where possible voters of a particular presidential candidate have raised an alarm that they have been denied their cards. INEC’s failure to respond decisively to these claims is undermining its election effort. Rather, on Friday it announced that it has extended the deadline for PVC collection by a week.

The following are some of the incidents that were recorded this week with direct or potential impacts on the security of the elections.

• 23 January: The Labour Party’s Presidential Campaign Council (PCC) alleged that the vehicle of its flag bearer, Peter Obi was attacked by hoodlums in Katsina State on Monday. The Head of Media of the PCC, Diran Onifade said Obi’s car was attacked after he attended a rally at the Muhammad Dikko Stadium in Katsina. “However on his (Obi’s) way to the airport, hoodlums attacked the car our candidate was riding in with heavy stones from his driver’s side, causing substantial damage to the vehicle,” Onifade said in a statement on Tuesday. He said the former governor of Anambra State and other occupants of the car were unhurt.

• 23 January: The abducted Sole Administrator of the Ideato North Local Government Area of Imo State, Chris Ohizu, was reportedly beheaded. The council boss was butchered on Sunday after his abductors allegedly received ₦6 million as ransom. Video of his beheading surfaced online on Sunday, where his killers insisted that there would be no election in the country. A source from the LGA, who did not want to be named, disclosed that the sole administrator’s killers published videos of the beheading with the victim’s phone on his WhatsApp status.

• 24 January: The governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP in Lagos, Abdul-Azeez Adediran popularly known as Jandor alleged that his deputy, Funke Akindele was chased out of the Ketu fruit market, while one of his supporters was also stabbed on Tuesday. It was gathered that Akindele left the campaign after hoodlums chased her from the market. But Adediran’s campaign train moved around some streets in the council.

• 24 January: The Police in Jigawa State announced the killing of one person identified as Halliru Lafka in a clash between rival groups at a campaign rally of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in Kazaure Local Government. The State Commissioner of Police Emmanuel Ekot Effiom who confirmed the incident to newsmen said that police are hunting the suspected killer who was said to have disappeared to the neighbouring Kano State after he committed the crime.

• 27 January: One person was killed and five others wounded with various degrees of injuries during a clash between the operatives of Zamfara State Anti-Thuggery Committee and hoodlums at a motor park in Gusau, the state capital. Addressing newsmen in his Gusau office, the chairman of the committee, Alhaji Muhammed Bello Bakyasuwa said his operatives of the committee acting on intelligence that one Dondus was attempting to kill somebody in the motor park had quickly mobilised to the scene but were attacked after the arrest of the main suspect. They arrested eight of the thugs, pointing out that five of the arrested suspects are being detained at the Zamfara State Police Command while three are in the custody of the committee. In a twist, a day later, the PDP in the state alleged that the incident was an attack on its members by the state’s anti-thuggery unit. A statement released by the party’s guber candidate Dauda Lawal said: “The Anti-thuggery squad has attacked our supporters at Gusau central park on Friday resulting in the death of one Aminu Bala Gusau, while others who sustained bullet wounds are currently receiving treatment in a hospital.”

• 27 January: Scores of persons were injured in Aiyetoro, Surulere area of Lagos during a clash between suspected thugs of the APC and PDP. A video that went viral on social media revealed that thugs from both sides engaged themselves in a gun battle. But members of one group overwhelmed the other. Vehicles were seen hurriedly making U-turns while shop owners hid to avoid being hit by stray bullets. The impact of the gunshots caused a forced contraction for a pregnant woman identified simply as Chinyere.

• 27 January: Gunmen attacked the office of Benjamin Kalu, spokesperson of the house of representatives, located in Uzuakoli, Bende LGA of Abia State. Kalu said the ceilings, windows, APC flags, and billboards were destroyed. “My office, that is the office of the Bende federal constituency located at Uzuakoli, was attacked a few minutes past 10 pm last night, that is the 27th of January,” he said. “Over 100 bullets were found, destroying the windows, doors, and ceilings. The APC flags were pulled down and turned into shreds; the billboards were destroyed and no security agents were present until they left.”

Across the country, the space for democracy is shrinking. As the political rhetoric heats up, so have the attacks. Proxies acting on behalf of state ruling parties create a toxic environment for opponents to thrive. We saw such signs in Rivers last week when thugs suspected to be working for the PDP attacked the Accord Party and its governorship candidate in Etche. We saw the same in Lagos and Zamfara this week as both state and non-state actors denied opponents freedom of movement and/or assembly.

In all of these, the socioeconomic component of the dynamics of political violence cannot be left out. The Kano State government advised President Muhammadu Buhari to shelve his planned month-end visit to the state following the actions of some Katsina residents who booed and stoned the president’s officials in protest of the naira redesign policy.

The youths staged the protest a few minutes after noon, shortly after the President inaugurated the Kofar Kaura Underpass in Katsina. The protesters caused a commotion at the Kofar Kaura Underpass where they threw stones at the crowd after Buhari left the area. The boys also set up bonfires along the Yahaya Madaki Way, a few metres from the underpass, while shouting: ‘We don’t need you,’ ‘We no go do,’ in Hausa. A viral video showed a mass of youths violently denouncing the government as they engaged some policemen on the road. In response, the Kano State government has advised Buhari against making a similar trip to the state to avoid a similar reaction which is a sentiment widely shared among business owners and ordinary people across the country.

The APC’s presidential candidate Bola Tinubu had alleged that the hardship stemming from the naira redesign and fuel scarcity was designed by his enemies in the party to frustrate his chances at the polls, among other things. Such sentiment is not a signal that is only gaining momentum in Mr Tinubu’s home base in the South-West, but also in areas in the North-West experiencing even worse hardships, but their reaction in protest has not been in solidarity with the Tinubu campaign.

Away from this, the threats that face the elections have gone beyond sticks and stones. Speaking at the 2022 National Conference of the National Association of Judiciary Correspondents, NAJUC, in Abuja, on Wednesday, INEC chairman Mahmood Yakubu raised an alarm that the commission’s database is being attacked by foreign hackers. The commission has not been clear on the number of cyber attacks it has suffered and neither did it give any further information on the cyber threats it faces but only assured that its systems, especially the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) have been able to withstand such attacks.

INEC’s practice of outsourcing its cybersecurity to third-party contractors may have worked in the past when its election management was mostly manual. With the insistence on the use of BVAS and INEC Results Viewing Portal (IReV), the commission has to tighten loose ends by taking its security into its hands by setting up an in-house cyber security division to manage all of its databases. Cybersecurity is still a nascent concept for many great players in Nigeria’s private sector and even worse, the government. This election presents an opportunity to make it a culture and INEC has a unique opportunity to lead the way which has to start by publishing at least a weekly forensic audit and breakdown of illegal attempts on its systems.