The first leg of the 2023 general elections takes place about ten days from now. Many of the issues which have dogged a successful conduct of the polls—Nigeria’s seventh general election since the return to civilian rule in 1999—have remained, namely mounting insecurity in several parts of the country; a biting scarcity of cash, which the electoral umpire—the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)—have noted may be detrimental to its efforts; as well as a prolonged fuel scarcity following Tuesday’s notice sent by the leadership of the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN) to its members to shut down operations in light of rising costs, which was eventually rescinded within 24 hours.
As the polls draw close, many of the security concerns, especially with direct connection to the elections, are yet to be mitigated. The following is a breakdown of some of the events that happened in the past week which may have an impact on the peaceful conduct of the 2023 general elections:
• 7 February: The Nigerian Police Force, Sokoto State Command, arrested 10 suspects believed to be political thugs operating in the state. The first syndicate of the thugs were arrested at Kangiwa Square while others were arrested at Hubbard area. According to the police, the suspects have been arraigned in court and are committed to remand in a correctional facility in Sokoto.
• 10 February: Police in Jigawa State reported the death of a 37-year-old man, Abdullahi Isiyaku, in a clash between the supporters of PDP and APC in Maigatari local Government Area, where many sustained injuries. The incident happened on Friday when the opposition, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), was conducting a rally at Maigatari. The clash erupted when the PDP supporters arrived at the APC secretariat in Gangare Quarters and allegedly attacked one Abdullahi Isiyaku. Five suspects were arrested in connection with the clash.
• 11 February: Supporters of the Labour Party’s presidential candidate, Peter Obi, were attacked in the Lekki area of Lagos during the party’s presidential campaign rally in the state. Several vehicles, including cars and a coastal bus with a banner carrying pictures of Obi and his running mate, Dr Yusuf Datti Baba-Ahmed, were also vandalised on Saturday. It was learnt that the supporters were on their way to the Tafawa Balewa Square, the venue of the rally in Lagos Island, when they were attacked. Videos and pictures of the attack were posted online, with the victims blaming the attack on the supporters of the All Progressives Congress.
As with the last two presidential elections, elections in Lagos will be likely coloured by voter suppression through intimidation and violence by thugs. A preview of this was recorded two weeks ago in a clash between PDP and APC supporters in Surulere.
During the week, a WhatsApp voice note also surfaced in which the Baale (traditional ruler) of Igbara community in the Jakande area of Eti Osa Local Government Area was heard threatening to evict residents from the estate, should they fail to vote for the APC. This is a threat that is quite reminiscent of the one made by the Oba of Lagos Rilwan Akiolu in 2015 in which Igbo residents were threatened with mass drowning in the Lagos Lagoon if they fail to vote for then APC Lagos guber candidate, Akinwunmi Ambode. The difference between the 2015 event and now is that while the former caused a ruckus that security and law enforcement agencies largely ignored, the police have acknowledged the threat issued in the present circumstances. On Saturday, 11 February, the Lagos State Police Command announced that the said traditional ruler, now identified as Oba Francis Adefarakanmi Agbede, will be invited for questioning. For many would-be voters, this may come off as a half measure. The police are yet to make similar announcements especially with regard to the attack supporters of the Labour Party suffered from thugs on Saturday. A perception of justice done is the basis on which actionable justice is accepted, and the police are losing such initiative.
When the Jigawa and Lagos events are put side by side, one can see a stark geopolitical difference in which the same issues are handled. In Jigawa, the police moved swiftly to arrest suspects in the clash. The police commands in Kano and Sokoto have also moved swiftly to forestall a breakdown of order during campaigns in lieu of the elections, albeit in a typically reactionary manner. Comparatively, the police in the South are taking a vastly different approach to election security in a manner that makes the police command in the North West look too competent for a Nigerian Police Force. Many attacks carried out by proxy actors in Lagos as with other parts of the South have been ignored, and as a result, the region leads the country in the number of such incidents.
With mere two weeks left for the elections, there are many reputations on the chopping block: the Central Bank continues to take a hit by proxy as many protesters have focused their ire on commercial banks in light of the cash scarcity; the federal government’s handling of the fuel and cash scarcities have shown how a little incompetence in one department may have ripple effects across the board; and INEC’s handling of the voter’s card distribution has left much to be desired. Adding the security agencies’ (especially the police’s) readiness, together with the reputational damage that is already sweeping across public departments, to the list of things that election observers will have to take into account makes a mockery of the entire process. For some, especially the Nigeria Police Force, it may just be another day in the office.