One of the hallmarks of an election season in Nigeria is the heightened flurry of related activities that take place almost simultaneously. For starters, governance is put on the back-foot; many government appointees and officials seeking re-election increasingly abandon their duty posts; the security agencies step up rhetoric to the neglect of public action; political proxies begin to map out strategies for maximum impact.

With only two weeks left before the first set of polls kick off, the various actors have intensified electoral efforts. On Saturday, 3 February, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) began a mock accreditation exercise across the country ahead of the 2023 general elections. Last week, the Commission noted that the exercise would hold on 4 February, to test the efficacy of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) in preparation for the Presidential and National Assembly elections on 25 February. INEC will be deploying the BVAS machine in a general election for the first time, although the technology has been deployed in several off-season elections held recently.

Despite INEC’s satisfaction with the exercise, the director of the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Idayat Hassan, said, “As it stands, only 436 of 176,846 polling units were covered, which is less than one percent of the area to be covered.” Therefore, CDD finds INEC’S decision to conduct the accreditation in one out of every 405 polling units deeply concerning. INEC’s long-standing logistical and punctuality problems also surfaced again, as CDD found instances of late arrival of INEC officials to their respective polling units. In several cases, INEC poll officials had not arrived for commencement of the process by 1130, whereas they were supposed to have arrived between 0800 and 0830.

While INEC tried to put finishing touches on its preparation, the security climate took a sharp turn for the worse. The past week witnessed another round of target practice on political actors by youth gangs acting as political proxies. Among their victims are security personnel, political actors, INEC, among others.

The following is a list of security incidents that happened the previous week that are likely to have an impact on the election:

29 January: The All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) in Ebonyi State petitioned the President, Muhammadu Buhari, the Inspector General of Police, Usman Baba, among others, over the alleged attacks and intimidation of its members in the state. The Director of Media and Publicity of APGA Campaign Council, Charles Otu, alleged that there were fresh plots to destabilise the campaign of the senatorial candidate for Ebonyi South, Ifeanyi Eleje, by suspected Ebubeagu officials.

30 January: There was palpable tension in Ile-Ife, when suspected supporters of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) attacked some loyalists of the All Progressives Congress (APC) at the Akogun area of Okerewe Ward II, in Ife-East Local Government Area. Members of the PDP were having their political rally along Itakogun, where the incident occurred. A female PDP member allegedly pointed at some APC supporters who were seated at their flash point, and was attacked. The woman, identified as Mrs Bola, was the first to destroy APC banners in the area, which led to the altercation.

30 January: The governorship candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in Rivers State, Senator Magnus Abe, narrowly escaped death when some hoodlums attacked his campaign train. Abe and his supporters were on their way to Mbiama in Ahoada West Local Government of the state when they were ambushed by armed men believed to be political thugs. Afterwards, the hoodlums started shooting sporadically, as the security operatives attached to Abe tried to curtail the situation.

30 January: On Monday, Kano State residents and youths pelted the convoy of President Muhammadu Buhari with stones and caused chaos and unrest in some parts of the state. Videos captured moments when the residents, most especially youths, stoned a helicopter in the convoy, burnt objects on the road and also damaged some police vehicles during the confusion.

31 January: The APC had planned its governorship campaign today in Opobo, Nkoro LGA, having gone to other LGAs to canvass voters ahead of the 2023 Guber election. But the campaign was truncated by thugs, who showed up in large numbers and vandalised all equipment, canopies and every arrangement put in place by the APC. They also beat up the LGA campaign director general, Boma Brown, who was later rescued by party faithfuls. It is believed that the thugs acted on the order of a political party in Rivers State.

31 January: The police stopped a rally for Bola Tinubu, presidential candidate of the APC in Niger state, sealed the New Bussa Township Stadium in Borgu LGA, the venue of the rally, and stationed its officers at the entrance on Tuesday morning. The officers prevented party supporters from entering the stadium for the event that was billed to start at 11 am. The rally, which was organised by Sabi Abdullahi, deputy Chief Whip of the Senate, was aimed at selling the candidacy of Tinubu and Kashim Shettima to the residents.

1 February: Gunmen attacked the INEC office in Ojoto, Idemili South Local Government Area of Anambra State, the Nnobi Police Station, as well as a residential building in the station within the LGA, which led to the death of a 16-year-old boy—the relative of a serving policeman. Another victim, a 15-year-old female, sustained a gunshot injury and was taken to the hospital where she is receiving treatment. The building was substantially damaged as all furniture and other items were destroyed, including non-sensitive materials recently delivered in readiness for the 2023 General Election. Among the items lost to the inferno are 729 ballot boxes, 243 voting cubicles, 256 election bags, 11 megaphones, 1 electric power generator and large quantities of indelible ink and liquid gum. However, uncollected Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs) kept in the fireproof cabinet and sensitive materials were not affected by the inferno.

2 February: Gunmen murdered Nnaemeka Ugboma, the Chairman of Ejemekwuru Customary Court in the Oguta Local Government Area of Imo State. He was killed while presiding over a court session, by gunmen who operated on motorcycles. The incident brought the court sitting to an abrupt end as lawyers, court staff and litigants fled.

3 February: Hundreds of protesters stormed the Oyo State Secretariat in Agodi, Ibadan, and injured a police officer attached to the Governor’s office. The Secretariat gate was locked following reports that pockets of protests had rocked different parts of the capital city. The resistance by the officers on duty, who fired blank shots into the air, made the protesters destroy property as they threw stones and other dangerous weapons into the Governor’s office. However, one of the suspects was arrested.

3 February: Yesterday, eight gunmen attacked the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) in Ebonyi State, Prof Bernard Odo, killing his driver while others sustained gunshot injuries with about five persons declared missing. The candidate was returning from Agba in Ishielu local government area of the state when the motorcade ran into the ambush of the hoodlums at the Rest House area, along the Enugu-Abakaliki expressway. According to the party spokesmen, the gunmen are suspected to be members of the Ebubeagu Security Operatives who opened fire on and shattered the candidate’s vehicle. The attack was the second assassination attempt on the life of the governorship candidate in the last three months.

3 February: Two persons lost their lives after gunmen stormed the residence of the Labour Party (LP) House of Representatives candidate for Lere Federal Constituency, in Kaduna State, Suleiman Tambaya, at Gure Village in Lere Local Council of the state. The incident occurred at about 10pm on Friday night when the House of Representatives candidate was in a political meeting in Kaduna, the state capital. Tambaya said, it would have been a “different story by now” without divine intervention and the prompt response of community members and local vigilante.

Given the plethora of election-related security incidents that happened in the previous week, the preparedness of security agencies will dominate discourse even till election day. Some outfits have made a public show of forestalling election-day violence. The police, for instance, arrested 61 political thugs, in an APC rally at Sani Abacha Stadium in the first week of January; three knives, eight cutlasses, four scissors, one parcel, 117 wraps of dried leaves suspected to be Indian hemp, three bottles of suck-and-die, 500 pieces of suspected Exol tablets and a bunch of charms were recovered from the suspects.

Similarly, on Monday, 30 January, the 9th Brigade Nigerian Army, as part of its recently announced Operation Still Water, paraded 116 suspected hoodlums who have been disturbing the peace of the state for various crimes in Lagos. The suspects, who were paraded for various crimes, were reportedly arrested during Exercise Still Water’s operation on the rail side, Brown Street, Araromi, and other parts in Oshodi area of the state. Some of the items recovered from the hoodlums include a locally made cut-to-size pistol, 8 phones, local charms, cash, Indian hemp, tramadol, ATM, MTN sim cards and bags.

Reports from successful security operations have one major theme: an absence of intelligence for prevention of immediate attacks. These measures only go so far, but they do not go far enough, especially in preventing attacks not only on INEC facilities but also on politicians. Beyond parading suspects, the security agencies, especially the police force, have a duty to investigate petitions and attempted assassinations of politicians and other prominent members of society. Last week, human rights lawyer, Ebun Adegboruwa, publicly alleged an assassination attempt on his life. As with the alarm raised by APGA in Ebonyi, both petitions to the police have gone unanswered or publicly acknowledged by the police. A continuation of such significantly questions the police’s stated readiness for the election and would subsequently impact voter turnout in historically volatile areas.