2023 election security brief, 13 March

13th March 2023

The second part of the 2023 general elections has been a stillbirth for foreseeable reasons. On Wednesday, 8 March, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced that it postponed the 11 March state elections by a week. The reasons it gave for the postponement stemmed from the need to reconfigure the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) machines which it judged would last a week. The commission got its wish to reconfigure the machines after the Presidential Election Petition Court in Abuja granted it permission to do so despite objections from main opposition parties.

With the extended break between the federal and state elections, political parties are looking to step up their campaigns ahead of the polls now slated to hold on March 18. Following the general conduct of the presidential elections which was marred by pockets of violence and logistical failures, there is a minimal belief that the next set of elections will not go the same way.

On the logistical aspect, the decision to reconfigure over 176 000 BVAS machines within a week would likely be a point of contention before, during and after the process. On the ground, however, the key security concerns remain even as campaign rhetoric continues in its colourful form. The following are some of the incidents we have been following in the past week that may have an influence on the conduct of the polls:

7 March: The country home of Peoples Democratic Party candidate for Imo State House of Assembly, Ifeanyi Ozoemena, was attacked and razed down by gunmen. They threw explosives into Ifeanyi’s house in Okigwe Local Government Area of Imo state and also supervised the burning of the property. Similarly, the gunmen went to Umuokparaoha village, Umulolo community, to raze Ifeanyi’s father’s house in the same LGA of which the nefarious mission was carried out unchallenged.

8 March: The Lagos State Police Command has commenced an investigation into a fire outbreak at the Akere motor spare parts market, Tolu, and Olodi Apapa in the state. The fire outbreak occurred in the early hours of Wednesday morning, destroying shops and properties worth several millions of naira. The state police spokesman, Benjamin Hundeyin, in a statement on Wednesday, disclosed that a 65- year-old security guard lost his life in the fire outbreak.

9 March: One person was reported killed with about 15 other persons sustaining injuries from gunshots and weapon attacks at a campaign rally of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) governorship candidate, Sadique Abubakar, at Duguri town in Bauchi state. Duguri, a village in Alkaleri Local Government Area, is the hometown of the Bauchi State Governor, Bala Mohammed.

One recurring flashpoint in Nigerian political security that induces street clashes is the rivalry between leading politicians in the same party. Such clashes are also as deadly as inter-party conflicts typified by proxy wars by gangs with affiliations to parties. This is largely the summary of the Bauchi violence. As with previous weeks, the guber elections will likely see more personality clashes play out in more sophisticated forms as parties try to go for the jugular.

In the less-sophisticated and crude form of political violence this week, the market fire in Lagos is being investigated for possible arson ignited by thugs loyal to a political party, a move which can be interpreted as scaremongering that aids voter suppression. Also, it comes at a time when political actors are ramping up ethnic sentiments on social media to solidify control of government and politics in the state. The police’s decision to investigate the incident lends credence to the fact that this is actually smoke with fire.

All failure is state failure. The police’s failure to act following multiple reports of incendiary speeches online has contributed to the translation of virtual provocative rhetoric to physical actions. Such subversive actions are pointers that beyond the investigation of a market fire, the police and security agencies especially the State Security Service (DSS), who have acknowledged such problems with a potential to cause unrest, have their work cut out for them, and it remains to be seen how much they would rise to the occasion.