The first leg of the 2023 general elections came on the 25th of February but hardly went according to plan, and for many domestic observers, it left a lot to be desired. The wide-ranging dissatisfaction with the electoral process stems from logistical issues on the part of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to the dismal performance of Nigeria’s security services.

In the days leading up to the elections, the military embarked on a show of force by moving armoured convoys along major highways in the country, which the military’s high command explained away as its preparedness to maintain law and order during the polls, although such “involvement”  in the democratic process has been decried by human rights activists and legal practitioners including Femi Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria. In line with tradition, the military stayed relatively far away from the polling units while over three hundred thousand police officers stayed in close proximity to the polling units.

During the run-up to the elections, one key security concern was if Nigeria’s numerous armed non-state actors would “allow” the elections to take place. That question was answered in several forms. In the first place, armed groups played little to no significant role in terms of direct action. However, the fear of such groups and their activities contributed to the logistical nightmares INEC faced.

For instance, over 100 National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) members—trained as Electoral Officers and Assistant Presiding Officers in three Imo State Local Government Areas (LGAs)—withdrew their participation in Saturday’s general elections. Imo’s Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), Sylvia Agu, disclosed this, on Thursday, in Owerri while speaking on the preparedness of the commission for the elections. According to her, the corps members cited insecurity as their reason for withdrawal.

Secondly, the focus was mostly on the impact of armed non-state actors with relatively less searchlight on the readiness and impartiality of the security forces. As a result, the story turned out differently. The following is a summary of the violent incidents recorded during the presidential elections and the morning(s) after:

23 February: Imo Commissioner for Trade and Investment, Simon Ebegbulem, and two other All Progressives Congress (APC) leaders escaped death after gunmen ambushed their convoy while returning from a rally in Umuawuchi village. Similarly, Imo State Waste Management Agency’s Managing Director, Kelechi Emeakaroha, and Okigwe South’s representative, Deacon Chike Okafor, got caught up in a near-death encounter at Alike, a remote village near Okata Community in Ihitte-Uboma LGA.

25 February: Political thugs snatched ballot boxes and voting materials at Oredo, Ward 4 Unit 42 on Butcher Street and chased away polling officials after perceiving the Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) defeat. One of the security agents attached to the unit said the attackers came with a gun to cart away voting materials as the officials were settling down for the day’s job. She also stated that it was shocking that the police came and arrested two people in the house where they hid from the hoodlums. Similarly, disturbances were recorded at Iyowa in Ovia North-East LGA, Edo, where thugs kidnapped all the electoral officials. The whereabouts of the seized personnel remained unknown at press time.

25 February: Acts of thuggery were reported in Yenagoa, with residents storming INEC’s office to lodge complaints. Voting did not take place in Wards 4, 6 and 8 owing to ballot paper shortage for the Yenagoa/Kolokuma-Opokuma House of Representatives elections. Some voters and Supervisory Presiding Officers (SPOs) had claimed that 48,500 ballot papers were missing, sparking protests that there would be no election until the ballots were produced in the community.

25 February: The Takai LGA INEC office in Kano State was burnt when some suspected thugs invaded it and unleashed violence around 9:30 am on Saturday. INEC officials, election observers, journalists and others were said to have run in different directions while some people sought cover in the ceiling of the building. It was said that the hoodlums set the building on fire in a bid to harm those in the ceiling.

25 February: One person was reportedly shot dead by the security agents guarding the INEC office in Idanre, Ondo State, on Sunday at the INEC collation centre. The deceased, Akinlabi Akinnaso, popularly known as Oluomo, was said to be a businessman in Akure and a PDP supporter.

25 February: A female voter, Jennifer Efidi, was stabbed by political thugs during Saturday’s presidential and National Assembly elections. Gory images of the resilient woman, who returned to cast her vote after receiving first aid, trended on social media. The photos showed her face covered in blood with others showing her bandaged face after receiving treatment.

25 February: Two persons were shot dead in Etim Ekpo LGA, Akwa Ibom State, during the presidential elections. Speaking on the security situation in the area, the returning officer, Prof. Felicia Ebuh, said two persons were shot dead while two others who sustained injuries during the crisis had been hospitalised. Ebuh stated that there were gunshots as early as 8 am in the area, which scared the INEC staff away, adding that elections did not hold in Ward 6 and two units in Ward 7 and 5.

25 February: Elizabeth Osadebamwen went to cast her vote at Ogheghe, Sapele Road, Benin City, Edo State. After voting, she remained there to monitor her vote till around 7 pm when some hoodlums attacked the unit and shot her. She was confirmed dead at the hospital. One other voter, Festus Idahosa, was also shot dead.

25 February: A PDP agent was killed during Saturday’s elections in Okene LGA, Kogi State, by political thugs suspected to be APC members. According to a source, five presiding officers were also abducted the next day by hoodlums.

25 February: At least two persons were burnt to death in Kano violence during the parliamentary and presidential elections. The New Nigerian Peoples Party (NNPP)’s campaign office in Tudun Wada LGA has also been burnt down. By Thursday, it was revealed that no less than 13 people died in the incident.

25 February: A pregnant woman—Ruth Osah—and an Emohua Vigilante Service member—Mark Orduize—were killed in Ubimini Community, Ward 12, Emohua LGA, Rivers State. About two houses were also burnt in the incident, causing people to flee the area for safety.

25 February: Hoodlums caused unrest at Mayfair Polling Unit, Awoyaya, Ibeju Lekki, and Alesh Hotel road, Lekki-Epe expressway. Hoodlums also attacked polling units at Oba Elegushi Palace Polling Unit: 050, and Agboola Obisanya junction, Oshodi, Lagos State.

25 February: Armed men in masks attacked a polling unit in Mafoluku Oshodi and set the ballot boxes ablaze. Pockets of violence were also reported in the Ilaje and the Victoria Garden City (VGC) areas, as vehicle owners were extorted by hoodlums and all business activities were grounded at VGC Ikota mall.

25 February: Five persons including children sustained injuries when Boko Haram insurgents fired shots targeting voters from Mandara Mountains in Gwoza LGA of Borno State.

27 February: Political thugs shot and killed the Umuezeokaoha Community’s traditional ruler, Ezeogo Igboke Ewa, in Ezza North LGA of Ebonyi State.

27 February: Thugs attacked the Plateau North Senatorial District’s collation centre and disrupted the result collation process. Following their invasion, they chased the election officials and other ad-hoc staff away. The trouble began when the Jos North/Bassa returning officer, Nehemiah Sanda, ordered the party agents to sign collated results, which indicated that the PDP’s Musa Agah got the highest votes.

28 February: The Lagos State Police Command says it stopped hoodlums’ attacks on Igbo traders who opened their shops against the market association’s order on Monday. A Twitter user, @victorisrael, had raised an alarm that “APC thugs are on the rampage on the streets of Lagos because Peter Obi won Tinubu. In Abibu Oki street off Broadstreet in Mandilas market Lagos island, they are chasing the Igbos, robbing them and destroying properties.” The police spokesperson, Ben Hundeyin,
denied the news.

28 February: A hoodlum, Adedeji, also known as Skye, shot a lady, Halimat Abowaba, to death on Abeokuta Street behind the Agege Stadium in Agege LGA. Adedeji and other hoodlums were celebrating the victory of a political party on Abeokuta Street when he suddenly brought out a gun and started shooting indiscriminately. In the process, one of the stray bullets reportedly hit Abowaba, who was in front of her mother’s drinking joint.

One major recurring decimal in nearly all the incidents reported is the failure of law enforcement agents to stop the violence. In some cases, the police became willing accomplices as they stood idly by while the ballot boxes were hijacked. However, the security services scored a few bright spots when on Monday, 27 February, the Rivers State Police Command via its Twitter page announced that it had arrested four of its officers for election misconduct. They were seen in a viral video snatching ballot boxes into their van. The police pick-up van in the trending video has also been impounded as part of an investigation.

Furthermore, on Wednesday, the Kano police charged the House of Representatives Majority Leader, Ado Doguwa, with murder for allegedly killing three people. The lawmaker was reportedly involved in a violent confrontation between NNPP and APC members that led to the killing of three people and the burning of the opposition party’s campaign office in the Tudun Wada LGA of Kano. If prosecuted successfully, Doguwa would be the first high-profile person to be arrested and prosecuted for electoral and political violence in recent times.

What both developments show is the police resort to belated approaches that may be too cold for comfort. The effect of this massive security failure is that it suppressed voter turnout to historically low levels. At 25%, the 2023 presidential election is a 10% drop from the 2019 version, which recorded a 35% turnout. It calls into question the security agencies’ commitment to peaceful polls and reduces whatever is left of their declining credibility.

As the guber elections approach on 11 March, the security concerns have not been addressed, as the primary law enforcement agencies—the police and the military—who were out monitoring the polling units and patrolling the streets respectively, have concluded they did a good job even though the facts on the ground say differently.