The Independent National Electoral Commission will this week meet heads of security agencies as part of moves to end attacks on its offices in some parts of the country.
The PUNCH on Monday gathered that the meeting with security chiefs would be held after the commission’s meeting with its resident electoral commissioners on Wednesday.
A top official of INEC disclosed this to The PUNCH just as the number of the commission’s offices burnt by hoodlums rose to 21 on Sunday night with the attack on the Enugu State headquarters of the electoral body.
Recall that The PUNCH had reported exclusively on Friday that at least, 19 offices of INEC had been razed in the last two years.
A breakdown of the incidents showed that the most affected states include Akwa Ibom (four), Abia (three) Anambra (two) and Imo (two).
Other states that witnessed fire incidents between February 2019 and May 2021 are Borno, Ebonyi, Jigawa, Kano, Ondo, Plateau and Rivers. Abuja was also affected.
The INEC office in the Obollo-Afor, Udenu Local Government Area of Enugu State was razed by a midnight fire last Thursday while on Sunday, the headquarters of INEC in the same state was gutted by fire. This brings the total number of offices gutted by fire in the last two years to 21.
On Monday, the commission the top official of the commission, who confided in The PUNCH, said, “After our meeting on Wednesday, we will meet security chiefs to end this ugly development which may affect future elections.”
Also on Monday, the Chief Press Secretary to the INEC Chairman, Mr Rotimi Oyekanmi, warned that the commission’s capacity to prepare properly for future elections could be affected if the attacks on its facilities as being witnessed lately in parts of the country continued.
One of our correspondents had asked Oyekanmi how the recent attacks on INEC offices could affect future elections in the affected areas.
He said, “The commission will not be deterred by the unprovoked spate of attacks from carrying out the required electoral activities in the region and the entire country.
“However, these deliberate and misplaced attacks on the commission’s facilities cannot and should not continue.
“If they continue unabated, preparations for electoral activities may be affected.”
Oyekanmi also confirmed that the commission would meet security agencies to end attacks on its facilities.
He stated, “The commission will meet with the resident electoral commissioners in Abuja on Wednesday, May 19, to be followed by another meeting with the security agencies under the auspices of the inter-agency consultative committee on election security.
“These emergency meetings are being convened to discuss the spate of attacks and come up with the appropriate measures to be taken with immediate effect.”
When asked how much has been lost to the attacks, Oyekanmi said although it was difficult to come up with exact cost at the moment, it would cost the country a lot of money to replace the assets that were destroyed.
He described the damage done by the arsonists as “extensive.”
“It is difficult at the moment to ascertain the exact cost of the extensive damage caused by the burning down of some of the Independent National Electoral Commission’s offices in different parts of the South East region.
“But one thing is certain: replacing and rebuilding the assets and infrastructure destroyed by the arsonists will cost the country a lot of money. The damage is extensive,” he said.
Enugu INEC set on fire, six vehicles burnt
The attack on the Enugu State headquarters of INEC came 48 hours after the commission office in the Udenu Local Government Area of the state was burnt.
It was learnt that hoodlums numbering about seven in a mini-bus stormed the premises of the commission located near Enugu State Broadcasting Service at Independence Layout Enugu and set fire on six Hilux vehicles five of which were completely burnt. The sixth was partially destroyed.
It was gathered that the hoodlums tried to set buildings in the premises ablaze but were resisted by armed security agents guarding the premises. Some pieces of furniture in one of the offices were said to have caught fire before firefighters arrived.
Briefing journalists shortly after assessing the damage done, the state INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner, Emeka Ononamadu, described the attack as unfortunate, adding that the spate of attacks on the commission’s facilities portended danger to national electoral activities.
Ononamadu in a text statement he read which was signed by National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, disclosed that the commission would hold an emergency meeting with resident electoral commissioners on Wednesday to discuss and proffer possible solutions.
The REC said, “Some unidentified persons overpowered the security personnel on duty around 9pm and tried to set the entire building ablaze. The attention of the security agencies, as well as the federal and state fire services in Enugu, was drawn to the unfolding situation and they responded swiftly.
“The attackers set the foyer ablaze, vandalised some offices in the main building and caused extensive damage to some of the commission’s movable assets within the premises.
“Six utility pick up vehicles (Toyota Hilux) were burnt down while two more were smashed and damaged. The security agencies, who were at the scene, have commenced investigation.
“As we categorically mentioned in our earlier statements, the spate of attacks on the commission’s facilities portends danger to national electoral activities.
“The commission is holding an emergency meeting with the resident electoral commissioners on Wednesday 19th May 2021 and further statement will be released ahead of another emergency meeting with heads of all the security agencies in the country under the auspices of the inter-agency consultative committee on election security.”
Meanwhile, the state Commissioner of Police, Mohammed Aliyu, has ordered manhunt of the perpetrators.
The commissioner in a statement issued through the command’s spokesman, Daniel Ndukwe, enjoined residents to provide information to rid the state of criminal elements.
He said, “Yet to be identified armed miscreants, on Sunday, 16/05/2021 at about 2030hrs, attempted to set the Enugu Headquarters of the Independence National Electoral Commission ablaze, but were stiffly resisted by joint security operatives, who swiftly mobilised to the scene.
“The state fire service personnel, who promptly responded to calls put across to them, helped in quenching fire already set on four vehicles and two pieces of furniture within the office premises.
“Meanwhile, the Commissioner of Police, Mohammed Aliyu, who immediately raced to the scene alongside heads of other security agencies in the state, has ordered the emplacement of adequate security within the precincts of the office and the launch of a full-scale investigation to unravel the mystery behind the act as well as fish out the assailants.”
Ndukwe quoted the commissioner to have enjoined law-abiding citizens of the state to remain vigilant and promptly volunteer useful information that would help the police in their investigation.
Armed security operatives were said to have cordoned off the area while men of the state fire service were still on the premises with their equipment as of the time of sending the report.
However, an advocacy group for promotion of peace and good governance in Enugu State, Enugu Youth Coalition for Good Governance, has accused desperate politicians in the state of being behind the attacks.
The group alleged that those politicians were not happy with the existing peace and security in the state and wanted to create a state of insecurity to frightening the people.
The group in a statement signed by its coordinator and the secretary, Ikechukwu Ibeh and Jude Onyema respectively, stated, “This foiled attack on INEC office in Enugu, is one of the heinous plots of these wicked politicians, hovering from one part of the state to another, to fiercely create an unpopular, strange and false impression that the most peaceful and secure state in Nigeria (Enugu) is in crisis”.
2023 poll budget may rise, commission plans to replace attacked facilities
There are indications that Nigeria will spend more to conduct the 2023 general elections as INEC says it has begun an audit of assets destroyed in the ongoing serial attacks on its facilities.
INEC, which has described the destruction as a setback on its preparation for coming elections, said a budget would be made to replace damaged items.
The National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, INEC, Festus Okoye, made this known on Monday when he featured on Politics Today, a current affairs programme on Channels Television.
He said, “So many of the items in our local government area offices are not things that you can purchase off-the-shelf and we just finished auditing the materials we have in all the 774 local government areas, preparatory to some of the off-season elections and the 2023 elections. We want to know what we have, the shortfalls and what to place order for; and do budgeting and get funds appropriated for them.
“For us, we don’t know the motives and it is a huge setback on our preparations for some of the off-season elections that we have and the 2023 elections.”
INEC stated that it would continue with its operations in the areas affected.
While answering questions on the programme on Monday, Okoye partly said, “The Independent National Electoral Commission and its offices are national assets and they represent the symbols of our democracy. We really do not know the motives behind some of these attacks. We don’t even know what the people who are attacking our offices want.
“In most of the places where these attacks have occurred of recent, there are no elections coming up in any of those states. Even the elections that we have had recently – bye-election – did not take place in some of these local government areas where these attacks are happening.”
Okoye noted that one of the agenda of the meeting with RECs on Wednesday is to analyse the situation and know the cause of the attacks. He said INEC would later on Friday meet with the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security.