ELECTION SECURITY RISK ANALYSIS: HYBRID THREATS, EARLY WARNING SIGNS AND PROSPECTS OF A SEAMLESS POLITICAL TRANSITION IN NIGERIA – PART 1

Overview

Barring unforeseen circumstances, Presidential and National Assembly elections in Nigeria will hold across 109 senatorial districts and 360 federal constituencies on Saturday, February 25, 2023. Similarly, gubernatorial and State Assembly elections is slated to take place two weeks after the presidential election in 28 states and 993 state constituencies on Saturday, March 11, 2023. Three off-cycle  governorship elections for Bayelsa, Imo and Kogi states, will hold same day, Saturday, 11 November, 2023. It is interesting to note that about 48 million out of the 93.5 million eligible voters in Nigeria are youths.

The implication of this is that if majority of youths exercise their franchise, they might flip the outcome of the general election. Election can be likened warfare in Nigeria and the situation is not different preparatory to the 2023 general elections. If anything, the tension, uncertainty have escalated. Synonymous with every election season in Nigeria, governance is now relegated to the back seat while ethno-religious politicking, political brinkmanship, intolerance, gaslighting, dog-whistling, disinformation seems to have taken the front seat. This election security threat assessment was carried out using publicly available information (PAI), open source intelligence (OSINT) to glean and forecast likely multidimensional or hybrid election security threats in Nigeria such as internecine conflicts, cybersecurity challenges, logistics and legal issues that could hinder the 2023 general elections.

Election Security, Election War-chest And Logistics Deployment

With a whopping N305 billion budgeted to conduct the 2023 general elections, it promises be the most expensive election in the annals of Nigeria. Whereas Nigeria’s amended Section 88 of the Electoral Act pegs the maximum amount to be spent by a Presidential candidate to N5bn (approximately $12m), from the current N1bn (400 per cent increase), and 1 billion Naira for gubernatorial election, a former Presidential Spokesman reckons that in reality, “No Nigerian President in the last 20 years has spent less than $100m to be President”. Given the rate of inflation and depreciation of the Naira, the war chest could have ramped up to a staggering $300m. Tells how expensive politics, prosecuting an election is in Nigeria.

The forthcoming 2023 general election also promises to be a security and logistics nightmare for the electoral commission, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) who obviously have no direct control over logistics and security. For instance, barely few weeks to the general election, the Independent National Electoral Commission says the lingering petrol scarcity could hamper the movement of election materials and election personnel. Apparently, the INEC relies on private transportation and transport unions such as the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), National Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO), Marine Workers’ Union (MWUN), to move electoral materials to the nook and cranny of the country. Similarly, the electoral Commission would rely on government security forces (GSF).

The Nigerian Navy expected to help ferry election materials to riverine communities, the Nigerian Air force (NAF) will provide logistics support with its retrofitted C-130 Hercules aircraft amongst others. To this end, the INEC chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, revealed that 530,538 security agents, including policemen and Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) personnel would be deployed to polling booths for the 2023 general election. Talking about logistics management, the INEC says the 2023 general elections will involve nationwide deployment of over one million personnel (including ad hoc staff), 100,000 vehicles, about 4,200 boats to be escorted by naval gunboats and massive quantities of materials to 774 LGA’s; 8,809 Electoral Wards and 176,846 polling units across the length and breadth of Nigeria. Technology will play a role in coordinating this massive logistics. In this light, he INEC says it established a ‘’Logistics Management System – Election Logistics Framework (ELF), which uses an android application and web dashboard to track election materials procurement through storage to delivery’’.

Though the deployment of the Nigerian military as an election watchdog is a contentious and controversial issue, it appears the pervasive insecurity in Nigeria is an extenuating factor. As apprehension rises over the likelihood of holding elections in parts on Nigeria, the Chief of Defence Staff, Lt. General Lucky Irabor allayed fears and assured that the elections will indeed hold as scheduled. The Defence Headquarters confirmed it would deploy substantial troops to areas ravaged by terrorists, bandits, and gunmen to ensure the safety of electorates during the polls. According to the Director, Defence Information, Major General Jimmy Akpor, “Nobody is sleeping; we’ll continue to do our utmost and scale-up our operations, intelligence and physical, kinetic and non-kinetic activities to ensure that the environment is safe for socioeconomic activities’’.

To this end, there’s likely to be massive military deployment in the entire southeast, including Imo, Anambra, Benue, Katsina, Zamfara, Sokoto state, amongst others, before the general elections. While they are at it, the military and other security agencies must be apolitical and desist from extrajudicial killing. It is commendable that the Inspector General of Police is distributing more than 1 million copies of the 36-page Nigeria Police Force handbook – “Revised Standard Operational Guidelines/Rules for Police Officers and Other Law Enforcement Agents on Election Security Duties” ahead of the 2023 General Election. Hopefully those that would be deployed for election duties will read and assimilate the spirit and letter of the standard operating procedure which spells out “crowd control, use of force and lethal weapon, escorting and protection of election materials, general conduct, procedure of arrest, dress and accoutrement, managing political parties’ convention and rallies”, amongst others.

It is a welcome development that the police hierarchy has banned the deployment of quasi security outfits established by regional or state governments such as the Southwest Security Outfit called Amotekun, Ebubeagu et al from participating in election campaigns and other electoral processes.

Despite Huge Spending on Security, Insecurity Is Nigeria’s Undoing

Talking about money-spinning and sapping undertakings in Nigeria, (in)security tops the list. The Nigerian government has spent more than N8 trillion on defence budgets in the last seven years while additional N722.53 billion ($1.76 billion) was borrowed from the domestic capital market. This is in addition to the $1 billion that the presidency withdrew from the Excess Crude Account (ECA) and supposedly splashed on national security. Recall that president Buhari’s administration appropriated N1.55 trillion for defence/military out of the N20.51tn 2023 proposed appropriation bill presented to the National Assembly. Nigeria’s Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Lucky Irabor on October 18, 2022, lamented that Nigeria lost 100,000 lives and spent $9 billion (about N3.24 trillion) since the Boko insurgency began in 2009. Of course, aforesaid defence/security spending excludes the muddy, corruption-laden, and unaccounted-for ‘’security votes’’, which Transparency International approximates to be over $670 million annually, as of 2017. To get a hang on the security vote miasma, consider the report of a former Nigeria analyst, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, US Department of State, Mr. Matthew T. Page, titled – Camouflaged Cash: How ‘Security Votes’ Fuel Corruption in Nigeria.

It needs no explanation that the security situation in Nigeria has deteriorated over the years and there is no assurance that a silver bullet is in the offing. A research by World Risk Poll which attests that three in five Nigerians (61 per cent) feel less safe than they did five years ago. The prevailing security situation in Nigeria renews calls for state policing. In an unprecedented and unanimous move, 17 southern governors commended their 19 northern counterparts for joining the call for the establishment of state police to tackle the persistent security challenges in Nigeria. Similarly, Nigerian Senators across political parties, on Wednesday 27th July 2022, voiced their discontentment with the deteriorating security situation in the country. The Senate gave President Muhammadu Buhari a six week ultimatum to properly address worsening insecurity or face immediate impeachment.

Opinions, Fears That 2023 Political Transition May Not Pan Out Well

Legal luminary, Chief Afe Babalola apparently fired the first salvo when he advocated that the 2023 election be deferred. In a press release on April 18, 2022, Chief Babalola ‘’advised the federal government to suspend the 2023 elections and allow a 6-month interim government after President Muhammadu Buhari’s tenure that would give a new constitution that would tackle insecurity, economic, political and other ills bedeviling the nation’’. Not long after Babalola’s prompting, precisely on May 9, 2022, another elder statesman and senior lawyer, Robert Clarke, proposed that President Muhammadu Buhari ‘’should serve for an extra six months to give him enough time to address the country’s security woes’’. Mr. Clarke extenuated what seems like a sales pitch by citing that, ‘’the Constitution provided the President to extend his tenure for six months in the first instance if conditions were not ripe for an election’’. Also, Reverend Chris Okotie on Sunday, June 19, 2022, ‘’proposed an interim government as a solution to Nigeria’s political problems’’. At the risk of spiritualizing, we may have to ponder on the take of the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), Pastor Enoch Adeboye who opined sometime in April, 2022, that, “As we speak, I am not sure yet if there will be an election in Nigeria. I said yet – because the Lord has not told me about it’’.

Afterwards, precisely on Thursday, June 23, 2022, during a bilateral meeting on the margins of the 26th Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Kigali, Rwanda, the erstwhile British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, rhetorically asked President Muhammadu Buhari if he will be running for another term in office? It is either Johnson wasn’t  aware that Buhari is constitutionally barred from seeking another term in office or we can safely infer that his prying question was aimed at extracting assurances from Buhari that he would relinquish power in 2023. The latter seems more tenable. The United Kingdom’s government is also concerned about the prospect of the 2023 elections in Nigeria. During the launch of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum Peace and Inclusive Security Initiative (PISI) in Abuja, Mr. Chris Beecroft, director, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), expressed anxiety over the 2023 general elections Nigeria. Mr. Beecroft cited active insurgency in the Northeast; farmers-herders’ conflicts across the country, resource conflicts in the Niger-Delta, the tension in the southeast and banditry in the northwest as some of the major security challenges that may affect the election.

Legal Loopholes And Allegation of Election Sabotage

A senior advocate of Nigeria, Chief Wole Olanipekun is one of those worried about the legal loop-hole and ticking time bomb in Nigeria’s new electoral act 2022. According to him, Section 65 of the Electoral Act, ‘’empowers the Chief Returning Officer of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), to return and also review his decision’’. Chief Olanipekun contends that this clause is ‘’a very dangerous act in Nigeria’s electoral system’’. He argues that, “the returning officer is not a court of law, not a tribunal, not vested with jurisdiction to exercise quasi- decision or to assume jurisdiction over any matter that is judicial in nature.”

Similarly, A few weeks to the February/March general election, the Independent National Electoral Commission INEC is reportedly confronted with ‘’at least, 791 court cases, a geometric rise from the 600 cases it was confronted with as of November 2022’’. Interestingly, it appears the presidential candidate of the APC, Bola Tinubu seems to have doubts about the presidential election. On Wednesday, January 25, 2023, Bola Tinubu opined that, ‘’the lingering fuel scarcity, and introduction of the new Naira notes are plots to sabotage general elections’’. The implication of Tinubu’s assertion is that it is either he’s trying to separate his campaign from the shortcomings of the ruling government or his own ruling party and indirectly, the presidency is indeed not comfortable with his candidacy. Well, President Buhari has assured that there is no going back on the Naira redesign and that nobody will be allowed to intimidate voters.

Early Warning Signs Or Shaping Operations?

Early warning signals suggests that the 2023 general election and political transition in Nigeria may not be seamless. Lately, a coalition of civil society organisations under the aegis of Alliance for Democratic Sustenance (ADS) led by Malam Yusuf Bulama, raised the alarm over what he called a subterranean plot to truncate the conduct of the general elections. According to the civil society group, “We have impeccable information from highly placed and reliable sources of a clandestine meeting by some powerful and highly placed persons aimed at truncating the democratic transition to another democratically elected government in the country”. Akin to a serial doomsday prognosis, the Conflict Research Network, West Africa (CORN West Africa) on Tuesday January 10, 2023, raised alarm that ‘’terrorism could threaten the peaceful conduct of 2023 elections in northeast Nigeria if a proactive specific security plan was not designed for the zone’’.

Prior to now, precisely on Monday, January 09, 2023, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) reiterated that the 2023 general election faces serious threat of cancellation or postponement if the waves of insecurity in parts of the country fails to improve. In what can be regarded as a Freudian slip or a ‘shaping operation’, Board of Electoral Institute (BEI), Prof. Abdullahi Abdu Zuru, who represented the INEC chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu at the Validation of Election Security Training Resources in Abuja, presaged that, if the insecurity is not monitored and dealt with decisively, it could ultimately culminate in the cancellation and/or postponement of elections in sufficient constituencies to hinder the declaration of elections results and precipitate constitutional crisis. Similarly, the umbrella body of all registered political parties in Nigeria, Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC), warned that the rising level of insecurity in parts of Nigeria may abort the 2023 general elections. Chairman of the IPAC, Yabagi Yusuf Sani reportedly dropped the clue during a meeting with the Director-General of the Department of State Service (DSS) Yusuf Magaji Bichi.

A report by Professor Okechukwu Ibeanu and Idayat Hassan of the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), titled ‘Nigeria’s presidential polls: A SWOT Analysis’ released on September 6, 2022, warns that in addition to significant logistic challenges in reaching the 176,846 polling units (a 56,872 increase on 2019), ‘’it is becoming increasingly clear that insecurity will be a major factor that could even lead to a possible postponement of the election, at least in some parts of the country’’.

TheCable, August 23, 2022, reported that, ”Nigerian governors are of the opinion that elections may not hold in several north-west states comprising Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto and Zamfara in 2023 as a result of the prevalent insecurity in the geopolitical zone”. In the same vein, a publication titled – ‘Insecurity: Will elections hold in 2023?, TheCable quoted INEC’s Commissioner, Mr. Festus Okoye, to have asserted in a paper he presented at a brainstorming session between the Department of State Services (DSS) and Civil Society Organisations held at the DSS Headquarters in Abuja on April 6, 2022, that, “The security situation in the country may affect voter mobilization, deployment of personnel and materials to different parts of the country.”

Sequel to the flip-flops and crises of confidence sown, the INEC went on overdrive, trying to douse tension and reassure Nigerians and the international community that the 2023 general election would hold as scheduled. The INEC boss re-echoed this during his outing at the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House), London on Tuesday, January 17, 2023. Perhaps it is worth studying why Chatham House has morphed into a sort of an international validation outpost for Nigerian politicians.

End of Part 1

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