ELECTION SECURITY RISK ANALYSIS: HYBRID THREATS, EARLY WARNING SIGNS AND PROSPECTS OF A SEAMLESS POLITICAL TRANSITION IN NIGERIA – PART 3

Political Intolerance And The Risk of Election Violence in Nigeria

The National Security Adviser (NSA), Babagana Monguno on Friday, November 11, 2022, stated that “rogues” are planning to disrupt the 2023 elections. Monguno said he was aware that in the last month, at least 52 cases of electoral violence were reported across 22 states in the country. Sequel to the NSA’s declaration, the British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Catriona Wendy Campbell Laing stated that, “When people feel intimidated, they can’t get out to vote, the election itself will not be credible, that is why the violence is of great concern”. On this note, she averred that the United Kingdom  will be watching closely any individual who acts violently or incites people through the social media and would not hesitate to impose visa sanction on such individuals. As a matter of fact, on Wednesday, the United States Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken went ahead to impose visa restrictions in his words, ‘’on specific individuals in Nigeria for undermining the democratic process in a recent Nigerian election’’.

According to Blinken, ‘’additional persons who undermine the democratic process in Nigeria—including in the lead-up to, during, and following Nigeria’s 2023 elections—may be found ineligible for U.S. visas under this policy’’. The United Nations and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on Tuesday, 17 January, 2023, warned Nigeria against violence in this year’s general elections. ‘’While the UN cautioned that if things go wrong in Nigeria, there would be serious consequences for the peace and stability of the entire region; the ECOWAS said if violence occurs in Nigeria, no other nation in the sub-region could accommodate Nigerian refugees’’.

In new security advisories independently issued on Thursday, January 19, 2023, Australia, United Kingdom and the European Union, warned their citizens to reconsider their intending visits to Nigeria, avoid all political gatherings and election related sites in the lead up to, during and after the election due to the hostile “security climate” and threats preparatory to the 2023 general elections. Recall that in October 2022, the United States, UK, Canada, Germany, and Bulgaria issued terror alerts, warning their citizens in Nigeria to avoid shopping malls, religious centres, and hotels which they said could be targeted by terrorists.

In its final report on the 2019 general election, the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room conservatively estimated that, ”At least, 626 people were killed between the start of the campaign in October 2018 and the final election in March 2019’’. In 2021, the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) recorded a 22% increase in the number of organized political violence events in Nigeria. The violence resulted in over 9,900 reported fatalities, nearly a 30% increase compared to 2020.

Cybersecurity, Election Hacking And Interference

Evidence abound that state-actors and cyber sleuths interfere with the electoral ecosystem. Their interference can range from one or a combination of information operations, disinformation, broadcasting deep-fake videos across social media platforms, to corrupting data, altering voter registration databases hence disentrancing or impeding citizens’ ability to vote, to attempting to tamper with the outcome of vote count, and undermining voters’ confidence on the legitimacy, integrity of an election. With an approximately 80 million Nigerians online, social media plays enormous role in Nigerian political space hence fake news, disinformation is a thriving industry in Nigeria. For instance, a British Broadcasting Corporation investigation discovered that ‘’political parties in Nigeria are secretly paying social media influencers to spread disinformation about their opponents ahead of the 2023 general elections.

According to the BBC’s Global Disinformation Team, a politician acknowledged that in addition to dolling out gifts and promising contracts, nay, political appointments, his team paid a social media influencer up to 20 million Naira (about ($45,000; £37,000) for delivering a ‘result’. The modus operandi of their strategists entails planting fabricated stories through other micro-influencers aimed at eliciting emotions and misinforming people. Idayat Hassan, director at the Centre for Democracy and Development, says the activities of these influencers is tantamount to “political interference”. According to her, “It is undermining trust in democracy, undermining trust in the electoral system, and it is instigating conflict“. Election interference is not exclusive to Nigeria. The website of Ghana’s election commission was allegedly hit by a cyber-attack in 2016. The commission said an attempt to put up “fake results” failed.

Also, in 2021, the German government warned Russia over a wave of cyberattacks – “combining conventional cyberattacks with disinformation and influence operations” on German politicians. Similarly, in a BBC report of 11 September 2020, tech giant, Microsoft sent word that hackers with ties to Russia, China and Iran targeted US and British political parties and tried to meddle in elections. According to a newly declassified US State Department cable, Russia covertly spent more than $300m since 2014 to try to influence politicians and other officials in more than two dozen countries. Similarly, two Iranian nationals were charged for cyber-enabled disinformation and threat campaign designed to influence the 2020 U.S. presidential election. In the just concluded 2022 Kenyan election, reports indicate that about 200 hacking attempts were made on election results, between Thursday, 11th August and Friday 12th August.

Thus, it is not surprising that the Chairman of the INEC Boss, Professor Mahmoud Yakubu confirmed sometime in September 2022, that the Commission’s ‘’result viewing portal (IReV) during the gubernatorial elections in Ekiti and Osun states, experienced several cyberattacks from hackers across the world, some of them from Asia’’. I reckon that the risk and threat of election interference will be higher during Nigeria’s forthcoming presidential election. It behooves on the INEC to ramp up its cybersecurity defenses (including elimination of human error) and ensure that critical technological infrastructure such as its servers, the Result Viewing (IReV) web portal and the over 200,000 Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) that would be deployed across the 176,846 polling units across the country, for the 2023 general election, are not compromised by hackers.

According to IBM Cyber Security Intelligence Index Report, human error (and I must add, insider threat) is the main cause of 95% of cybersecurity breaches. In other words, humans are the weakest link in cybersecurity. For instance, citing data shared by cybersecurity firm Trellix, TIME Magazine of October 12, 2022, reports that in Pennsylvania, United States of America, ”malicious emails targeting county election workers surged around its primary elections on May 17, 2022, rising more than 546% in six months, to 7,555 by the end of the second quarter of 2022”.

Border Security And Integrity of Nigerian Elections

Just recently, the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) said it arrested 516 illegal immigrants from Chad, Cameroon, Togo, and Senegal in Kaduna State, with some of them having Nigeria’s permanent voters and national identity cards. According to the state comptroller of the NIS, Liman Sani Kila, ‘’in the last year’s mop-up operations, the command retrieved 1,000 PVCs from illegal immigrants arrested within Kaduna Zone’’. Prior to now, in November 2022, the NIS said it arrested and repatriated 18 foreigners  for allegedly possessing voters’ cards in Oyo state. Aforesaid number of illegal immigrants in possession of Nigeria’s permanent voters and identity cards is a small fry.

There are hundreds of thousands out there who will influence the outcome of elections in Nigeria. Perhaps this explains why president Buhari belatedly ordered that ‘’Nigerian borders should be made impenetrable to foreign bodies who might want to come in and manipulate the election process or engage in other nefarious activities”. Mr. president should be reminded that Nigeria’s borders is quite massive covering 5,330 kilometers. As a matter of fact, 15 out of the 36 states in Nigeria share land borders with foreign countries. With an area of 923,768km², Nigeria is said to be almost four times the size of the United Kingdom or slightly more than twice the size of California in the United States of America. We also understand that there are conservatively, no fewer than 1,490 illegal entry points to Nigeria and the entire workforce of Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) is tenably not more than 25,000. In essence, it is difficult to ‘police’ Nigeria’s extensive illegal borders.  

Conclusion

It goes without question that the pervasive security challenges in Nigeria will pose tremendous challenges in conducting seamless election simultaneously across Nigeria. Despite aforesaid monies expended on national security, ‘ungoverned spaces’ proliferates across Nigeria. From the northeast to the southeast, northcentral to the northwest, there are swathes of land where so-called “unknown gunmen”, bandits and kidnappers, reign supreme, even imposing ‘’tax’’, “protection levy” on communities. My prognosis is that unless a miracle happens, a staggered, inconclusive, re-run or a run-off election will not be ruled out for the presidential election. This is because constitutionally, a presidential candidate is required to garner at least 25 per cent of votes cast in two-thirds of Nigeria’s 36 states.

If Nigeria’s current system of government is not rebooted, recurring quest for the balkanization of Nigeria will persist and if either the APC or PDP candidate emerges president, secessionist agitation in the southeast will be very dicey, escalate. In the words of Reuben Abati, ‘’The 2023 election is bound to be an election like no other. It would be a contest between the old and new order, the rich and the poor, the establishment, and the people’’. Bring to mind that the 2023 federal budget has a deficit of N77 trillion, unemployment rate is over 33% and 63% of persons living within Nigeria (133 million people) are multidimensionally poor. The unbecoming bigotry, ethnic jingoism, xenophobia, religious sentiments that shapes support for the various presidential candidates, attests to the fact that the much bandied #OneNigeria, is a farce. Whichever the presidential election swings, it won’t be Uhuru!

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