After unknown gunmen, invaded the headquarters of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Imo State, last Monday, the state governor, Hope Uzodinma, stated that it was a politically-motivated attack. The governor said he knew those behind the attack which claimed five lives. He linked the attack to politicians in the state, who swore to make Imo State ungovernable and to stop the next election from holding in Imo.
“You can see why INEC, is the target. If you collaborate it with the past where I have continuously said that what is happening in the Imo State is politically inclined and that Imo State will be ungovernable and there will be no election in Imo State,” he said.
Meanwhile, that was not the first time offices and facilities of the electoral empire would be violently attacked by non-state actors, it is becoming frequent, particularly in Nigeria’s South-East region. In fact, Imo and Enugu states have recorded more attacks on INEC offices – six in Imo and five in Enugu – in one year, than any other state.
According to data mined from the Nigeria Security Tracker (NST) of the Council of Foreign Affairs, Imo and Enugu States have witnessed eleven separate attacks on INEC facilities between 2021 and 2022, Ebonyi state has seen three in the same period; while Abia and Anambra have recorded one each. The attacks seem coordinated and follow the same pattern. The assailants show up with sophisticated weapons and set the offices and vehicles ablaze killing any official unfortunate to be trapped inside.
While the onslaught on INEC facilities continues, these bloodsucking elements have also launched offensive attacks against personnel of the Nigerian Police in the region. Data from the NST showed that there have been at least 75 attacks on police stations and checkpoints. The daredevils did not even spare area and command headquarters. These attacks, as recorded by the NST, have claimed the lives of over 100 police officers in the region in the two years under review. Imo state had the highest rate of attacks on Police stations and checkpoints. For the Eastern Heartland, the NST recorded 30 attacks on police stations and checkpoints, which claimed the lives of not less than 27 Policemen. This was followed by Anambra with 18 attacks and 44 policemen killed. 13 attacks which claimed the lives of 25 policemen were recorded in Enugu; while Abia recorded the least with seven attacks on Police stations and checkpoints, which claimed the lives of seven policemen. Some of the facilities were attacked multiple times.
The INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu has said the spate of attacks on the commission’s facilities and on security agents would affect the 2023 elections. Speaking recently at an Investigative hearing of the House Ad-hoc committee of the House of Representatives investigating the attacks, he said “the attacks have far-reaching implications on preparation for the general elections. First, the facilities that are destroyed, especially offices, would take time to rebuild. They are not like items of procurement that you can procure off the shelf. So, an alternative arrangement has to be made.” He added that many voter’s cards were destroyed or taken by the assailants.
So, who is fanning the embers of violence and hell-bent on stopping the general elections in the South-East region?
While Governor Uzodinma tagged them “wicked politicians”, Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi said they are “criminals who are using IPOB’s name” to perpetrate evil. The Federal Government and many private citizens argue that IPOB is behind the attacks. Even the head of the country’s police boss, Inspector General of Police, Alkali Baba also pointed to IPOB as being the ones behind the masks razing down INEC facilities in that region.
The Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) is a secessionist group founded by Nnamdi Kanu, who is currently cooling off in the detention of the Department of State Services, despite court orders for his release. While he held sway, Kanu never hid his disdain for the Nigerian government and the country’s unity. Before the 2019 general elections, he was seen in a video saying that unless the Nigerian government called for a referendum, elections would not hold in the region. He fled the country before the elections, but was tracked down in Kenya and brought back to the country. He has been in the DSS detention since July 2021.
Following Kanu’s incarceration, IPOB declared a sit-at-home protest every Monday, which is enforced by gun-wielding unknown men. The enforcement of this weekly exercise has claimed scores of lives in the region.
A disciple of Kanu, who seems to have taken charge of the leadership of IPOB is one Simon Ekpa, who is reportedly based in Finland. Ekpa has been consistent in his opposition to elections in the South-East, while he also supervises the sit-at-home ritual. Recently, he gave a five-day sit-at-home order, and at the expiration of the exercise, he reiterated that elections would not hold in the South-East.
He said, “To end Nigeria in 2023 is a task that must be done. There will be no general election in Biafraland in 2023, it is a sacrifice and a task that must be done by all Biafrans across the globe… I am Simon Ekpa, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu’s disciple on Biafra restoration.”
Although IPOB has yet to officially claim responsibility for any of the attacks, authorities say it is responsible. It is certainly obvious someone or people are hell bent on making sure elections do not hold in that region, for reasons best known to them. But after each attack on its facilities, INEC assured that “nothing will stop the 2023 elections in all parts of the country”.
By: Oluwatobi Odeyinka
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