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How Insecurity Threatens 2023 Elections In Northern Communities

Eight months to 2023 general elections, a myriad of security challenges, including banditry, communal and ethno-religious crises, and the rise of Boko Haram splinter groups…

Eight months to 2023 general elections, a myriad of security challenges, including banditry, communal and ethno-religious crises, and the rise of Boko Haram splinter groups like ISWAP and Ansaru, may threaten the ability of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct elections in hundreds of communities, especially in the northern part of the country, Daily Trust on Sunday reports. 

 

From Lami Sadiq, Mohammed I. Yaba, Ahmed Ali (Kaduna), Hope Abah Emmanuel (Makurdi), Ado Musa Abubakar (Jos), Abubakar Akote (Minna) & Tijjani Ibrahim (Katsina) 

 

Complex security challenges across Kaduna, Niger, Katsina, Sokoto, Benue and Plateau states could disenfranchise millions of voters as many local government areas in the states have become inaccessible due to insecurity.

In some states, bandits have invaded communities and now call the shots, while in others, residents have been dislodged from their villages and forced to relocate to Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps.

Experts say unless the federal government orders a swift military action in parts of the country, elections may not be held in hundreds of communities. 

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Residents and politicians in parts of Birnin Gwari and Giwa local government areas, two of the most hit in Kaduna State, have said it is unlikely that elections would hold in many communities in the two local governments due to insecurity. 

Already, members of the jihadi group Jama’atu Ansaru Muslim Fi Bilad al-Sudan, known popularly as Ansaru, which has shown presence in the forest areas of Birnin Gwari, have threatened to ban political activities in the area. Residents also said as many as 60 communities in Birinin Gwari had been sacked by terrorists, while communities in seven out of the 11 wards of the local government had been overrun.

A resident of Kuyello ward of Birnin Gwari Local Government said Ansaru were already recruiting foot soldiers from various communities under their control and continued to preach against participating in political activities since politicians had not done anything to better their lives.

“They are increasing in number and recruiting our youths from villages such as old Kuyello, Unguwar Gwandu, Kwasakwasa, all under Kuyello ward. The sad thing is that some of our people regard the terrorists as saviours from bandits, so there is no protest against the ban on political activities,” he said.

He said Ansaru now punished youths, particularly commercial motorcycle riders, who carry posters of politicians, and warned that unless something urgent is done, the situation may overwhelm the Nigerian government.

A community leader and politician in Birnin Gwari town who pleaded for anonymity blamed the government and security agencies for failing to confront the terrorists. He said even as a community leader, there were certain parts of his territory now inaccessible because out-laws had taken over the areas.

“The situation is so bad that the few security agents stationed in these areas are equally unable to ply certain roads, such as the Kaduna-Birnin Gwari highway without a fortified escort. Sometimes even with the escorts, the terrorists still attack and kill them,” he said.   

Cross-section of women in one of the IDPs camps in Benue State. Photo- Hope Abah

 

He said there was no way any politician would venture into such areas for campaign or for the INEC to send any election officer with materials as it will amount to a suicide mission.

“Unless the federal government conducts a coordinated and simultaneous military offensive in the general areas before 2023, no election can be held in these communities because no one will risk it, not even myself,” he said.

Shehu Hassan, a resident of Fatika district of Giwa Local Government Area said the federal government should have taken a cue from the fact that the Kaduna State Independent Electoral Commission could not conduct local government election in several communities of Birnin Gwari and Giwa in 2021 because they had been overrun by bandits.

In the southern senatorial district of the state, over 200,000 people have been displaced following violent conflicts and banditry in many communities that cut across Kaura, Zangon Kataf, Kauru, Kachia local government areas.

“There is little hope that the voting points in some communities would be active before the general elections. This means that many of the electorate will likely be disenfranchised,” Luka Biniyat, the spokesperson of the Southern Kaduna Peoples Union (SOKAPU) said.

Danladi Amos from Dogon Noma, a community that borders Kajuru and Kachia local government areas, said that since the attack on their community two months ago, residents had been fleeing their homes for fear of another attack.

“The people are willing to exercise their franchise if the government secures their communities before the end of the year,” The Reverend John Joseph Hayab, country director, Global Peace Foundation said.

Hayab, who is also the Kaduna State chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), said the communities suspected the frequent attacks may be an attempt to discourage them from voting during the 2023 elections.”

Many communities still dislodged in Niger  

The possibility of elections holding in many communities in frontline banditry infested local government areas of Niger State is thin, according to residents who have faced persistent attacks. 

As many as 308 communities in Rafi, Shiroro, Bosso, Munya, Paikoro, Mariga, Kontagora, Magama, Mashegu, Wushishi and Rijau local government areas of the state have been deserted following persistent attacks.

Daily Trust on Sunday, however, gathered that the security situation has considerably improved in other local government areas, except Rafi, where a number of residents are yet to return home from displaced persons camps.

It was gathered from the head of the Department of Operations of the INEC in Niger State, Mohammed Babatunde Yusuf, that eligible voters from 270 polling units have been displaced from their homes. Out of this number, 46 polling units were from Munya, 100 from Mariga, 62 from Shiroro and another 62 from Rafi local government areas.

A district head from Rafi Local Government Area, who fled his community in November 2021, told Daily Trust on Sunday that based on the present circumstance, he was not sure election would be conducted in the area.

“In Rafi, the situation has not improved because up till this moment, most people, including me, are still outside the community as displaced persons. We can’t risk going back home because there are no security agents to protect us,” he said. 

Our correspondent gathered that within Rafi Local Government Area, Kusherki district is still dominated by bandits, with many residents living in displaced persons camps around Birnin-Gwari in Kaduna State and Kagara and Pandogari in Niger State.

A resident of Munya, who preferred anonymity, said elections would not be conducted in most communities in the local government area, lamenting that attacks are still ongoing in some places.

“Some of the villages are not safe. Up till now, people are not in their homes; they sleep in bushes and return in the morning to go to their farms,” he said.

In Plateau, bandits still giving quit notices 

Findings by Daily Trust on Sunday also revealed that in the southern part of Plateau State, specifically Wase Local Government Area, 2023 elections are being threatened by the activities of gunmen. It is a similar case in some communities of Bassa Local Government in Plateau’s northern senatorial district, where tit-for-tat killings between locals and Fulani herders have led to the sack of many communities.

In recent years, residents of Wase, Plateau’s largest local government area, have been facing security challenges, including banditry, which have crippled economic and social activities in parts of the area.

Daily Trust on Sunday reports that many communities where cattle and grain markets thrived have now been deserted as bandits sacked the people, pushing them to seek shelter in Wase town and other parts of the local government area. 

A resident of Wase, Abdullahi Usman, said villagers had fled Bangalala, Adu’a, Shabindi, Shengem, Tapga and Dogon Ruwa under Bashar and Kadarko districts of the local government area.

Usman said that with the current security challenges ravaging the villages, the 2023 general elections would likely not hold in the affected areas unless security agents are able to take charge of the situation.

Within the week, communities such as Sabon Zama, Gindin Dutse, Anguwan Tsohon Soldier, Anguwan Yuhana and Anguwan Mangu were given quit notices to vacate within five days or face war.

Ubale Pinau, a resident of Pinau in Wase, said some of the villagers had since fled the communities to avoid any clash with herders.

In Bassa Local Government Area in the northern senatorial district, Monday Adamu, a resident of Miango, said villages such as Jebu Miango and Heek had been deserted due to constant attacks.

“If the crisis continues, it will definitely affect the elections because nobody will put himself in harm’s way. If there are no residents, who then will participate in the elections?” He asked, rhetorically.

Internally Displaced persons in a Secondary school, in Niger State. Photo- Abubakar Akote

 

In Katsina, residents fear many communities not safe for elections

In Katsina State, Daily Trust on Sunday gathered that a lot of the communities in the frontline local government areas may not be able to exercise their franchise if their security challenges persist.

In Batsari Local Government Area, for instance, a resident who pleaded for anonymity, said that out of the 11 electoral wards, only two could conduct elections with relative peace.

“Apart from Batsari town, there is no any other ward that can boast of having the security to conduct elections.

“During the last local government election, some polling units were transferred to Batsari for people to cast their votes, while others were not accessible at all,” he said.

He added that in some parts of the town, one could not go beyond two kilometres without meeting a bandit carrying a sophisticated weapon.

“We pay ransom at not more than a distance of three kilometres from Batsari here, so tell me how you can distribute election materials. Moreover, who even has the peace to go to a polling unit when many of our people are still in captivity? Some of them are yet to be released even after ransoms were paid?” He lamented.

Similarly in Jibia Local Government, a resident said that with the current situation, elections could hold in only four out of 11 wards.

“Apart from Jibia A, Jibia B, Kusa and Riko wards, there is no other ward that can have up to 30 per cent election record in the present condition.

“Places like Bugaje and Mallamawa are completely deserted, and other wards like Gangara, Yangayya, Mazanya, Faru/Maje and Farfaru cannot get up to 30 per cent of peaceful elections,” he added.

He also said that in Yangayya ward, only Kukar Babangida is relatively peaceful, while in Mazanya, only Magamar Jibia could have some conducive atmosphere for elections.

Also in Faskari, a resident, Abdullahi Musa Faskari, said that in all the 10 wards of the local government area, it is only in the headquarters that residents can peacefully cast their votes as all other polling units in the villages are not currently safe. Some of them are completely deserted.

The situation is similar in most of the frontline local government area, such as Safana, Kamkara, Danmusa, Sabuwa and Dandume, among others.

Benue communities may vote in IDP camps

There are fears that elections may not hold in some local government areas of Benue State due to prevalent security concerns. Due to the activities of suspected killer-herders, bandits, as well as communal crises, hundreds of villagers, that constitute a huge voting population, have deserted their homes. The affected local government areas include Guma, Kastina-Ala, Gwer West, Logo, Kwande, Ado, Ukum, Okpokwu, Agatu, Konshisha, Oju and parts of Makurdi.

Displaced persons have relocated to government-designated camps or shanties across the state.

A resident of Guma Local Government Area, Jonah Ortese, said the situation was bad as fresh attacks continued, displacing more residents daily.

“Our permanent voters’ cards are misplaced. I am quite sure a huge population of us will not vote in the coming elections,” Ortese said.

But a community leader in Logo Local Government Area, Chief Joseph Anawah, said the security situation had improved in his area, adding that elections could be held in 2023 if the tempo is maintained.

We have provisions for displaced persons – INEC

But amidst the uncertainties, the INEC has assured that no displaced person would be disenfranchised in 2023. INEC’s National Commissioner, Information and Voter Education, Festus Okoye, a lawyer, disclosed that there were plans to accommodate displaced persons in the next general elections.

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