As a result of rising insecurity in the country, northern Nigeria, with about 50million registered voters, may face apathy ahead of the general elections slated to hold this year, findings by Daily Trust Saturday have revealed.
With more than half of the country’s 93million registered voters, based on the final list of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the North is facing security challenges being perpetrated by Boko Haram and the Islamic State, West Africa Province (ISWAP).
Residents and stakeholders who spoke with Daily Trust Saturday in Zamfara, Niger and Kaduna states, said millions of voters across communities affected by banditry, especially in the North West, may not participate in this year’s elections.
Internally displaced persons, members of civil society organisations, journalists, community and women leaders, as well as potential voters, said many residents had fled their communities with no hope of returning, while others had lost their permanent voters’ cards. They urged the Nigerian government to make the deployment of armed soldiers to various communities a priority so as to protect voters and officials of the INEC.
- Tackling menace of thuggery among youths
- Katsina gov’ship: Chances, weaknesses of APC, PDP, LP, NNPP candidates
Fear of attack could trigger voter apathy
Stakeholders further warned that the fear of attack on communities ravaged by banditry could trigger voter apathy, especially among women, who form 47.5 per cent of the country’s eligible voters, according to INEC records.
The North West is the leading region in terms of voter registration with over 22.6million registered voters, while the North Central comes third with 15.6million. Incidentally, the two regions are the most affected by banditry, which has led to the displacement of hundreds of Nigerians.
In Minna, the Niger State capital, Muhammad Alfa Muhammad of the Congress of Accountability Ambassadors, said bandits could take advantage of election gatherings and launch attacks.
“People are not ready to vote because they feel they are not secure,” Muhammad said, adding that even if INEC creates voting opportunities, residents may be reluctant to exercise their franchise because of fear of abduction. Muhammad, whose works takes him across rural areas of Kagara and Rafi local government areas of the state said, “If they are abducted, the government cannot do anything. We have village heads that are still in captivity. There is no protection, so, how do you go out to vote? There are areas that do not have telephone network.”
The fear of attacks is equally the case in Zamfara State, which is said to be the epicentre of the banditry that has claimed hundreds of lives and displaced at least 700,000 persons, according to data released by the State Government in March 2022.
An electorate from Mada, a community plagued by banditry in Zamfara, Saddam Idris, reiterated that unless armed security agents are deployed to his constituency, he won’t be voting in the upcoming election.
“At a meeting I attended, the INEC said they would not conduct elections in Wonaka and Ruwan Bore communities, but they would transfer the polling stations to Mada town. Even in Mada, there are security problems. Government must make sure that security personnel are deployed to all the entries and exits of communities,” he said.
Mairo Ibrahim, a resident of Zariai in Kaduna State, expressed concern over the security of women and youths, who she described as the highest voters in all elections. She said that unless the security situation is addressed, women may not come out en masse to cast their votes.
“People have been displaced due to insecurity. And many of them are not willing to return home to cast their votes for a government that will not protect them during crisis,” Mrs Thabita Bako, a woman leader from Atyap Peace and Security Partnership Committee in Zangon Kataf, Kaduna State said.
Aliyu Yusuf of the African Future Connect Initiative predicted a low turnout at the election, saying, “Let me cite an example with Giwa Local Government Area of Kaduna State, where about 20 villages have been completely razed down and some residents were either killed or forced to flee. How can you expect voter turnout in these areas when the occupants are no longer there?”
Absence of polling units in IDP camps, lost PVCs worry stakeholders
Mua’zu Abubakar Albarkawa, a journalist in Giwa Local Government Area of Kaduna State, echoed the concern of other stakeholders, that polling units have not been provided at various internally displaced persons camps in Giwa, one of the local government areas facing the challenge of banditry. “This, to me, is denying people the opportunity to exercise their constitutional rights,” he said.
In Jema’a Local Government Area, The Reverend Gambo Waziri, founder of Mercy IDP Camp in Zonkwa, Zangon Kataf, said that with many communities now inaccessible due to insecurity, there was the need for INEC to create temporary polling units at IDP camps.
“Before the spate of insecurity increased, Zangon Kataf had 250 polling units, but now, many of them are no longer accessible,” he said.
Also speaking on the situation, an electorate from southern Kaduna, Shehu Adamu said, “Sending ballot boxes to empty communities is not the way to go.”
This view was re-echoed by Kassim Shuaibu, a displaced person from Galadima-Kogo in Shiroro Local Government Area of Niger State. He said residents of his community were scattered across displaced persons camps and many lost their voters’ cards during attacks.
“We do not know where our polling units would be relocated to so that those who have cards can vote,” he said.
Mores so, Muhammad Alfa Muhammad, who is currently carrying out humanitarian activities in Rafi Local Government of Niger State, said, “A community was completely burnt down and people fled; some of them lost their children, not to talk of voters’ cards.
As one of the solutions to the challenge at hand, some of the stakeholders called for the relocation of polling units from volatile areas to places considered relatively safe.
But an electorate from Talata Mafara in Zamfara State, Kabiru Muhammad Mai Kulluga, said he would not vote if his polling unit is transferred to another location.
“They said our polling units would be transferred to a relatively safer Jangebe, but I have made it clear that I will not go there be to vote despite the fact that voting in my village would be risky. I am not even sure INEC officials would risk going there. Government needs to deploy security operatives to our community,” he said.
The chairman of the Coalition of Civil Society Organisations in Zamfara State, Musa Aboki, however, said though transferring polling units to areas considered safer is a welcome idea, government needs to convince voters to relocate from their communities.
“We all know that we have inadequate security personnel. The government should deploy security personnel from relatively peaceful areas to risky places,” he said.
CSOs, journalists may not monitor elections
Another setback to the 2023 general elections in parts of northern Nigeria is that members of civil society organisations (CSOs) and journalists could be discouraged from monitoring the exercise. And this could provide room for irregularities.
The chairman, Coalition of Civil Society Organisations in Zamfara State, Musa Aboki, who has been monitoring elections in the state since 2007, said that this year may be different due to the security situation in the country, especially the North, adding that he would not participate in the exercise.
A correspondent of the News Agency of Nigeria, Ishaq Zaki Tambuwal, also said, “As a journalist, insecurity will not allow me to monitor the process and report. And if this happens, how will people or authorities know about irregularities in the process?”
Also, Joel Adegboyega of the Centre for Leadership, Youth and Peace Development Initiative, called on the government to revisit the INEC regulation that prohibits the deployment of armed security personnel to polling units.
This position was supported by Hassan Mamman from Zaria, who called for a massive deployment of all uniform security personnel to augment the number of operatives in the insecurity-prone areas to build confidence in the electorate.
What govt, community leaders must do – Stakeholders
Stakeholders agreed that the Nigerian Air Force should deploy sufficient aerial surveillance to restore confidence in the affected communities while other security agencies work with local vigilante to ensure that the eligible citizens cast their votes without fear of possible attacks.
Alhaji Bashiru Rabiu from Zamfara said the government would need to form a special task force involving security operatives and the vigilantes and deploy to polling stations.
However, Fijr Umar Gwadabe from Zaria said communities must play a significant role to assist the government achieve successful elections by forming strong vigilante groups to handle security issues.
Reacting to this position, Musa Dogara from Zaria said, “Our members are conversant with the terrains and the people in our area; therefore, they could assist more effectively to provide adequate security for voters.”
By Abubakar Akote (Minna), Shehu Umar (Gusau), Ahmed Ali (Kafanchan) and Abubakar Sadiq, (Zaria)
This story was supported by the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Abuja.