The likelihood of violent implosions in 2023 is an eventuality patriotic Nigerians are having sleepless nights over. The fears are predicated on some potentially dangerous happenings in the country that may get worse before or in the aftermath of the 2023 elections. Among these potentially contentious issues are reactions to spates of ethnic killings by herdsmen, wanton killings by lawless individuals or groups and general insecurity across the country. Attempts by political parties to assert political dominance and individuals and political parties resorting to undemocratic practices such as manipulating elections and results could also ignite mayhem. The failure of INEC to be a truly independent and impartial umpire could precipitate violent reactions with serious consequences on the nation’s stability in 2023.
Reconciling the terribly polarized nation requires early preparations and very responsive strategies. In this regard, sentiments surrounding the desirability of shifting the Presidency are critical. Signs of massive divisions are already manifesting over the issue and contending positions are potentially explosive. The recent violence in Imo State which resulted in the burning down of the State Police and the Correctional Headquarters buildings are pointers to what to expect in 2023. There is also the growing agitations of the Igbos in the South East and differences between politicians that could be compounded by contestations over the 2023 Presidency.
The APC National leader, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu is at the moment known to be seriously mobilizing support both within the APC and across the country in his bid to clinch the 2023 Presidency. The North on the other hand is surreptitiously counting on its political dexterity, population and current hold on power to upstage the calculations of the other groups, thereby setting the stage for serious political confrontations. The other development that cannot be overlooked is the increasing consensus from some radical groups and elites in parts of the North that power should shift to the South East in the spirit of national unity and fairness. The other group whose views cannot be ignored is the Northern minorities who are increasingly ventilating their political preferences through the Middle Belt Forum. It is important to note that agitations of most Northern minorities is against their alienation and absence of adequate representation in Government. It is noteworthy that most minorities in the North also allege marginalization even in their states of origin. There are indications that the Northern minorities are likely to sway political support in favour of aspirants who identify with their plight if their concerns are not addressed.
A politically related issue that could contribute to the feared implosion is the current level of insecurity and lawlessness that have engulfed the country in the last few years. There is no denying the fact that the spate of lawlessness such as hostage taking, siege on public highways and banditry could compound security threats in the country in 2023.
From past experience, incidents of electoral violence emanate mostly from electoral irregularities and imposition of unpopular aspirants. Political violence in recent years has been precipitated by promotion of inordinate ambitions of individuals and groups and manipulation of elections, especially the results. Banditry and activities of other criminally minded non-state actors are veritable sources of political upheavals. Although those in power want to deny the fact that the insurgency in the North East affected the past elections, those in the impacted communities know that there were no elections. Beside these, anti-democratic activities of secessionist agitators and plainly subversive groups are major threats in 2023. Groups whose activities need to be closely watched include religious extremists who could sabotage the elections in 2023 by waylaying electoral personnel and materials.
The proliferation of dangerous weapons to perpetuate violence also poses a threat to 2023. Almost all parts of the country are currently awash with dangerous weapons. Some sources have intimated that there are approximately six million small arms and light weapons in circulation in the country.
The competence of the INEC is another factor that will determine the ability of the nation to avert implosion in 2023. People will only trust an election that is transparent and an electoral body that is able to discharge its function without creating doubts in the minds of the electorate. The performance of the Commission must be above board and its management should take a cue from the Prof. Attahiru Jega’s era. Also important is signing the new Electoral Law. Any demonstration of incompetence, unreliability and partisanship by INEC could plunge the country into chaos.
The prognosis of widespread acts of violence across the country in 2023 is predicated on the present level of disaffection and the fact that the 2023 elections will be hotly contested because of what is at stake and the determination of some interests to upstage the current political order by all means and others to remain relevant after 2023. The groups that include insurgents, secessionists and others whose activities could destabilize the country in 2023 should accordingly be dealt with promptly. Other triggers for violence and upheavals in 2023 are those who promote inciting and subversive utterances. In a fragile political environment like ours, inciting utterances are all that is required to precipitate serious upheavals that could have very destabilizing effects on unity and stability of the country. Steps should accordingly be taken to deal with politically, religiously and ethnically influenced provocative utterances, that are currently widespread. The National Assembly, the Presidency and the security agencies must therefore take steps to check the tendency of some individuals and groups making provocative utterances that offend the sensibility of others. Closely related to this is the practice of some individuals clandestinely indulging in acts of sabotage by orchestrating some activities that could threaten the corporate existence of the country. If these potentially explosive threats to the security of the nation are not promptly addressed, the country could be set ablaze in 2023. The time to take out security threats like the insurgency in the North East, criminal attacks by herdsmen and banditry by non-state actors and saboteurs is now. All patriotic citizens must in addition rally round the President to midwife a smooth transition from this Government to 2023.
The role of security organizations in election management is another issue with serious implications on 2023. In order to ensure there is no breakdown of law and order, the security organizations especially those with roles in 2023 elections must commence preparations immediately. Expected to play crucial roles are the National Security Adviser, the Security Chiefs who have since their appointment demonstrated appreciable level of competence, and Chief Intelligence Provider, the Director General, State Security Service on whose shoulder the bulk of intelligence sourcing and dissemination rests, must be encouraged and supported to properly manage the threats outlined in this write up. Much is expected from the Nigeria Police under Baba Alkali. Many in the intelligence community believe the new Inspector General of Police will perform to expectation if given the support and tools to work. The truism that a patriotic citizenry is critical to security and national unity must also be upheld while ensuring fairness, all inclusiveness in governance and positive impact on the lives of the citizenry. The journey to 2023 must start now.
A. A. GADZAMA OFR, mni,Chairman, Governing Board of National Institute for Security Studies Lower Usman Dam, Abuja.