The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) says the spate of arson and vandalism of its facilities and property was worrisome, as it would adversely affect its commitment to continue to improve the electoral process.
The INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu stated this at a meeting of Resident Electoral Commissioners in the 36 states and the FCT, held on Wednesday, in Abuja.
Yakubu said the attacks had been on the rise since the 2019 General Elections, but had now developed into a crisis.
He said in the last three weeks or so, INEC local government offices in Essien Udim in Akwa Ibom , Ohafia in Abia and Udenu in Enugu State, were set ablaze by unidentified persons.
He added that on May 16, INEC state office in Enugu suffered yet another arson and vandalism in which parts of the building were ransacked and several vehicles razed, while more of INEC facilities were being systematically targeted and attacked.
“Just last night, Tuesday, May 18, two more offices in Ebonyi, including Ezza North Local Government Area of Ebonyi, were burnt down.
“ Although there were no casualties, the damage to the physical infrastructure and electoral materials was total. Nothing has been salvaged from ballot boxes and voting cubicles to generating sets, office furniture and equipment.
“Surely, these attacks are no longer freak events but appear to be quite orchestrated and targeted at INEC.
“Clearly, these are acts of unjustifiable aggression which may undermine the commission’s capacity to organise elections and dent the nation’s electoral process.
“The facilities of the commission are there to serve the local communities for the most fundamental aspect of democratic governance, which is elections.
“ Therefore, targeting such important national asset and repositories of electoral materials that took time and enormous resources to procure cannot be justified.
“Replacing these facilities in the prevailing economic circumstances will indeed be a tall order, thereby adversely affecting electoral services in the same communities.
“These facilities are not only limited to voting but also used for other critical electoral activities such as voter registration, coordination of stakeholder engagements, voter education and sensitisation.”
Yakubu said the commission would certainly work with security agencies to deal with the perpetrators of these heinous crimes according to the law, on which INEC would hold a meeting with all security agencies on Monday May 24.
Yakubu, however, urged all and sundry, particularly communities where INEC assets were located, to see themselves as owners and custodians of those facilities and assist the commission in protecting them.
He expressed delight that some of the communities were already doing so, as they shared with INEC, the commitment of improving electoral services to Nigerians.
“ They have, over the years, supported the commission during all electoral activities from Continuous Voter Registration to the conduct of polls.
“Some of them actually donated the land on which some of our local government offices are built.
“ Even in the recent events of arson and vandalism, many of them have demonstrated exceptional willingness to support the commission.
“For instance, following the vandalism on our offices in Osun during the #EndSARS protests in October 2020, the Ikirun community in Ifelodun Local Government Area and two communities in Ede South Local Government Area offered to contribute to the repairs of the offices and promised to work with the commission to protect them in future.
“Also, in Nnewi North in Anambra, the community also offered to repair our local government office destroyed during the #EndSARS protests.
“The commission do not take such partnerships for granted. I wish to thank our host communities in all parts of the country and appeal to them to continue to see INEC property as both national and local assets to be protected,” Yakubu said.
The INEC chairman said that in the light of the current circumstances, today’s meeting with RECs would take briefings from across the country on threats to INEC facilities and deliberate on how best to protect them.
Yakubu expressed the belief that INEC could dig deep and draw from its longstanding partnership with communities protecting it facilities, in addition to depending on the invaluable support of security agencies.
“Consequently, the challenges posed by these threats notwithstanding, we are still positive that we can find lasting solutions to the spate of attacks on our facilities.
“However, this must be done quickly to forestall disruptions to several upcoming electoral activities, particularly the CVR exercise which we plan to undertake continuously in 2,673 centres nationwide for a period of over one year, involving thousands of INEC officials supported by security personnel.”(NAN)