With less than 37 days to the general election, the UK and Australian governments have issued new security warnings to citizens planning to travel to or already present in Nigeria.
In October last year, countries such as the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, and Bulgaria issued terror alerts.
The foreign embassies, while warning their citizens in Nigeria, noted that suspected terrorists would target government structures, houses of worship, schools, marketplaces, retail centres, hotels, bars, restaurants, sporting events, transportation hubs, police stations, and international organisations.
The Federal Government had dismissed the security advisories, describing them as false and assured Nigerians to go about their lawful business as the country was safe and secure.
In updated travel advisories on January 19, the Australian government informed its citizens that the risk of electoral violence is high, urging them to reconsider their travels to those intending to visit.
A statement by the Australian government partly read “Nigeria is scheduled to hold national and state elections between February 25 and March 11.
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The risk of election-related violence is high. You should avoid all political gatherings and election-related sites in the lead-up to, during and after this period.
“Offices of the Independent National Electoral Commission across the country have already been targeted and should be avoided. Politically motivated murders and kidnappings have occurred, and the threat of further incidents remains high.”
For those intending to visit, the foreign government urged them to “Reconsider your need to travel. We have reviewed our travel advice for Nigeria and now advise reconsider your need to travel to Abuja.
Corroborating the Australian and UK governments also warned that protests might break out during the election.
The UK government said, “Nationwide elections will take place in Nigeria in February 2023, and there is a heightened risk of protests during this period.
“Political rallies, protests and violent demonstrations can occur with little notice throughout the country. International news events can sometimes trigger anti-Western demonstrations.”
Also, The European Union on Thursday raised concerns about the security challenge in Nigeria, warning that if not urgently addressed, it might significantly constitute a threat to the forthcoming general election.
The organisation also expressed concern about the workability of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System in all parts of the country, especially in the rural areas.
The Team Leader, EU Support to Democratic Governance in Nigeria phase two programme, Rudolf Elbling, expressed the fears during a seminar it organised in Abuja to assess various security threats that could impact the conduct and credibility of the elections, funded by the EU with support from DAI.
According to him, elections have the potential to create unrest and instability for a country like Nigeria, warning that such unrest would not only be dangerous for Nigeria but for the whole of West Africa.
“For a country like Nigeria, election always has the potential of creating unrest and instability for a country the size of Nigeria, and that is a very dangerous thing not only for Nigeria and Nigerians but for the whole region. So the insecurity issue for the last one or two years is of concern for everybody. It’s a concern for every Nigerian because life has changed. You cannot move around as you could, so there is a huge potential for this to impact on the elections”, Elbling stated.
Speaking on EU’s fears concerning the elections, Elbling described innovations introduced by the Independent National Electoral Commission to the electoral process as “quite substantial”
He, however, said that insecurity, which he described as the “basic problem”, might prevent INEC from conducting elections in all parts of the country.
Elbling said, “This would create a lot of legal implications on the entire process that might disrupt the process. There is a lot of potential legal implications which subsequently would have a lot of political implication and which would have a lot of potential to disrupt the poll but of course, you know, logistics is also and always an issue.
“And I’m afraid that the insecurity again, will add to this problem and complicate issues more. Also, will the election technology hold up? The BVAS is a very promising item, but will it be working everywhere? We also have the INEC Results Viewing Portal, all these kinds of things are what we are really looking forward to even as they worked very well in the Ekiti and Osun elections. But, again, the security climate, and the political climate, which is extremely hostile. How will it affects the acceptance and credibility of elections.”
While advising politicians to accept the election legal framework and play by the rules, Elbling said the rule was “there to be accepted not to be manipulated.”
INEC’s former Director of Voter Education and Publicity also ex-Director, Legal Service, Oluwole Osaze-Uzzi, in his presentation on the legal consequences and impact of insecurity on the 2023 elections, picked holes in the Electoral Act 2022 signed by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (rerd ), in February last year.
According to him, many sections in the act were ambiguous and poorly drafted, especially sections which outlined circumstances in which the election could be postponed.
Osaze-Uzzi said, “The framers do not look into the extent to which the law can be interpreted as it was badly drafted. Though lawyers sometimes complicated issues when there should be no complication but I am sure that the supreme court will look at the provision of section 24 and try to save it.”
Delivering her paper titled, “The framework for election security in Nigeria”, the Director of Centre for Democracy and Development, Idayat Hassan, discussed the prevailing insecurity across all the six geo-political zones of the country and the ways in which it could pose a serious obstacle to the 2023 election.
She said, “Insecurity and political violence are not new features of Nigeria’s election cycles. However, besides 2015, when the Boko Haram insurgency threatened the conduct of the general elections eventually leading to a six-week postponement, no election since the return to democracy, and possibly in all the country’s four republics, has been threatened by such widespread insecurity.
“There remains a significant threat posed by Boko Haram/Islamist insurgency in the North East, banditry and terrorism in the North West, separationist agitations in the South East and South West, farmer-herder conflicts that are spreading from the Middle Belt to states across the country, and threats posed by kidnapping, oil thefts and other forms of criminality in the South-South.
“These all have serious implications for both the organisation of the elections and the casting of ballots. Coupled with prevailing insecurity is the tendency for election-related violence to be a feature of Nigerian elections.”