Nigeria will host the largest election in Africa in February 2023. In the 23 years of uninterrupted democratic rule in the nation, this is the seventh consecutive general election.
There will be a huge effort put into the election. In 176,846 polling stations spread over 774 local government districts, an estimated 95 million registered voters are expected to cast ballots.
There are a total of 12,163 candidates on the ballot, supported by 18 political parties. Elections are being held for 109 Senate seats, 360 Congressional seats, 993 State House seats, 28 Governorships, and the Presidency.
However, there are growing concerns that national security issues could scuttle the result. Nigeria’s security systems appear incapable of providing security.
We believe there are valid reasons to be concerned. We believe that significant dangers to a free, fair, and credible election could originate from both physical and virtual environments based on our knowledge and prior work on violence in Nigeria.
Terrorists from Boko Haram, robbers, separatists, criminals, militants, armed herdsmen, and a variety of violent gangs all pose a threat to the physical environment.
It originates from hacking, false information, disinformation, deep fakes, and fake news in the virtual world.
Election security is one feature that sets Nigeria’s electoral process apart. Intense incidents of violence, many of which were conducted by political thugs, have distinguished previous elections. But given how rapidly, extensively, and dramatically violence has increased, the elections in 2023 are particularly concerning.
The country is currently experiencing a different and more dangerous security climate, as seen by recent acts of violence. Armed groups have murdered or kidnapped civilians recently. Additionally, the offices and security personnel affiliated with the Independent National Electoral Commission have been the target of deliberate attacks. Additionally, a record number of towns are partially governed by armed non-state actors.
Additionally, some desperate politicians may incite armed organizations to commit acts of violence in opposition strongholds in an effort to crush voter participation.
Deteriorating security situation
Attacks in both the physical and virtual realms have considerably escalated in Nigeria during the past few months. Between January and July 2022, there were at least 2,840 violent occurrences resulting in 7,222 Nigerian deaths and 3,823 kidnappings.
Additionally, cybersecurity has worsened.
Nigeria was one of the worst-hit countries in Africa in terms of cyberattacks, according to data released in May 2022. The country that received the most attacks—32 million—was South Africa. There were 16.7 million cyberattacks in Nigeria.
This is crucial since the 2018 election will employ the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System, according to the Independent National Electoral Commission. This method and an Election Result Viewing Portal are two technology advancements praised for enhancing election results transparency and raising voter confidence in the results.
In light of this, the Independent National Electoral Commission has frequently voiced concern over ongoing security issues leading up to the elections in 2023.
Armed groups and the 2023 elections
The fundamental components of election security are already being impacted by the acts of armed groups.
There have been 20 attacks on election sites since 2017, nine abductions involving members of the electoral commission, and 17 instances of looting and property destruction. Targets include offices and sensitive equipment.
The south, particularly the southeast, has seen most of the attacks. (Figure 1, below)
Unknown armed groups have attacked commission offices since the 2019 election.
For instance, on November 26, 2020, members of Boko Haram stormed the electoral commission headquarters in the Borno State local government of Hawul.
Unknown assailants killed a commission official in April 2022 at a voter registration location in the Imo State local government of Ihitte Uboma. Voter registration drives were halted by the election commission in three local government districts and 54 centers throughout the state.
These assaults herald grave peril for national election processes.
Infrastructure attacks have the potential to scare away potential voters, result in substantial shortages of election officials, disrupt logistics, and jeopardize the delivery of voting materials.
Attacks and murders have also primarily targeted security forces. For instance, between January and June 2022, non-state armed organizations killed 81 soldiers, 65 police officers, two officials from the penal system, two from the civil defense corps, and two from the anti-drug law division.
The northwest, north-central, and southeast regions saw the majority of the killings.
The safety of the environment during the entire election process depends on security personnel.
Security response plan
To address the threats to a successful election process, the administration must implement a strong and thorough security plan.
Plans for operations involving, for instance, ground and air raids against armed groups in their strongholds are required by security services. In order to combat the propaganda and false information spread by armed organizations, information, and psychological operations are also required.
Both proactive and reactive actions should be part of a solid information operation response. This will increase voter confidence and lessen the allure or danger posed by armed organizations.
This reaction should be organized and led by the Department of State Services in collaboration with the Office of the National Security Adviser.
Finally, safeguarding the upcoming election necessitates a holistic approach. Additionally, strong coordination between the nation’s security apparatuses and the election management body is necessary.
An excellent platform for this is the nation’s interagency consultative committee on election security.
Credit: The conversation