The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) came under criticism and cynicism, from across party lines, following the curious fires that gutted the commission’s offices in some states just days before the recent presidential and National Assembly polls. Fears had trailed INEC’s preparations for general elections, starting with presidential and national assembly ones earlier fixed for Feb. 16 but shifted to 23 over logistics issues. With the polls only a day away at the time, INEC offices in Plateau, Abia and Anambra states were gutted and sensitive election materials destroyed.
The fires in Plateau and Abia destroyed more than 10,000 permanent voter cards and 755 ballot boxes. The fire in INEC Anambra also destroyed election materials. Firefighters and security operatives arrived at the scene too late to put out the fire which already burnt a container of card readers and other materials. The umpire claimed it had no idea who might be trying to sabotage elections in those states, a claim we strongly object to because anticipatory intelligence should have given some early warning or sign. INEC added that it had notified Acting Inspector General of Police Mohammed Abubakar Adamu on the “emerging trend of burning the electoral commission’s offices.”
INEC, however, had assured that voting would go ahead as scheduled in the affected states as it had made arrangements to print new voter cards to replace those that were destroyed. “The Commission wishes to assure Nigerians that it will not succumb to the antics of an arsonist whose motive might be to create fear in the minds of voters and sabotage the conduct of the 2019 general elections,” said INEC spokesman Festus Okoye.
It is true that INEC has many enemies, mainly elective office aspirants who lost out to opponents in the primaries. There are also candidates who won their parties’ nomination but are not sure of victory in the main election. Then there are miscreants who “come to steal and destroy”. We sympathize with INEC during these trying times, but we are encouraged by its high spirits and determination to carry on nonetheless.
It is a shame that the police could not prevent the fires in the three states. And even when they occurred, the police could not salvage the sensitive election materials destroyed. Few days before the Plateau fire, IGP Adamu assured the nation that the police had planned everything, down to the very minutest, to ensure trouble-free exercise. Apparently, they had reckoned without the determination of political arsonists to sabotage the polls.
We expect a team of the intelligence community including the police, DSS, Civil Defence to work in concert to identify and tell Nigerians the perpetrators of that dastardly act. The silence over the incidents suggests that the matter may be swept under the carpet. If this is the case, it has a dangerous potential to embolden the perpetrators to feel that they can commit such a heinous crime and get away with it.
We should not be carried away by the outcome of the polls to forget to expose and punish the individuals behind the curious fire incidents. That is the only way, in our view, that this callous act of treason can be prevented in the future.