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Amid widespread insecurity which has taken an alarming turn in some states of the federation, among which are Kaduna, Niger, Imo, Katsina and Zamfara States, among others, the Southern Kaduna Peoples Union (SOKAPU) and other leaders of crisis ridden communities in Kaduna State have called on the federal government to ensure that the prevailing insecurity is brought under reasonable control for a smooth conduct of the inpending 2023 general elections.

They contended that that though the terrorists have succeeded in sacking and taking over some communities in the State, with more effort from the government towards securing the State for the conduct of a successful polls, the impact of the security challenges will be minimal.

Both SOKAPU and the officials of the Birni Gwari Emirate Progressive Union (BEPU) urged the government and those concerned with the conduct of the 2023 general elections, to ensure that the right condition and environment prevailed as the country moves towards the polls.

The spokesman of SOKAPU, Luka Binniyat who spoke with the Guardian, said, “The 2023 general election will not be significantly affected in Southern Kaduna State. Though hundreds of communities have been displaced, those displaced have moved to safer, bigger settlements where their security is better assured.

“What is usually done is that INEC would identify IDPs who come from particular polling units living outside their official voting points, but in one place. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will then designate that place as a polling unit. Eligible voters will be accredited and then they would be allowed to vote. So as long as displaced persons have voters’ cards, they can vote in Kaduna state, if the tradition is maintained.”

Binniyat explained that “with six months to the general election, there is time for stakeholders – government, security agencies, INEC to collaborate and identify flash spots where it may be difficult to hold elections,” saying that “new voting sites can be identified, logistics and security provided for voters to go and vote.”

He noted: “Fortunately, most of the danger zones are empty of law abiding citizens and occupied by outlaws. The displaced persons can have designated voting areas approved by INEC. This has been happening in Birnin Gwari local council, which has, perhaps, 40% of the areas captured by terrorists.

He stressed further that “there is no time in the history of elections since 1999 that the electorate have been so excited about voting like today,” pointing out that “many are however still ignorant about the Biometric Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) and sundry issues.”

Meanwhile, the Chairman of BEPU, Alhaji Ishaq Usman Kasai, who commended the military exploit by the government against the terrorists in the area, called on government to intensify action.

He remarked: “While appreciating and commending the renewed effort of Government and our gallant troops, we are appealing for extension of the operation to the terrorists’ hideouts in the forests for restoration of peace for people to live in their communities without fear and intimidation.

This is necessary in order to provide opportunity for conduct of 2023 general elections in the area and for the people to exercise their franchise.”

Arewa chieftain, Elder Anthony Sani also noted that the recent military campaign against terrorists in the forests by the federal government, is enough assurance that the present insecurity may not mar next year’s general election.

Sani who was the former Secretary General of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) explained that since the outcry by the Governor of Kaduna, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai to the Presidency that bandits are running parallel governments in the State, troops have taken the fight against the terrorists to their den in order to make sure that insecurity ends before the conduct of the general election in 2023.

He observed that for a successful election next year, “all that is required is for INEC, the security agencies, the government and other relevant agencies to inspire the electorate through words and deeds essential for them to make judicious use of their democratic rights and ensure that votes count.”

IN Imo State, unless mounting insecurity issues are addressed, there are indications that INEC may not conduct general elections in some local councils.

After the notable incidence of bandits storming the Owerri Correctional Centre, destroying the entrance, shooting sporadically and freeing about 1,800 inmates, there have been other cases such areas as Orlu, Orsu, Njaba and Ihitte Uboma.

Already, the commission suspended registration exercises in the three local council areas of the state due to recorded cases of killings and wanton destruction of houses. The affected councils, according to the immediate past Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), Prof. Francis Ezeonu, are Njaba, Orsu and Ihitte Uboma. Ezeonu left office few weeks ago, after serving out his tenure.

Governor Hope Uzodimma invited security outfit known as Imo Vigilante Group, fondly called by the people, Ebubeagu to stem the tide of insecurity. This did not go down well with most residents, as people accused them of killing the youth indiscriminately. This led to the government planning to launch another security outfit. This is part of a series of actions the state government have been taking to combat crimes. But incidences of insecurity are yet to abate despite all government efforts.

Many politicians and the voting public have therefore expressed fears as to how safe it would be to conduct polls in the 4,758 polling units in the 27 local councils of the state, given the level of insecurity in the state.

Meanwhile, Uzodimma has assured residents of handling the insecurity situation, promising that elections would hold.
Also in Katsina, concerns have been raised about the possibility of conducting the 2023 elections, as the activities of terrorists, bandits, kidnappers and rustlers have affected socioeconomic activities in several local councils.

For more than a decade, the security situation has persisted, with hundreds of lives lost, people maimed and kidnapped or their communities deserted due to the challenge.

Chairman, Coalition of Civil Society Organisations in the state, Abdulrahman Abdullahi, said the security situation has forced many to flee their communities, and that going back to vote on election day would be next to an impossible task.

Abdullahi also said that it would be difficult for election officials to go to communities affected by security challenges, as doing so could put their lives in jeopardy.

He, however, said that elections could still hold in areas affected by insecurity if government took the fight to terrorists’ enclaves, using both the army and airforce simultaneously.

According to him, “many people have migrated from areas where they registered for voting and until security situation improves, they won’t go back to vote.

“Even the INEC adhoc staff cannot work in security-compromised locations thereby disenfranchising the people in those places. There is also tendency for voting apathy because the people have become disappointed in government for not securing their lives, while other people may decide not to vote for fear of attacks during voting.

“Addressing this security challenge is fundamental for a successful conduct of 2023 elections in Katsina State. And let me use this medium to emphasize the need for taking the fight to the bandits’ enclaves. The airstrike on their den should be sustained,” he said.

On his part, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chairman in the state, Salisu Majigiri lamented that the security situation could greatly affect the conduct of the general elections in the state. Majigiri alleged that about 20 council areas in the state were not secured.

He lamented that due to the challenge, several eligible voters living in such areas may be disenfranchised, adding that several polling units at the said councils are inaccessible and inhabitable.

Speaking, Majigiri said, “The security situation in Katsina state is worsening day by day. People are being attacked in daylight and many are leaving their villages everyday. Security situation is worsening in almost all parts of the state. There is a serious threat to this election because there are some places in the state where you can’t go to campaign or even vote. This insecurity will affect free, fair and credible elections because if people are not protected to go and cast their votes, they will be disfranchised.

“If you take Funtual zone, for instance, the 11 local councils in the zone are not safe. Councils like Batsari, Jibia, Safana, Danmusa, Dutsin-Ma, Kurfi, Kankia and even parts of Batagarawa and Katsina are equally not secured.”

He called on the federal and state governments to do more in the area of protecting the lives and property of the people so that people would get to vote for their choice candidates come 2023 polls.

However, the spokesperson for the police command in the state, SP Gambo Isah insisted that the police and other sister agencies, are ready to provide security to ensure peaceful polls next year.

Isah said the command oversaw the conduct of local council elections some months ago, and that there were no reports of attacks on the voters by terrorists or bandits.

“You remember just a few months ago, we conducted local government elections. Infact, areas where we were thinking there could be problems, elections were conducted peacefully. The frontline areas especially Batsari, Jibia, Safana, Danmusa, Sabuwa, Faskari, all these places, elections were conducted and there were no recorded cases of terrorism or banditry. So, from all indications and with what we are putting on ground, the Nigeria Police Force is ever ready to conduct the general elections.”

Written by Saxone Akhaine (Kaduna), Charles Ogugbuaja (Owerri) and Danjuma Michael (Katsina) in The Guardian