Nigeria’s Electoral Commission Faces Growing Insecurity Ahead of February 25 Polls

Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission says an attack Wednesday on its offices in southeast Anambra state destroyed hundreds of ballot boxes and other election materials. Authorities say armed men also attacked a police station in the area and killed a teenager.

It’s the latest attempt to disrupt Nigeria’s preparations for February 25 elections.

The Independent National Electoral Commission, or INEC, said Thursday it is making plans to replace some 700 ballot boxes, 243 voting cubicles, and 256 election bags destroyed by attackers.

The election commission said the damage was serious, but the permanent voter cards kept in a fireproof cabinet were spared.

“The office was completely destroyed,” the INEC’s information and education officer, Festus Okoye, told VOA by phone. “All the ballot boxes and voting cubicles and generators that we lost, we’re going to replace them quickly, then get the office to move to a new location, and then we’ll proceed with our preparations. We can’t allow some of these things to distract us or disrupt the process.”

State police authorities say they are monitoring the situation and have deployed officers to the area.

On Wednesday, armed attackers broke into the INEC facility in Anambra state and detonated improvised explosive devices and petrol bombs. Officials say attackers also fired guns sporadically near a local police station, killing a 16-year-old boy and injuring another teenage girl before security agents intervened.

INEC has reported more than 50 attacks and arsons on its facilities across 15 states since the last polls in 2019.

This is the first attack in February as Nigeria begins a countdown to the February 25 polls.

Hamzat Lawal, the chief executive of Connected Development, said violence could threaten voter confidence during polls.

“As we go into the elections, the most important ingredient is peace, because if the election is peaceful, then people can feel confident enough to go out of their safety zone, which is their homes, to cast their ballot,” Lawal said. “And with peace, we’ll ensure that we have less voter apathy and people will not be disenfranchised.”

In January, the INEC said it was working with military, police and civil defense authorities to provide adequate security for staff and election materials during the polls.

But Lawal said they must first convince citizens of their safety.

“I also want to talk to government, particularly political actors. You do not play politics with security, and I believe that our security agencies will live up the expectations and build public trust and confidence, knowing that INEC is currently enjoying public trust and confidence and leveraging on that to get young people to come out and cast their ballot,” Lawal said. “I’m really confident that we’ll get over 80 percent turnouts.”

About 40 percent of registered voters make it to the polls due to voter apathy, according to the electoral commission.

There are more than 93 million registered voters on INEC’s records — an increase from 84 million eligible voters recorded in the previous elections.

Experts predict voter turnout could surge this year, if election-related violence is addressed.

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