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The Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Mahmood Yakubu, has summoned a meeting with leaders of political parties over the reported clashes among their supporters in some states.
Yakubu disclosed this in Abuja on Tuesday, during the training of master trainers on election technology for the 2023 general election, as the police planned to spend N13bn on the purchase of firearms and other security hardware ahead of the polls.
The hostilities between the parties are happening barely three weeks after the campaigns officially kicked off and the political parties and their presidential candidates signed the peace accord under the auspices of the National Peace Committee.
Ahead of the commencement of the campaigns on September 28, there had been hostile and abusive verbal exchanges between the supporters of the All Progressives Congress presidential candidate, Bola Tinubu and the Labour Party flag bearer, Peter Obi.
A viral video of the Pyrates Confraternity in which the members were mocking a leading presidential candidate in a song also attracted anger and condemnations across the country.
Sequel to these incidents, the police warned politicians and their supporters against engaging in hate speech and cyberbullying and threatened to prosecute violators by relevant laws, adding that they could be charged under the Cybercrime (Prohibition, Prevention, etc) Act, Electoral Act or even Terrorism (Prevention) Act, depending on the content of the speeches.
Regardless of the Police riot act, hoodlums Monday attacked the Peoples Democratic Party presidential campaign mega rally in Kaduna.
The attackers reportedly came into the Ranchers Bees Stadium venue with sticks and machetes and attacked the party supporters, leaving many injured.
Also, thugs bombarded the residence of the PDP governorship candidate in Zamfara, Dr Dauda Lawal, on Saturday. During the violence, some people were injured while campaign buses were vandalised and looted.
Apparently worried by the rising wave of violence, the INEC chairman warned that parties, candidates and their supporters should “not by acts of commission or omission further complicate the prevailing security situation in the country.”
He stated, “Even as the commission is working hard to ensure a credible process in the forthcoming elections, reports of clashes among parties and their supporters in some states of the country during the ongoing electioneering is worrisome.
“So too is the reported denial of access to public facilities for parties and candidates in some states of the federation. Let me caution parties and their supporters to focus on issues and steer clear of attacks on each other.
“These are not only violations of the Electoral Act 2022 but also negate the voluntary commitment by all political parties and candidates to the letter and spirit of the peace accord signed about three weeks ago under the auspices of the NPC.”
Speaking further, Yakubu disclosed that the electoral body would continue to monitor the situation closely, adding that INEC would also meet with security agencies over the rising political tension in the country.
He added, “A peaceful electioneering campaign is critical to the conduct of peaceful and credible elections. The commission will continue to monitor the situation closely and will convene a meeting with leaders of political parties next week to discuss, among other issues, the imperative of peaceful campaigns and equal access to public facilities.
“In the same vein, the commission will also meet with the security agencies under the auspices of the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security next week.”
Speaking on the attack in Kaduna, the All Progressives Congress debunked reports that its governorship candidate, Uba Sani, masterminded the violent assault on a rally for the PDP presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar in the state.
The Kaduna State APC Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Salisu Wusono in a statement on Tuesday, dismissed the allegations by a former Deputy Publicity Secretary of the party, Timi Frank.
“Timi Frank is perfect for the hatchet job of running his mouth, going by his antecedent, on a matter that he is ill-informed about,’’ the party stated, describing the ex-party official as ‘’a professional hireling on a new assignment to complement his income as the so-called Ambassador of United Liberation Movement for West Papua, to East Africa and the Middle East.’’
The statement read in part, “Indeed, the People’s Democratic Party has elected spokesmen at state and national levels, including those at the Presidential Campaign Council, as well as the battery of media aides that its presidential candidate parades.
“However, given the reputational damage that it may cause them, apart from possible litigation, the party chose an unsavoury character to carry its dubious message, which is laden with injurious falsehoods.
“In a statement that was widely published, Timi Frank claimed that distinguished Senator Uba Sani and the Kaduna State gubernatorial candidate of APC sent thugs to disrupt PDP’s presidential rally without an iota of proof. Significantly, Timi Frank was mis-briefed by his paymasters.”
He explained that the Ranchers Bees Township Stadium venue of the PDP rally was half-empty ‘’to the utter embarrassment of PDP chieftains, in a state that has a former vice-president, an ex-governor and a two-term senator, including a former national chairman of the party.’’
On the day of the alleged attack, the APC said the majority of Kaduna residents were at the Arewa House to interact with its presidential candidate, Tinubu.
Olawepo-Hashim warns candidates
In a related development, a former presidential aspirant and chieftain of the ruling APC, Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim has called on politicians and major political parties to desist from ethnic and religious tantrums that could stoke violence and widen the existing gulfs and cleavages among the citizens and voters.
According to him, the advice became necessary as the campaign for the 2023 elections begins to generate political velocity.
Olawepo-Hashim, who was the presidential candidate of the Trust Party in the 2019 election, issued the warning in a statement in Abuja on Tuesday.
Instead of focusing on plans to transform the economy and programmes to achieve social and political development, national security and unity, he observed that the candidates and their campaign organisations were complicating the ethnic and religious tensions in Nigeria in their efforts to win votes in 2023.
Olawepo-Hashim said most of the campaigners were churning out messages with ethnic and religious nuances, adding that “our polity has never descended this low since our independence as a nation and since our return to democratic rule in 1999.”
He recalled that in the First and Second Republics, the political parties were identified and known by their plans, programmes and principles, unlike the present situation where contestants “are busy talking about tribe, creed and crowd they can parade on the streets.”
“It is time for the leaders of the various political parties to check the activities of their campaigns where their messages seem to undermine our national unity. The Independent National Electoral Commission, National Orientation Agency and other relevant state institutions must step up their games,” he stated.
He said what serious-minded Nigerians were interested in was how to get Nigeria back as a major player in the remaining short time of fossil fuel as a dominant energy source and how to immediately resolve the debt to revenue crisis.
Olawepo-Hashim also called on politicians to focus on “the fiscal plan to tame the cost-pushed inflation, high unemployment rate, insecurity and burgeoning poverty pandemic.”
Commenting on the skirmishes between the political parties, the Convener of the United Global Resolve for Peace, Olaseni Shalom, commended INEC for calling for a meeting with them, noting that candidates are resorting to harmful tribal sentiments.
The Federal Government has approved N13.4bn for the purchase of armoured personnel carriers and other operational vehicles, firearms, ammunition and other security hardware for the police.
This is happening barely four months before the 2023 general elections. The purchase is believed to be part of the efforts to scale up the capacity of the police to tackle election-related violence and attacks.
The government also approved N520.7m for the acquisition of firearms for the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps while the Nigeria Correctional Service would receive N1.4bn.
The PUNCH confirmed that the three services will get a total of N15.3bn for security equipment in the 2023 appropriation bill, apart from the allocation for personnel, recurrent and capital projects.
A senior officer confided in one of our correspondents that the police would in the coming months receive arms, APCs and other security equipment in preparation for the general election.
A further breakdown of the allocation according to the police budget showed that N1.9bn was budgeted for the procurement of arms, ammunition and protective gear; N7.8bn for the purchase of security equipment while N150m was earmarked for the provision of security vehicles for outfits in Yuli and other locations in North-Central.
Others are N938.2m for the procurement of riot control equipment, including electric stun guns, tear gas canisters and rapid deployment razor-wired trailers while the purchase of operational vehicles will gulp N2.6bn.
For the Civil Defence Corp, N230.9m was allocated for the purchase of vans, arms, and ammunition.
System management will gulp N259.8m and N30m was budgeted for the procurement of anti-terrorism, chemical, bio-radiation and nuclear weapon equipment.
Also, the Nigerian Correctional Service would get N1.4bn for the procurement of prison biometrics, arms, ammunition and other security equipment.
It was, however, observed that the amount was lower than the N2.6bn allocated for the same items in the 2022 budget.
This is coming amid the clamour for increased funding for the agency for procurement of arms and ammunition to prevent future attacks on custodial centres.
Speaking with one of our correspondents, the NCoS Spokesperson, Abubakar Umar, lamented the development, adding that the service required improved funding to procure sophisticated firearms.
He said, “We need upgraded arms and ammunition because of the current trends of security attacks on our correctional facilities.
In the past, there was poor funding of the Service but with the coming of this present administration, President Muhammadu Buhari has increased the funding of the Service but there is still a need for financial improvement because we have not been able to address most of the challenges.
‘’If we have more money coming into the Service, we will be able to deploy more technologies, but that does not mean we do not currently have the technology.”
When asked why the budget for firearms was high and if it was part of preparations for elections, the force spokesman, Muyiwa Adejobi promised to find out from the police budget department. But he had yet to provide an update as of the time of filing this report at .9.30pm on Tuesday.
But shedding light on the huge allocation for firearms and other security gear, a top police officer said the Nigeria Police had to be prepared for possible violence before, during and after the election.
He stated, “The police have to procure security equipment in sufficient quantities to address election violence. We are not praying for violence, but the signs are already manifesting in Kaduna, Zamfara and other places.
“During such violence, the police cannot use live bullets. Only tear gas is required to contain riots and as such, tear gas canisters must be bought in huge quantities and they don’t come cheap. And they have to be acquired before the election. This and other equipment, including bulletproof vests, armoured personnel carriers and other operational vehicles cost a lot of money. Maintaining aerial surveillance is also very expensive. A litre of aviation fuel is about N1,000. So, you can imagine what it would cost to fly our helicopters and maintain aerial surveillance over a long period.
A security expert, Patrick Agbambu said the allocation to the NCoS might not be enough, arguing that security is capital intensive and the agencies needed to be well-funded.
He noted, “One thing people must know is that security is very expensive. You may not believe it but that amount of money may not be enough to procure what is needed and that is the reality.
“To be able to appropriately evaluate the usage of the fund, one needs to understand that security equipment is very expensive, even CCTV cameras. It is not like going to buy a camera from a shop.”
A security risk consultant, Kabir Adamu was disturbed that the budget was reduced for the agencies given the level of insecurity and the incessant jailbreaks across the country.
He said, “Given the critical position that the Correctional Service occupies in our national security sector and given what happened in 2022; the Kuje Prison attack and several incidents of attacks of custodial centres across the centres, one would think that the budget should be increased and not reduced.”