Less than six weeks to the general elections in Nigeria that promise to be the toughest contest since the return of democracy in 1999, there are fears about the possibility of violence erupting before, during and after the polls. The signs are crystal clear, given the fact that in the northern part of Nigeria, Boko Haram is escalating attacks, creating more insecurity in an already troubled north and the incendiary threats by ex-war lords in the Niger Delta region that they would unleash mayhem on the country if their kinsman, President Goodluck Jonathan does not win the election.
Last Wednesday, the terrorists stormed a village in Borno State called Malari and abducted at least 40 boys and took them to the bush, probably to join other fighters. Three days later on Saturday, Boko Haram took over a military base in Baga, near Lake Chad. As it has happened elsewhere, the sect overpowered the Nigerian soldiers before hoisting its black flag.
In recent weeks and months, the insurgents snatched several areas in the northeast, and The New York Times quoting American military officials in their African Command headquarters in Stuttgart last week claimed that Boko Haram now controls 20 percent of the Nigerian territory, an area as big as both Benin Republic and Togo.
Boko Haram may try to launch even deadlier attacks as the elections draw near in February to create more panic and chaos in the north. Northern Nigeria represents at least 65 percent of the Nigerian territory with the biggest part of it in the Northeast where Boko Haram has been snatching town after town.
In the Niger Delta, former militant leader, Asari Dokubo, is threatening fire and brimstone, saying that the country would burn should President Jonathan who hails from the oil-rich region fail to win re-election. Apart from saying that Jonathan will win next month’s election “anyhow”, he has also threatened to deal with the southwest and exterminate the north.
This is in addition to some inflammatory utterances by some politicians that the upcoming elections will be a do-or-die affair as the Governor of Ekiti State, Ayo Fayose, announced recently.
The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, has not helped matters as problems of procuring the Permanent Voter’s Cards, PVC, persist. Millions of Nigerians in many states are yet to collect their PVCs and will not be able to vote next month. Anger is rising across the country and some people are even taking INEC to court.
This avalanche of challenges seems to be coming at the same time and may trigger a storm that may spill out of control as elections draw nearer. But this could be averted if all the stakeholders do the right thing. It is our opinion that as a country, we must do all we can to douse the tension for peaceful, credible and free elections.
The Nigerian army must ensure that Boko Haram is defeated or at least checked before and during the elections and INEC must also ensure that all Nigerians who are eligible to vote do so. Inflammatory utterances by former militants, politicians and even priests should be stopped. Nigeria is bigger than anybody and together we must work for peace and unity and not war and chaos.