IN yet another incident that portends grave danger for the country’s democracy, a group of hoodlums reportedly stormed one of the offices of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Akwa Ibom State during the week, carting away 2,045 Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs). National Commissioner of INEC supervising Akwa Ibom, Cross River and Delta states, Dr Mustapha Lecky, disclosed this at the commission’s secretariat in Uyo, the state capital, while briefing newsmen at the end of his assessment tour of the state to ascertain the success of the display of voters’ lists across the state. According to him, the PVCs were stolen by the suspected hoodlums in one of the INEC offices in Okobo Local Government Area of the state during a mob action by youths who invaded the office to protest results of the last primary elections.
Lecky said: “The PVCs were stolen in Okobo Local Government. We have visited the area and we saw a lot of security lapses around the local government office. I think it was a mob action which was a consequence of the primaries that were taking place at that time and I want to assure you that the police are looking into the matter. The (PVCs) were stolen from where we kept them for safety.” To any patriotic mind, the attack on INEC’s office in Akwa Ibom cannot but be disturbing. To all intents and purposes, it portrays the country as an unserious entity. While pervasive security challenges are a reality across the country, Nigerians would certainly not expect a sacred place like an office of the electoral commission to be easily overrun by a band of hoodlums. Particularly against the backdrop of the tense political situation in the country ahead of the 2019 general election, the country can surely not afford to allow acts that pose a threat to democracy free rein. This is why every effort must be made to defeat the intentions of the perpetrators of the crime in Okobo.
Pray, what kind of ‘security lapses’ enabled the crime? Were there no security agencies attached to the INEC office in Okobo? And since the attack took place, what steps have been taken by the commission, in concert with the security agencies, to track the hoodlums? Arresting the hoodlums and prosecuting them to the full extent allowed by law is necessary in order to send a strong message to criminals who may be nursing similar subversive thoughts that the commission and, by implication, the country, will not tolerate any acts targeted at subverting democracy. In this regard, we urge INEC to give the security agencies all the information that they need to track down the hoodlums. As a matter of fact, ensuring that the perpetrators and sponsors of the crime in Okobo are put behind bars before the election they apparently are trying to steal and hijack promises to send the kind of strong and powerful message required in testy times like the present. Needless to say, INEC needs to beef up security in its offices nationwide.
Besides, the commission has a bounden duty to determine the identities of the prospective voters affected by the PVC theft and take steps to provide them with alternatives. Voters whose PVCs have been stolen in INEC office require assurances that their rights to exercise their democratic preferences would not be impaired in any way. Information and misinformation spread easily and the commission must not allow a situation whereby voters would be given the impression by uninformed members of their communities that the theft of their PVCs automatically means that their democratic right to elect leaders of their choice has been circumscribed or forfeited. On the other hand, the commission should maximise the expertise available at its technical departments and ensure that the stolen PVCs are not used to sway the outcome of the 2019 general election. With the database of voters at its disposal, it should be easy to track the security information encoded in the stolen PVCs and render the cards useless. The perpetrators and sponsors of the attack on INEC office in Okobo must not be allowed to profit from their crime.
In serious climes, nothing is left to chance when incidents with a potentially disruptive effect on democracy occur and it is hoped that INEC will treat the extant case with all the seriousness that it deserves. Nigerians expect and deserve no less.