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Boko Haram, ISWA threat may derail elections in parts of Northeast Nigeria

…Elections might not hold in certain parts of the Northeast as a result of the security situation

Saturday, February 9, 2019, ABUJA – Nigeria holds its general elections in February and March 2019. Voters will get a chance to elect their leaders including the president, state governors and federal and state lawmakers. However, a number of multi-sectoral factors would impact the ability of citizens to vote as well as the electoral agency INEC to fulfil its mandate in certain areas of the country especially the Northeast.

Since 2009, Nigeria has been running a counter-insurgency campaign in its northeast. The conflict peaked between the last quarter of 2014 and early 2015 (an electioneering campaign season) as the insurgents overran towns and military bases across Borno, Adamawa and Yobe States.  The result of this is a humanitarian crisis with millions of displaced persons, thousands killed and critical infrastructure destroyed.

As a result of this, the Nigerian government postponed the national election in 2015 to allow the military to conduct an offensive to recapture towns and provide an environment of relative calm.  Despite successes claimed by the Nigerian military and the Multinational Joint task force (MNJTF) – a regional military task force made of personnel from Nigeria, Niger, Benin and Cameroon – Boko Haram attempted to disrupt elections in some places by attacking voting centers.

New threats

In 2019, the complexity around the insurgency has increased since the emergence of a splinter group known as the Islamic State in West Africa, and a resurgence of attacks on garrison towns and military bases after a period of relative calm. 

The United States African Command (AFRICOM) commander General Waldhauser informed the US Senate Armed Services Committee, “West African ISIS now has 3,000 to 4,000 members and has captured large sections of Nigerian territory”.

Boko Haram militants have displaced over 320,000 persons in four months, according to the United Nations refugee agency(UNHCR) January report. [1] These attacks by Boko Haram and ISWA militants occurred mostly in Lake Chad Communities.  

In Yobe, the attacks are centered in areas close to Borno and the Niger (a neighbouring country) border. Adamawa has suffered recent Boko Haram attacks in Michika and Madagali [2]. These wave of attacks and the resulting displacement of persons would affect overall participation in the federal and local elections. 

Impact on conduct of the elections

INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner in Borno state, Muhammed Ibrahim, in an address to civil society organisations, political parties and journalists, revealed the electoral body’s decision to allow Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) numbering 409,813 to vote in camps.  

IDPs from eight local government areas;Abadam, Guzamala, Marte, Dikwa, Gamboru-Ngala, Kukawa and Mobbar and Kalabalge will  cast their votes in camps in and outside Maiduguri. [3]  However, the inability of thousands of refugees who fled to neighbouring Chad and Cameroon after recent violence in the Lake Chad area to vote and the safety of IDP camps are major concerns to watch.

In Yobe, INEC has identified 24 voting areas where elections would be conducted in alternative voting centres.  This followed reports by security agencies which indicated that several voting areas in Gujba, Gulani and Gaidam local government areas of the state were unsafe for elections. [4] 

In Adamawa, INEC is expected to conduct elections in areas recently attacked by Boko Haram, including Madagali LGA, with more than 81,000 registered voters. [5]

The safety of electoral officials, voters and materials will determine INEC’s final decision on whether it would conduct elections in these high risk areas. Already, the Nigerian Army would be deploying ninety-five per cent of its troops for security duties during the forthcoming general elections with 40 per cent in the North East.

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