How to keep safe during elections in Nigeria

NIGERIANS will go to the polls on February 25 and March 2023 to elect their leaders at various levels. 

Presidential and National Assembly elections will hold on February 25, while Governorship and State House of Assembly elections will hold on March 11. 

However, the fear of violence and intimidation is making many potential voters doubt whether they will vote on election day.

The recent spike in the number of violent attacks at campaign rallies and other places, especially offices of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has heightened concerns among prospective voters.

A resident of Abuja, Uche Joseph, in a chat with The ICIR, said he might not vote due to concerns over electoral violence.

“I must confess to you I am scared of coming out on that day. The rate of violence and threats is too scary, and we don’t have assurance from security agencies.

“I will try and go, I will try to vote but I will be closely watching over my shoulder,” he said.

The ICIR, in an attempt to encourage voters like Uche and other citizens to go out and vote, decided to speak to some relevant stakeholders on how to keep safe during the election.

Security analyst’s advice 

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A security analyst with SBM Intelligence, a Lagos-based research firm, Emeka Okoro, told The ICIR that election periods all over the world (including Nigeria) comes with so many different activities that can be safe and unsafe, especially for the voter. 

Okoro said the voter is a critical component of the voting process, and the moment they are not sure of their safety, the election could be marred by low voter turnout or complete voter apathy, in many cases.

He added that security is an important aspect of an election process.

IG of Police, Usman Alkali Baba

“Security can make or mar an election. This is because if adequate security measures are not put in place, then to a considerable extent, things may go wrong, especially for the voter. 

“As a matter of fact, without these security measures, lives and properties may be lost in the process.

“Security precautions must not be taken seriously by the government of a state alone, as a matter of fact, as a voter the onus also lies on you,” Okoro said.

He listed steps a voter can take in order to be safe during an election.

  • Avoid being part of any political argument, especially when it involves a party different from the one you’re supporting. This is so that you do not dabble into an augment that may lead to a fight.
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  • The election period in various countries may be a time for violence to develop. So, voters must avoid situations that will make them stay out late in the days leading to the elections and even on election day.
  • Try not to criticize any politician of the opposition party in the country or your state of residence in public. This is because if you do, you might be stepping on the toes of people who may be violent, especially supporters of the politician.
  • Do not wear anything that will be easily used to identify you. This is so that you do not attract the attention of opposition party members who may be irritated by it and would want to cause you bodily harm.
  • Stay updated with issues by constantly listening to the news and trying to keep yourself informed. This way, you can be aware of events as they unfold to avoid getting caught in any unrest.
  • As much as possible, try not to disclose the candidate you intend to vote for or the candidate you pledge allegiance to. Keep your intentions private.
  • Return home after casting your vote. Many will indeed tell you to stay back and ‘protect your vote’. You can hang around to monitor the vote-counting process. However, staying back or loitering with other supporters after casting your vote may be detrimental. 
  • Vote for your candidate just once and leave. 
  • Vote buying is a punishable offence that can attract a fine of up to #100,000, or a jail time of up to 12 months, under Section 127 (d) of the Electoral Act 2022. Therefore, do not, for any reason or for any amount at all, be tempted to sell your vote.
  • Ensure you carry a means of identification when stepping out of your house on election day. This will come in handy in case of a stop and search by the security agents or in the case of an emergency, and one can also not be mistaken for a political thug. 

Okoro said following these tips will help voters remain safe to a large extent on election day.

Journalist proffers solution

Also handing out safety tips, a journalist who has covered so many elections in Nigeria, Amaka Okoro, urged voters to concentrate on why they are at the Polling unit.

Amaka, who currently works with Africa Independent Television (AIT), urged voters to remain peaceful at the polling units.

According to her, voters need to go to the election venue with the primary purpose of voting and be peaceful about the process as they guard their votes.

“Be at the venue at the commencement of the process, follow the laid down protocols by INEC and be orderly.

A Ballot box
A Ballot box

“Report immediately and directly to INEC, security agencies or the media if any abnormality is noticed.

“Do not announce your choice of candidate(s) to avoid unnecessary arguments that might lead to chaos. It is a secret ballot,” she said.

Amaka added that voters should avoid political discussions at the election venue, especially regarding the elections and candidates, to avoid clashes of interest.

An election observer’s intervention

Also contributing to the discussion in an exclusive chat with The ICIR, the Media and Communications Officer of YIAGA Africa, Moshood Isah, said it is essential for voters to be familiar with the polling unit environment and avoid night movement during the election day.

“On election day, the voters should avoid moving from one polling unit to another. Get to your polling unit as early as possible and cast your vote and either stay aside and wait for the result.

“In fact, you can go back home and wait for the INEC results, or you can stay aside and avoid unnecessary arguments because an election is a very heated period, so you need to avoid unnecessary arguments.”




     

     

    He further advised voters to avoid discussing their choice at the polling unit as voting is supposed to be secret. This is to prevent unnecessary skirmishes.

    Isah added that voters should as much as possible respect security agents at the polling units and avoid unnecessary arguments with them.

    “Play by the rules of the election. The election starts at 8:30 am and ends by 2:30 pm. Anyone on the queue by 2:30 pm will be allowed to vote. Anyone that comes after that time will not be allowed to vote.

    “If you can vote as early as possible, do so because observation has shown that electoral violence do start at the peak of the election towards collation or announcement of the result in polling units. It is better if you can avoid that time,” he said.

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    Bankole Abe
    Reporter at ICIR | [email protected] | Author Page

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