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    Fears over 2023 polls as fire guts 19 INEC offices

    AT least, 19 offices of the Independent National Electoral Commission have been gutted by fire in the last two years, findings by The PUNCH have revealed.

    A breakdown of the fire incidents showed that the most affected states include Akwa Ibom (four), Abia (three) Anambra (two) and Imo (two).

    Other states that witnessed fire incidents between February 2019 and May 2021 are Borno, Ebonyi, Jigawa, Kano, Ondo, Plateau and Rivers. Abuja was also affected.

    It was learnt that while 11 offices were burnt down by hoodlums, eight others were gutted by fire under mysterious circumstances or by electrical fault.

    In all cases, however, no one has been prosecuted for the vandalism and arson.

    Also, the financial implication of such destruction has never been revealed. However, calculations by The PUNCH showed that the destruction could run into billions of naira.

    For instance, on February 12, 2019, shortly before the general elections, two containers containing 4,695 smart card readers were destroyed along with other sensitive materials in a mysterious fire at the Anambra State headquarters of INEC.

    INEC estimated in its budget that each card reader cost N167, 063 while each memory card cost N6,000.

    The PUNCH had estimated that based on INEC’s budget for such sensitive material, the loss incurred was about N847m which also included batteries and SAM (Secure Access Module) cards.

    Similarly, on September 10, 2020, just before the Ondo State governorship election, about 5,141 card readers were destroyed in a fire at the state head office of the commission in Akure.

    Based on the budget estimates, the Akure fire is expected to have cost INEC nothing less than N900m.

    Weeks before the general elections on February 3, 2019, the INEC office in Isiala-Ngwa South Local Government Area of Abia State was burnt down in mysterious circumstances.

    In the same state, the commission’s facilities in Arochukwu LGA was vandalised in October 2020 while that of Aba South was completely burnt in December. INEC’s office in Ohafia was set ablaze on May 9, 2021

    The office of the commission in the Essien Udim Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom was set ablaze on May 2, 2021. Items destroyed include 345 ballot boxes, 135 voting cubicles, megaphones, water tanks and office furniture.

    On the eve of the 2019 general elections, INEC’s newly constructed prototype local government office in Ibesikpo Asutan was burnt down, while two more offices in Mkpat Enin and Eastern Obolo LGAs were also bombed.

    In Ebonyi on March 9, 2019, INEC’s Registration Area Centre at Ezza North LGA was set ablaze by hoodlums.

    On February 10, 2019, the INEC office in Qua’anpan LGA was gutted by fire while ballot boxes, cubicles, PVCs and other sensitive materials were burnt. The fire was said to have been caused by negligence.

    At the INEC headquarters, Abuja, the Department of Electoral and Party Monitoring was completely burnt on April 17, 2020, while in Kano, on April 20, 2021, the data processing centre was burnt along with the voter register, laser jet printers, computers, inverters and other items.

    INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner in Akwa Ibom State, Mike Igini, had said earlier in the week that if unchecked, the attacks might constitute a setback to the commission’s preparations for the 2023 general elections.

    INEC’s spokesperson, Festus Okoye, had on Monday lamented the damaging impact of such attacks on Nigeria’s democratic exercise and electoral assets.

    The commission is expected to convene an emergency meeting of the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security to deliberate on how to check the incessant attacks on its offices nationwide next week.

    When contacted on whether INEC’s offices were insured, Okoye said he could not readily provide a response and pleaded for more time to do so.

    On the number of offices burnt, the INEC spokesman said he did not know but could find out after the holidays.

    Speaking with The PUNCH, however, a former National Commissioner of INEC, Prof. Lai Olurode, said the burning of INEC offices was an attack on democracy.

    Olurode said it was also a reflection of the general insecurity in the land which had also led to the burning of police stations.

    The former INEC commissioner, however, said the electoral body was expected to insure all its offices.

    While expressing faith in the quality of elections conducted by INEC, Olurode advised aggrieved persons to seek legal redress rather than sponsor attacks on the commission’s offices.

    Copyright PUNCH.

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