As the date of the 2023 General Elections draws closer, tension has enveloped the nation.
The tension has heightened to the screaming point that political observers had noticed the blatant and veiled animosity emanating from different political camps, especially among party and candidates’ supporters on social media.
Among different supporters, there have been insults, threats and counter-threats.
The situation continues to snowball, forcing the Inspector-General of Police, Alkali Usman Baba, to read the riot act to governors, politicians and political parties.
Members of the Crime Reporters Association of Nigeria, who have been watching with alarm the growing veiled threats for months now, have refused to adopt the usual ‘sit don look’ syndrome common among Nigerians.
Thus, quite troubled by the gathering of ominous clouds, CRAN decided to do something about the situation.
CRAN figured that enough warnings and awareness should continue to be created to make people understand that the country can truly have an election, void of animosity, bitterness and bloodletting.
To this end, the association during its annual lecture and award week, came up with the theme: “Tackling The Dark Cloud Over Nigeria’s Unity, Prosperity Ahead of the 2023 General Elections,” where it pooled resource persons from various sectors to speak to the issues.
These experts and security stakeholders on November 24, 2022, gathered at Providence Hotel, Ikeja, Lagos State to look at how to ensure a peaceful 2023 General Elections.
The President of CRAN, Olalekan Olabulo, noted that the gathering was a testimony of CRAN and Nigerians’ collective resolve and commitment against insecurity in Nigeria.
He stressed that such security gatherings, organised by CRAN over the years, were not for tea parties and cheap talks, but to proffer solutions to the myriad of problems confronting Nigeria as a nation.
Olabulo added: “Insecurity is not peculiar to Nigeria but the preponderance of violent attacks and other crimes in almost all the regions of the county such as terrorism, banditry, armed robbery, kidnapping and others have made it imperative for constant appraisal of the security situation in our country.
“After all, all of us cannot relocate from our country.
“The 2023 General Elections are just a few months away and the only thing that can stop the election is insecurity.
“It is expected that security agencies will assure us of their preparedness to protect us before, during and after the elections.”
Making references to the spreading tongues of violence in Nigeria, Olabulo said there was a time many thought and strongly believed that the violence raging in some parts of northern Nigeria, will never get to the South East, until the massacre incident at Owo, Ondo State, in a Catholic Church, put paid to that notion.
He added that escalating cases of kidnapping in different Yoruba states had shown that no part of the country was safe.
The Deputy Governor of Lagos State, Dr. Kadri Obafemi Hamzat, while applauding the choice of topic for discussion, said it was reflective of CRAN’s “journalistic coverage of activities in our society.”
Hamzat further stated: “Progress and growth can only be guaranteed in a society governed by the rule of law, a society where the fundamental rights of individuals to hold an opinion and associate with people of shared values, are not frowned upon.
“As Nigerians prepare for political activities to kick start campaigns for various electoral offices in the 2023 General Elections that are being contested by multiple political parties, there is a tendency for pockets of violence and intolerance to erupt.
“However, as stakeholders in the political growth and economic prosperity of Nigeria, we have to collectively ensure that the process is not hijacked by unscrupulous elements.”
Hamzat argued that although the provision of security was the function of the government, however, individuals must support security agencies with relevant and timely information to curb illegal or criminal activities from disrupting public serenity that could socio-economic activities for the benefit of the populace.
The Chairman, Cornfied Group of Companies, Dr. Babatope Agbeyo, said: “The deployment of technology will make the problem of ballot box snatching during the polls very difficult.
“The 2023 elections will see a surge in a lot of enlightened Nigerian youths participating fully in the electoral process.
“The Nigerian youths want the unity of Nigeria and development and the election is a means to development and unity.”
Agbeyo, however, expressed worries that problems might arise if an elected person fails to fulfil his electoral promises.
“He also tasked media practitioners not to engage in announcing unverified election results before those of the Independent National Electoral Commission, adding that they should not aid those who want to disrupt the polls.
The Force Public Relations Officer, Muyiwa Adejobi, who was represented by the Lagos State Police Public Relations Officer, Benjamin Hundeyin, said that the Nigeria Police Force had already taken steps to ensure that there will be adequate security during the election.
Adejobi added: “We have been doing it for years and we shall continue to do it.
“We’ve mastered the art of moving resources from one state to another.
“We’re not sitting back and we have action plans.
“Although the election is next year, we have planned and prepared for the elections and post-elections.
“We’re making use of technology.
“We know where things usually go wrong, but we are working towards ensuring the mistakes of the last elections do not reoccur so that the dark clouds imagined will not come to pass.
“We also have interagency synergy and will continue to count on the support of Nigerians.”
The Chief Executive Officer of Spaces for Change, a human rights activist, Victoria Ibezim Ohaeri, said: “Election security transcends what happens at the polls.
“There are many indicators used in measuring election security.
“Nigeria is facing enormous insecurity and the people should be able to report cases without fear of being arrested and interrogated.
“They should be able to assemble freely.
“The government has abused the word terrorism.
“We are no longer sure of what terrorism is anymore.
“Before when we remember the acts of Osama Bin Laden, we think of terrorism, these days in Nigeria, someone will express an opinion, and he or she will be arrested and charged with terrorism.
“Citizens should not be stifled from expressing themselves.
“The police need to respect human rights and all security agencies must team up to respect human rights.”
The Publisher of Newsmaker, an online newspaper, Dipo Kehinde, who is also a CRAN member, had some nuggets for journalists covering elections.
Kehinde said: “The system is making the work more difficult.
“The Police must try to prevent politicians from militarising the elections.
“As journalists, we all face occupational hazards just like the police.
“Many journalists have been killed in the line of duty, but I want to urge journalists to adopt wisdom in the course of carrying out their jobs.
“Right from the days of independence, the dark clouds always gather, especially whenever there was going to be an election, but our prayer is that the clouds will roll away.
“During the June 12 election of 1993, where MKO Abiola won, no death was recorded.
“In fact, it was the annulment of the election that led to bloodshed.
“As journalists, we should be out there during the election, but we must imbibe the principle of protection.
“Journalists must be careful and should ensure they work closely with the police during the election.
“Most importantly, always remember that no story is worth your life.”