By Olatunji Saliu
The Nigerian government on Monday alleged there were security threats to the upcoming general election, alerting citizens of the West African country to be wary of pending attacks before, during, and after the polls.
The government said it was in possession of “credible intelligence” that some opposition politicians had perfected the plans to orchestrate widespread violence to truncate the elections starting next month. Speaking at a press conference here, Minister of Information and Culture Lai Mohammed said the government had reliable information that bandits and Boko Haram fighters had been mobilized to engage in massive attacks and other acts of violence in several states across the country.
“The desperate opposition is orchestrating widespread violence with a view to truncating the elections, thus triggering a constitutional crisis that could snowball into the establishment of an interim government,” Mohammed said.
The minister said there was also an international dimension to the “evil plan”.
According to him, some armed mercenaries from Niger have been contracted to attack top government functionaries, including state governors, across Nigeria’s northwest region between now and the elections.
The government spokesman said some states in northern and central Nigeria would be targets of the pending attacks.
“The Benue-based armed criminal group, led by Terwase Akwaza, also known as Gana, has been commissioned to strike soft targets in Benue, Nasarawa, and Taraba states.
“In Kano State, a group of notorious miscreants has been mobilized by some prominent opposition leaders to provoke massive chaos before, during and after the elections,” he said.
Mohammed said the government appealed to all Nigerians to be vigilant in the days ahead and that effective security measures were being taken to ensure a peaceful, free, fair, and credible election.
The main opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) earlier on Sunday also warned of impending violence in some states across Nigeria, ahead of the elections.
Election periods in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, are often characterized by great anxiety — usually heightened by reckless utterances and actions of some politicians.
Some of the previous elections in the country were marred by post-election violence in which scores were reportedly killed.
In 2011, immediately after the elections, widespread violence erupted in the northern part of the country.
According to local officials, about 140 were killed in political violence before the election alone.
In 2015, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Nigeria’s electoral body, had to reschedule the general election due to security concerns.
Nigeria will hold this year’s general election on Feb. 16 to elect the president and national assembly members, and on March 2 to elect state governors and state houses of assembly members.