THERE are three major danger signs on the road to successful general elections next month, according to the State Security Service (SSS).
They are: *the leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), Henry Okah, who is facing trial in South Africa over the October 1, last year bomb blasts in Abuja; *extremist Islamic sects, like the Boko Haram; *illegal and *importation of arms.
SSS Director General Ita Ekpenyong, who spoke yesterday at the National Summit on Free and Fair Elections organised by The Nation in collaboration with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) said illegal arms shipments into the country also poses great threats to the success of the polls.
Ekpeyong, whose address entitled: “Free and fair elections: The role of the security agencies”, was presented by Mr. John Okojie, however, noted that despite the flawed nature of past elections, Nigerians had a high expectations for the coming elections and want it to be free, fair and credible.
He said the SSS had a clear and compelling duty to ensure that the elections are held in a peaceful and secure environment not only in the interest of the nation, but that of the Service since, according to him, “credible elections and democracy ultimately result in good security outcomes”.
He identified ethnicity, the media, religion, political parties and political violence as some factors militating against free, fair and credible elections.
On other worrisome developments in the polity, in view of the April elections, Ekpenyong said: “Other trends in the polity with potentials to adversely impact on the hitchfree conduct of the April 2011 general elections include: Threat posed by extremist Islamic sects, particularly the Boko Haram, which has resumed hostilities and is poised to disrupt the April polls.
“Threat by militant groups, particularly one led by Henry Okah, mastermind of the 1st October 2010 bomb blasts in Abuja, who has declared intentions to make the country ungovernable; and
“Illegal arms shipment/smuggling, especially the recent shipment from Iran. The foregoing developments coming at the heel of the buildup to the April polls calls for security concern with practical steps taken or measures emplaced to forestall, contain and neutralise anticipated, emerging and prevailing threats to the electoral process.”
On the assessment and public perception of electoral process in Nigeria, the SSS boss said: “A gauge of the political environment in the build-up to the 2011 general elections reveals as follows: That Nigerians hold steady in their commitment to democratic system, though they are quite discouraged about the performances of democracy, particularly since 1999.
“That most Nigerians view the recent past elections of 1999, 2003 and 2007 as seriously flawed, but they hold higher expectations for the 2011 general elections; and that the conduct and credibility of the 2011 elections will have a significant impact on popular views of the Nigerian political system, especially citizens’ willingness to look at elections as a vehicle of policy change.”
Ekpenyong added: “In light of the foregoing, it is clear that elections and democracy is the core of nation building. Nations are stable, secure and successful only to the extent of the depth and vitality of their democratic institutions and practice, which is evidenced in the regular conduct of credible elections.
“Notwithstanding Nigeria’s famous electoral past, current indicators are positive. Aside the across board acceptance of the new Chairman of INEC, Mohammed Attahiru Jega, there is an overwhelming national consensus on the imperative of conducting credible elections in 2011.
“If this critical national goal is achieved, then it is assessed that the new set of elected leaders will be connected with the electorate and are thus envisaged to be more accountable and responsive to the needs and aspirations of the people.”