Despite President Muhammadu Buhari’s promise to ensure a free and fair election this year, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has raised the alarm that the lingering fuel scarcity may affect the movement of materials and personnel on election days, if it is not urgently addressed. The Chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, expressed the fears over the 2023 polls at a consultative meeting with the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) and the Marine Workers’ Union of Nigeria (MWUN) over the forthcoming elections.

The INEC boss has also met with the Group General Manager of Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL), Mele Koko Kyari, over the issue.  Although Kyari assured him of adequate supply of fuel during the elections, the lingering fuel scarcity is impacting negatively on other sectors of the economy.  Nigerians are facing a lot of hardship due to acute scarcity of petrol and the newly minted naira bank notes.

All of these will affect movement of materials and personnel during the elections. It is expected that the materials for the elections are moved to the polling units before the commencement of the exercise. Similarly, INEC officials and ad-hoc staff should be at the polling units before the arrival of the voters.

The government should rise to the challenge and ensure that there is adequate supply of fuel before, during and after the polls. The shortage of fuel has led to rise in transport fares and high cost of living. If it persists, the logistics for the polls will be seriously affected.

No doubt, petrol is central to movement and production in Nigeria. Anything that disrupts its supply takes a huge toll on the country. It is sad that Nigerians are being subjected to avoidable suffering in an election season. That is why the government must quickly resolve the energy crisis early enough before the polls. If it lingers, it will definitely affect the conduct of the elections.

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It is not enough for the president, INEC and other relevant bodies charged with the elections to give assurances that the polls must hold. There is need to address the factors that may work against the exercise. The government must urgently address all matters that would impugn the conduct of the polls. The 2023 general election is very important for the survival of our democracy and the country. It is, indeed, one election that means a lot to all Nigerians. That is probably why the expectations are so high. Therefore, anything that will harm the exercise must be addressed forthwith. The 14-member steering committee recently set up by the government should come up with recommendations on how to address the problem. We urge the NNPCL and oil marketers to work in concert and ensure that there is adequate supply of fuel. Nigerians are tired of the perennial fuel shortage and queues at the filling stations. There is need to end such annual rituals observed as a result of fuel shortage. Nigerians deserve affordable and uninterrupted supply of fuel.

Also, insecurity, violence, cash crunch and vote buying are other challenges that need to be comprehensively tackled for Nigerians to have free and fair elections. In spite of the efforts by the government to ensure security, attacks on INEC officials and facilities are still on the rise. On February 1, gunmen attacked the INEC office in Ojoto, Idemili South Local Government Area of Anambra State. The hoodlums also attacked the Nnobi Police Station and a residential building within the station, located also in the same Council Area. A 16-year-old boy was killed while a 15-year-old girl sustained a gunshot injury during the attacks.

The assault on INEC facility in Anambra came some weeks after a similar attack in Enugu State in which a policeman was killed. Elsewhere, the situation is not different. In the last four years, the commission had experienced over 50 attacks on its facilities across the country.

At the same time, the use of intemperate language by politicians and their supporters may jeopardise the polls. Let the cash squeeze in the country be relaxed so that voters do not fall to the temptation of selling their votes to unscrupulous and desperate politicians. 

It is the duty of the government to provide a conducive atmosphere for voters to exercise their franchise and elect credible leaders. The fuel crisis must not be allowed to deny them their constitutional rights to elect their leaders. The government has enough time to address the challenges before the polls so that INEC can deliver the best poll ever.