The United Kingdom and Australia have asked their citizens to avoid travel to Nigeria in the latest security advisories issued on Thursday.
Also, the European Union warned that insecurity might prevent elections from holding in parts of the country, adding that “security climate” was very hostile.
In October last year, the United States, UK, Canada, Germany, and Bulgaria issued terror alerts, warning their citizens in Nigeria to avoid shopping malls, religious centres and hotels which they said could be targeted by terrorists.
But the Federal Government dismissed the advisories, describing them as false and assured Nigerians to go about their lawful business as the country was safe and secure.
Last December, the Tony Blair Institute disclosed that the elections could be disrupted by Boko Haram, the Indigenous People of Biafra and criminal gangs.
In an updated travel advisory on Thursday, the Australian government urged its citizens to reconsider or shelve their intending visits to Nigeria.
A statement by the Australian government read “Nigeria is scheduled to hold national and state elections between 25 February and 11 March. The risk of election related violence is high. You should avoid all political gatherings and election related sites in the lead up to, during and after this period.
“Offices of the Independent National Electoral Commission across the country have already been targeted and should be avoided. Politically motivated murders and kidnappings have occurred, and the threat of further incidents remains high.”
For those planning to visit, the government urged them to “Reconsider your need to travel. We have reviewed our travel advice for Nigeria and now advise reconsider your need to travel to Abuja.”
Corroborating the Australian alert, the UK government also warned that protests might break out during the election.
The UK government said, “Nationwide elections will take place in Nigeria in February 2023, and there is a heightened risk of protests during this period.
“Political rallies, protests and violent demonstrations can occur with little notice throughout the country. International news events can sometimes trigger anti-Western demonstrations.”
Dismissing the concerns, the Nigeria Police Force said the country is safe, even for the elections, adding that it wasn’t the first time foreign countries would be issuing such alerts to their citizens.
In a telephone interview with our correspondent, the Force Public Relations Officer, Olumuyiwa Adejobi said, “Since this is a foreign relations matter, I wouldn’t like to comment on it. However, Nigeria is safe, and this isn’t the first time that foreign countries are giving such alerts to their citizens.”
Similarly, the European Union on Thursday raised concerns about the security challenges in Nigeria, warning that it might significantly constitute a threat to the forthcoming general elections, if not addressed.
The organisation also expressed concern about the workability of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System in all parts of the country, especially in the rural areas.
The Team Leader, EU Support to Democratic Governance in Nigeria phase two programme, Rudolf Elbling, expressed the fear during a seminar in Abuja to assess various security threats that could impact the conduct and credibility of the elections.
The programme was funded by the EU with support from DAI.
According to him, the elections have the potential to create unrest and instability for a country like Nigeria, warning that such unrest would not only be dangerous for the country but also for West Africa.
“For a country like Nigeria, elections always have the potential of creating unrest and instability for a country the size of Nigeria, and that is a very dangerous thing not only for Nigeria and Nigerians, but for the whole region.
‘’So, the insecurity issue for the last one or two years is of concern for everybody. It’s a concern for every Nigerian because life has changed. You cannot move around as you could; so there is a huge potential for this to impact on the elections”, Elbling stated.
He described the innovations introduced by INEC to the electoral process as “quite substantial”.
He, however, added that insecurity, which he described as the “basic problem”, might prevent INEC from conducting elections in all parts of the country.
The EU official stated, “This would create a lot of legal implications for the entire process that might disrupt the process. There are a lot of potential legal implications which subsequently would have a lot of political implication and which would have a lot of potential to disrupt the poll but of course, you know, logistics is also and always an issue.
“And I’m afraid that the insecurity again, will add to this problem and complicate issues more. Also, will the election technology hold up? The BVAS is a very promising item, but will it be working everywhere?
“We also have the INEC Results Viewing Portal; all these kinds of things are what we are really looking forward to even as they worked very well in the Ekiti and Osun elections. But again, the security climate, the political climate, which is extremely hostile; how will it affect the acceptance and credibility of elections.”
INEC allays fears
Chief Press Secretary to INEC chairman, Rotimi Oyekanmi, however, allayed fears expressed by the EU, saying security agencies have assured the commission that elections would be conducted in all parts of the country.
He assured that INEC chairman would not disappoint Nigerians.
Reacting to the security concerns by the western nations, the National Publicity Secretary of the All Progressives Congress, Felix Morka, advised them to rather channel their advisories and intelligence to the security services.
On his part, the Spokesperson for the Labour Party Presidential Campaign Council, Akin Osuntokun observed that the Federal Government might be skeptical about the latest security alert.
“The last time they gave similar security alerts, maybe security steps were taken. So the government may be right to be skeptical about a similar warning.”