SECURITY ALERT: WHY 2011 GENERAL ELECTIONS MAY NOT BE DIFFERENT FROM THOSE OF 2003 AND 2007

The Issue: Security at the Polls

President Nigeria

Nigerian President

The conduct of the 2011 general elections is now constitutionally less than 120 days away except, if by unparalleled ingenuity, the National Assembly accedes to the request of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for extension till April 2011. And as usual with so many things Nigerian, preparations for the elections have been bedevilled, as a result of lateness in commencing the preparations, which has made even the INEC like several other analysts to ask for more time beyond the current constitutional provisions. Only recently the convener of the Save Nigeria Group (SNG) likened the appointment of Attahiru Jega as INEC chair to that of Lars Lagerback as Super Eagles coach, which was also done very close to the World Cup fiesta and while the SNG leader hoped that Jega would not fail the way Lagerback did with the Super Eagles at the fiesta, what the comparison elicited in me is the wise saying that, ‘it is insanity to do things the same way and expect different results’.

INEC Chairman

Prof. Attahiru Jega

It was in order not to sound as a prophet of doom that I opted to reframe the title of this piece from the original, ‘Why 2011 general elections will still fail’. Just like I found it hard to convince a number of friends before the World Cup fiesta that there was no miracle that could make the Super Eagles perform well even with the appointment of the best coach to replace Amodu Shaibu at that time, I believe it will be a herculean task to convince optimistic Nigerians that the success or otherwise of the 2011 general elections goes beyond Attahiru Jega and the INEC. As Nigerians, we are too accustomed to closing our eyes to obvious realities before an event, with unfounded optimism for the best of results, only to become expert analysts on how we got it wrong when the results at the end of the event proves contrary to our optimism.

The significance of security in the conduct of elections, particularly in Nigeria, cannot be overemphasized. The 2007 general elections and subsequent re-run and by-elections have left us with undesirable experiences regarding the security of electorates, electoral officials and election materials with the entire process completely hijacked by political thugs in several of the polling booths across the country. As a matter of fact, the funds and stress that went into the post-2007 elections judicial contests could have been saved only if the Police had ensured the incidences of ballot-snatching & stuffing were eliminated.  And if the truth must be told, with the present situation of things, there is no indication that any measures have been put in place to ensure a different situation in this regard come 2011.

Notwithstanding the commendable efforts by both the Executive and the Legislature thus far on the preparations for the elections as well as those of the INEC in opting for a fresh voters’ register to guarantee credible polls, so long as the security component of preparations is neglected, the 2011 elections will still fail to meet the genuine aspirations of the people. While the INEC has been doing a lot in preparing for the elections and the politicians too have begun preparations with a good number of them already declaring interests in the various elective positions and the political parties already fixing the dates for their conventions, there is doubt if any preparation by the Police to guarantee maximum security during the conduct of the elections is on.

To complement all the efforts and resources already expended on the preparations including of course the over N87 billion of tax-payers’ money released to procure the Direct Data Capturing (DDC) machines for the voters’ registration exercise, the Nigerian Police must also adequately prepare for the elections and this must transcend the usual day-to-day policing tendencies for which we know the Police. The Police can help ensure that the true will of the people emerges at the polls by ensuring that at the polling stations, there is no room for the intimidation of voters by political thugs of those who are bent on usurping the voting power of the electorate to impose themselves on the people.

A good example to underscore the security dimension of the conduct of elections was given by Adeyeye Joseph in his column in The Punch of Tuesday, August 24, 2010 in which he made reference to Obosi in Anambra State where thugs ordered voters who were not PDP members to ‘vacate’ the polling booth during the 2007 elections, a situation he said made a young voter to ask the question during an electoral enlightenment programme to the effect that, “what should we do when we go out to vote and party thugs surround us with cutlasses and insist we vote for a particular candidate?” And in the same column, he had alluded to the report of the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG) on the 2007 elections, which underscored the fact that ‘when elections are preceded by last-minute security preparations, the organizers are only programming them to fail’.

Proposed Interventions

In the same manner the INEC was able to articulate its position to secure N87 billion for the conduct of a fresh voters’ registration amongst other things, it is expected of the Police hierarchy, with the benefit of previous experiences in the conduct of elections, to come up with their requirements for effective security at the forthcoming polls, no matter what the cost is. This must cover the requirement of men and equipments to be deployed in all the polling booths during the elections, such equipments as are needed for effective communication and mobility by the security men on election duty. And I believe that the same way the INEC’s request was treated with national urgency, such a request from the Police would also receive adequate executive and legislative support.

In projecting the idea of the National Youth Network on Nigeria Elections (NYNNE) in its press statement, for effective policing of the 120,000 polling units, there ought to be at least 2 police officers in each polling unit fully armed with adequate communication and mobility resources. This gives us the need for a minimum of 240,000 officers to only man the polling stations. Considering the fact that the Police would not abandon its duty to several other areas of State all because of the elections and may as such not be able to deploy this number of men, that is if we even have up to that figure in the force, NYNNE has suggested the formation of a Joint Elections Para-military Commission (JEPC) to pull human resources from other Para-military agencies like the Civil Defense Corps, Man-O-War and the likes, to join forces with the Police. This is to ensure that away from the old ineffective mode of collaboration among these agencies, there is such a commission as the JEPC with men and officers pulled from the various agencies under a single command that is singularly responsible for effective security at the polls.

Further to this, an intensive training of about six to eight weeks should be conducted under the auspices of the commission for all the officers in all areas of election security covering but not limited to ‘Handling of electorates in quelling untoward situations during an election’, ‘Safeguarding electoral officials and election materials’ and ‘Channeling undue influence by politicians’. With the recent advent of bombing in Nigeria, the Police must also undertake training in relation to this so as not to take chances.

The Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) should also give attention to advocacy in this regard of election security and not limit their work on the aspects of preparation that concern only INEC. The Network On Police Reform In Nigeria (NOPRIN) should take responsibility to lead the CSOs on this course of action. We all have a responsibility to ensure that the 2011 elections have at least a measurable 80% success and no stone must be left unturned in this regard.

Conclusion

When INEC is able to produce a credible voters’ register and is able to mobilize men and resources to the various polling stations but the Police and other security agencies cannot guarantee security of those men and resources along with the electorates, the desired results cannot be realized. It is in this regard that the necessary efforts must be kick-started towards the emergence of formidable security machinery for the elections.

The Police hierarchy must wake up to its responsibility of ensuring and assuring adequate preparation for effective security at 2011 polls. The CSOs should as well be upbeat about this. This is an aspect of the electoral process that is largely overlooked but eventually ends up being very critical as has been largely witnessed in the recent re-run elections in Ekiti state. Rather than wait to simply put reports of woes together in this regard after the elections, we can join forces together now in ensuring that better preparations are put in place by the security agencies just the same way it is on with the INEC.

Olutosin Ogunmola is currently the National Coordinator of the National Youth Network on Nigeria Elections (NYNNE), a coalition of over 100 youth NGOs and youth-led community organizations, which is championing effective youth participation in the electoral process by combating apathy in the educated youth and vulnerability to electoral violence in the uneducated youth.

Comments

  1. desmond p.i says:

    let us be sincere with ourselves, the credibility of 2011 election is purely dependent on how well the fg equip the police and how well they are paid in terms of allowance for the election.

  2. Emmanuel says:

    How is 2011 election is going to be

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