By Tonnie Iredia
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is the societal institution mandated by the Nigerian Constitution to supervise the conduct of elections in the country. Naturally, INEC cannot be the only administrator of elections because the electoral body cannot for instance set up its own security agency to secure elections and enforce electoral law. It can also not be distracted into helping political parties determine their flag bearers for elections nor be involved in the settlement of election disputes which is the professed expertise of the Judiciary. Consequently, INEC can only take direct control of the processes and procedures of elections; hence the logistics of voter registration, the delimitation of constituencies and other voting arrangements are what should occupy the immediate attention of the electoral body. Painfully, now and again, many of the other sub-administrators of elections create so much tension and confusion in the system which adversely affects the concentration of INEC. It is unfair.INEC boss
A second dilemma of INEC is that some of the actors in the business directly compete with her and sometimes attempt to supersede the commission. One fact that we can hardly run away from is that in any business which involves several actors and structures, there must be a coordinator whose role is to manage the business so as to achieve the desired goal. Every other actor must be subordinated to the coordinator for effective management. Unfortunately, other actors particularly security agencies have in the last few years assumed greater prominence in elections to the extent that they have formed a habit of acting independently of INEC. This must stop especially now that the commission has had the courage to cry out. That was precisely what Professor Mahmood Yakubu, Chairman of our Electoral Commission did last week while addressing this year’s first quarterly meeting of inter-agency consultative committee on election security (ICCES) held in Abuja. The chairman looked straight into the eyes of the security officials at the meeting and demanded new security architecture and a new approach for the conduct of the 2019 general elections.
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Yakubu’s diction was quite diplomatic and polite but the message was unambiguously clear. Anyone who has followed the conduct of elections of recent cannot but agree with the apprehension of INEC and its leadership. There is no doubt that it is time to make the point as the Chairman did that INEC is the body responsible for requesting for a) the deployment of relevant security personnel necessary for elections as well as registration of voters and b) assigning them in a manner to be determined by it.” This point is supported by the provisions of Section 29 (3) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended). Also worthy of note is the other salient point that the deployment of the Nigerian Armed
Forces is also to be made at the request of INEC and that it shall only be for the purposes of securing the distribution and delivery of election materials and protection of election officials. Put differently, INEC does not want a parallel security arrangement in the 2019 polls.
Of course, Yakubu was not raising false alarm because early in 2017 an INEC report on elections had revealed that “there were too many security agencies involved in the process outside the framework of the Interagency Consultative Committee on Elections Security adding that it was not clear whether many of them were acting as part of their various organisations or as groups and individuals serving political interests.” The result according to the report was that there were “cases of hostage taking, hijacking of materials and physical attacks on INEC officials by security operatives.” Indeed, a former electoral commissioner and Sociology Professor, Lai Olurode had earlier in a book alleged among other things that security agents often issued security tags to top government officials like State Commissioners, Special Advisers, etc. to disguise as security agents or observers in order to move freely during the elections thereby contravening the restriction orders. This is condemnable.
In some elections in the past the unwholesome behaviour of some security operatives gave everyone including INEC some high degree of concern. At the last governorship election in Osun state, there was palpable fear and apprehension in places such as Ifon, due to what was described as the high-handed conduct of the security agents. A broadcast journalist with Galaxy TV, Seun Falomo who was duly accredited to cover the rerun was reportedly tear-gassed at close range and beaten by security operatives for snapping photos of them while dispersing protesters around the electoral base. Other journalists among them, Kemi Busari of PREMIUM TIMES were similarly arrested for taking pictures at polling unit one, ward eight in Orolu Local Government Area. Some field observers deployed to observe the process and ensure its credibility, especially in Orolu and Osogbo LGAs, were also allegedly intimidated, threatened and in some cases arrested by security forces. At Ajegunle Roundabout, leading to Polling Unit 003 Ward 9 Gbogbo Primary School in Orolu LGA, security personnel reportedly mounted barricades to obstruct observers and deny them access to the polling unit. Did anyone ever bother to identify the security operatives deployed to these units? Was any authority also disturbed that election observation teams of the United States (US), the European Union (EU) and United Kingdom, openly discussed reports of irregularities, harassment and interference by inappropriate persons in the elections?
Earlier in 2016 and precisely on the eve of the Edo governorship election, Nigerians were shocked when suddenly; the election was postponed without the knowledge of INEC which is the only body empowered by law to postpone an election. Indeed, when news of the postponement was first released through the media, the INEC chairman disowned it as he was not briefed. Profoundly, Prof Mahmood Yakubu was himself in Benin the edo state capital where he addressed the media and gave assurances that his commission was set to do a good job only for the event to be postponed for security reasons a few minutes later. This was wrong and we should tell our security agencies that elections ought not to be militarised by persons who happen to have instruments of coercion.
This column had severally in the past had cause to raise issues with the posture of security operatives during elections. Now that INEC has openly pleaded that all actors should position themselves behind her for the attainment of a unity of direction in our elections, we are obliged to lend our voice to the appeal of INEC to the leadership of security agencies in the country to endeavour to monitor the behaviour of their ambassadors during elections. Under no circumstance, should anyone who has a uniform deploy himself to election venues when he is not within the game plan of the inter agency committee on elections under the general supervision of INEC. We should all allow INEC to do her work.