Nigerian elections are always marred by logistical problems, poor policing and episodes of violence. But by far the biggest failure is that of the police. Future election planning should exclude the police and instead deploy the defence forces.
Since the Clifford Constitution of 1922 introduced the elective principle in Nigeria’s politics, political parties and especially the Nigerian police have been expected to guarantee peaceful and successful general elections in the country. Given the volatile nature of Nigerian politics, the police was always expected to play significant roles in ensuring the success of elections. I have read about Nigerian elections before the Second Republic and have witnessed her elections since 1979. The Nigerian police have always failed through blatant compromises that inhibit successful conduct of elections. I recall as an agent of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) during the 1979 elections that it was in the presence of the police that the agents and supporters of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) carried away election boxes and voting papers to the houses of some big NPN stewards in Emohua (my home town); while the rest of us reported the matter to the appropriate government authorities. Yet nothing happened. This has continued even in larger magnitudes, claiming more lives and properties.
Lest we forget, it was the failure of the Nigerian police to maintain law and order and protect lives and properties that led to the establishment of national organizations like the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) in 1988, the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps in1967 through to the enactment of its Act in 2003 that saw to its present enlarged and enhanced status, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) in 2000, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in 2004, etc. At the state level, similar organizations have been established also.
Many have argued that the Nigerian police, with close to 400,000 personnel, could not perform its mandate largely due to poor conditions of service, poor quality of facilities provided to them as well as the uncooperative attitude of the public. But besides the office of the Inspector-General of Police which manages the force on a daily basis and the fact that the police enjoy the service conditions applicable to federal public servants, there is the Police Service Commission (PSC) established under the PSC Act 2001 (this commission has been in existence since 1960) to take care of police policy administration and logistics. To still facilitate better management of the affairs of the police government created the Ministry of Police Affairs in 2003, though this has been merged with the Ministry of the Interior. I do still wonder what else the Nigerian police need to do its job efficiently and effectively, especially during elections.
As we speak, the police enjoy all the salaries and allowances applicable to public offices in Nigeria and have the best and newest brand of vehicles you can find anywhere in Nigeria. The Nigerian police have over five sets/types of uniform and camouflage. Nigerian police has training colleges spread across the country; it is poor management of these facilities that accounts for the decay in them. I think what may be wrong with the Nigerian police is the orientation they have about their welfare and the public: on their welfare, they strongly (in error though) believe that the force is poorly remunerated and therefore must take care of itself, hence they can and are always ready to kill a citizen for not giving them N20 while on duty (that was why Lagosians called them “N20 police” way back in 2002); and on the public, the Nigerian police sees them as bad and already guilty folks, hence the police treats citizens as enemies. This is why most Nigerians will like to avoid the police as much as possible and this leads to what the police calls uncooperative attitude. How and why would you want to relate with a police that sees you as an enemy?
These orientations are very wrong. The police needs serious re-orientation to accept the truism that it must do its work no matter its remuneration and that citizens are not its enemies. Thank God for the new President-Elect who believes in discipline, the police force should be one of his first institutions to deal with.
Back to the public elections, some of the complaints about the last presidential and national assembly elections in Nigeria were the late arrival of elections officials and materials, hijacking and disappearance of election materials by hungry political party cultists and supporters, malfunctioning of the voters card reading machines, non-availability of sensitive election documents like the result sheet and fighting at the pooling units and collation centres. The most critical of them (in some parts of Nigeria and especially in Rivers State) were the hijack of election materials, non-availability of result sheets and fighting among hungry party supporters.
Recall the widely reported case of Governor Amaechi of Rivers State not voting in his pooling unit in Ikwerre Local Government Area because of the absence of result sheets (it was claimed that photocopies of the result sheets were made available at his pooling unit; while in some units, result sheets were not available at all). In Oduoha, one of the villages in my home town Emohua in Emohua Local Government Area Rivers State, the people were duly accredited and they all voted to the last man. At the end, there was a disagreement among the party agents, election officers and other party supporters to the extent that the ballot boxes and papers and other relevant documents were thoroughly destroyed and scattered on the ground throughout all the pooling units. No single vote was counted, thus the entire exercise by the community was wasted. In my own village Rumuakunde, no voting took place at all because immediately after accreditation, party supporters started intensive non-stop gun shooting that dispersed all election officials and party agents. These enemies of Emohua carried away all the election materials to undisclosed places for thumb printing. Yet such ballot papers’ figures found their ways into the figures collated and passed on to Independent National Elections Commission (INEC).
So where were the police when all these things happened? How did the police protect the election materials and officials? Did the police issue any statement regarding these issues? This probably could be the same situation in most pooling units in Rivers State and that was the reason some people alleged that election did not take place there.
How can Nigeria forestall such unacceptable occurrences in future elections? First and foremost, we need to deal with the huge failure of the police in performing its duties. While the Nigerian police go for re-training and re-orientation, the Nigerian air force and army should be involved in elections as well. Their involvement should be restricted as follows: the air force should ensure that election materials get to the pooling units in the right time and place as well as returning them after voting up to INEC headquarters where they were collected at the beginning. The army should be stationed in all the units and centres where voting or collation was done respectively. Nigeria does not need the police even close to any pooling unit or centre because they can easily facilitate the corruption of the election process at any time and place. In the future, those we want to see at the poling units and collation centres are the election officials, party agents, voters, army and air force. NO POLICE PLEASE (NPP)!
With the presence of the army in every pooling unit and collation centre and the air force in-charge of the logistics and management of election materials, election materials will not disappear or be unavailable. The materials will also arrive at the right time and place. The presence of the army will discourage political cultists and supporters from shooting their way to election units and collation centres to hijack election materials and easily return them as documents used during the elections. The presence of the army will also discourage quarrels among party agents, election officers and other party supporters. Any officer or party agent who misbehaves either at the pooling units or collation centres should be arrested by the army.
This way, election officials and materials will be protected, votes will count and be protected and Nigerians can begin to have unblemished confidence in her electoral process. Thus, figures provided by future Jegas will be trusted and the presence of future Orubebes will be reduced.
* Okachikwu Dibia writes from Abuja.
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