The Edo State governorship election holding on Saturday, September 19, 2020, provides the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and especially the Nigeria Police Force (NPF), another opportunity to prove their professionalism, redeem their sagging image and chart a new cause regarding commitment to election integrity. It also challenges the leading political parties, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), to play the game according to the rule. The shameful attacks and counter-attacks, propaganda, name-calling, illegal amassing of arms and ammunition, brazen use of weapons by supporters of both political parties, the crises between the former National Chairman of APC, Adams Oshiomhole and Governor Godwin Obaseki, all have concertedly elevated the election beyond mere electoral contest to superiority battle.
More worrisome is the fact that the political class has exhibited unmitigated desperation over time, obfuscating the electoral process, but also the performance of both the electoral umpire and indeed the most visible security agency in the country, the Police, has not only fallen dangerously below expectation, but short of international standards. Though the Supreme Court has validated the contentious and contemptible elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states, owing largely to the petitioners’ failure to prove the glaring cases of violence, sundry criminalities and murder, which subverted the will of the electorate, the fact that the deficiencies in the polls re-echoed again with the visa ban on some actors in the election underscored the position of the observers.
It is for this reason and more that we laud the decision of the Inspector- General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, to deploy 31,000 police personnel, led by a Deputy Inspector- General of Police, Adeleye Oyabade, to Edo State, to oversee the poll and invariably ensure its integrity. We found this deployment from various states of the federation very electrifying, especially when it is being complemented by other security agencies to be posted to the 2,627 electoral wards spread across the 18 local government areas of the state since they would ensure the poll is devoid of violence and would produce a governor who would represent the choice of the Edo electorate.
These operatives saddled with the security of the over 8,842 INEC officers and electoral materials in the 192 wards in the state must display conduct that shows remarkable improvement over the Bayelsa and Kogi polls. With the deployment of the calibre of officers like DIG Oyebade, who is in charge of Research and Planning, assisted by the Assistant Inspector General of Police (AIG), Federal Operations at the Force Headquarters, Karma Hosea Hassan and eight commissioners of police, the Force owes the nation maximum security at this particular poll.
Though the number of personnel is more than enough and indeed smacks of over-militarisation of the state, especially as hundreds of other security agencies would assist the police, IGP Adamu’s charge to the police officers to ensure impartiality, exhibit firmness and professionalism, could not have come at a better time, judging by our recent electoral history. One lesson, however, from the Kogi State election, was the fact that election security goes beyond heavy deployment of security personnel as the same IGP Adamu mobilised about 32,000 policemen, including a Deputy Inspector- General and six police commissioners, besides thousands of operatives of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and others for the controversial governorship poll.
Despite all the grandstanding of the security agencies, violence was rampant, as a police helicopter reportedly dispersed voters, providing aerial support for a particular political party whose thugs were dressed in police uniform in Lokoja Local Government Area of the state. A horrendous footnote to the poll was the murder of at least six persons, including the PDP Woman Leader in Ochadamu Ward, Ofu Local Government Area, Salome Abuh (60).
She was incinerated in her house by political thugs. If the attacks were sadistic, the damning verdict of Centre for Democratic Development (CDD) and the Election Situation Room, comprising 70 election monitoring groups, confirmed security officials’ complicity in the violence and disruption. They called for the outright cancellation of the Kogi election.
It is our unwavering hope that with the various peace meetings with the political parties, especially the parley by the Oba of Benin, Ewuare II, the Chairman of the National Peace Committee (NPC) and former Head of State, Abdulsalami Abubakar and the peace accord signed by the various political parties as midwifed by the police leadership and INEC, the Edo election would be a departure from the past and be a free, fair and credible process. Besides, it is gratifying that the internal community is once again beaming its searchlights on the Nigerian electoral process by holding a strategic meeting with stakeholders in the Edo State election, and with a stern warning to impose sanctions on perpetrators of electoral fraud, including seizure of their assets abroad. Most importantly, the Police owe Nigerians a duty to display sparkling professionalism and leverage on inter-agency co-operation. The Force must exhibit total commitment to integrity.
It must evoke the full weight of the law on its erring personnel, thugs, ballot box snatchers and other election criminals, with the overall goal of strengthening democracy. All stakeholders must strife to register Nigeria among the league of developing democracies, which conduct free, fair and credible elections without bloodshed, realising that no election is worth the life of any citizen.