In this analysis, BIYI ADEGOROYE argues that security agents must guarantee election integrity and exhibit professionalism instead of mere façade of physical presence in the forthcoming Edo and Ondo governorship elections
With the Supreme Court verdict upholding the Kogi State governorship election penultimate week, despite reported massive electoral violence, including the ignoble role of a police helicopter, the apex court may have inadvertently ruled that elections marred by violence can be validated.
And when juxtaposed with the Edo and Ondo states, governorship elections holding in the next few weeks, especially with the loud drums of war being beaten by the major contenders and their supporters, the stage seemed set for another battle where the capacity, capability and professionalism of the security agencies would be put to test.
The Kogi governorship election and senatorial rerun did not only have violence as its major feature, it culminated in the murder of at least six persons, including the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Woman Leader in Ochadamu Ward in Ofu Local Government Area of the state, Salome Abuh, 60. She was incinerated in her house by political thugs in the most gruesome, barbaric and unprecedented degeneracy of Nigeria’s electoral process.
At Lokongoma community in Lokoja Local Government Area, a police helicopter reportedly aided ballot box snatching, while individuals dressed in security uniforms fired into the said opposition party stronghold, forcing voters to scamper for safety. In another instance, the hotel where the Chairman of the PDP Campaign Committee for the state, Governor Seyi Makinde was besieged by political thugs. Videos emerged where women and thugs sang before the elections that opposers would witness “ta ta ta,” a metaphor for gunshots and thuggery.
More puzzling was the fact that these criminal activities and disruptions of voting, ballot snatching and crass lawlessness occurred in an election where the Inspector-General of Police Abubakar Adamu, had earlier deployed 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.
Before the elections, Deputy Inspector General of Police AbdulMajid Ali, who led the inter-service security committee for the election said: “The police deployment shall involve the conventional police personnel who will be complemented by special units including the Police Mobile Force, Special Protection Unit, Counterterrorism Unit, Special Forces, Intelligence Response Unit, Special Tactical Squad, Mounted Troops and K9 Section, Air Wing and the Marine detachment.”
Despite all the grandstanding of the security agencies, violence was rampant, such that the Centre for Democratic Development (CDD) declared a damning verdict on the security officials, who it said were complicit in the violence and disruption that characterised the Kogi State elections. So damning it was that the Election Situation Room, comprising, 70 election monitoring groups had called for the outright cancellation of the Kogi election.
Election monitors reported how armed men, including those with police escorts, raided polling units and snatched ballot boxes, a crime the IGP later attributed to ‘fake policemen’, whom about a year after, have never been arrested, prosecuted and convicted.
Though the affirmation of the two elections by the Supreme Court have gladdened the hearts of the defendants, both of whom have regaled over the news, to the petitioners and major stakeholders like civil society organisations, it was a validation of a manifestly militarised election, and a signpost of what have now characterized stand-alone elections.
Already, feelers emanating from Edo and Ondo states ahead of the governorship elections slated for September 19 and October 10, 2020 respectively portend one thing – massive inevitable electoral violence. Pre-election actions of the major political parties leave no one in doubt about that.
A combination of such factors as rancorous primaries, godfatherism, politicians’ desperation, incumbency factor, federal might have been identified as possible incendiary elements which would fuel electoral violence.
Some reference points were the attack on loyalists of one of the two political parties at the palace of the Oba of Benin in July, as well as the threat and boasts by a former governorship aspirant of the All Progressives Congress, (APC) in Ondo State, Isaac Kekemeke.
The latter boasted on video that his latent militancy and federal might, ‘especially the strategy used by the Kogi State Governor, Alhaji Yahaya Bello,” whose state not only shares boundary with Edo and Ondo, would come handing during the polls. More so, a video has emerged of the governorship candidate of the APC in Edo State, Pastor Ize-Iyamu, allegedly instructing thugs to move from ward to ward to disrupt elections.
Besides the attacks at the Oba palace in Edo State, there had been allegations of thuggery at the campaign of the APC candidate, especially in Edo North. Another instance was the alleged invasion of Apana community by thugs in the presence of Governor Godwin Obaseki, his deputy and other members of their entourage.
In the cause of the attack, an attempt by the Police Area Commander, of the Auchi Area Command, a woman, to record the vandalisation of properties and indiscriminate shooting of persons believed to be sympathetic to APC by the PDP thugs, was allegedly stalled.
The bickering over the inauguration of the supposedly minority members of the House of Assembly by Governor Obaseki, the attendant pending court case, and the consequent ‘inauguration’ of 19 other members of Edo State House of Assembly, are dimensions to the political quagmire fueling feud in the state.
Again, rather than formulating strategies to arrest and prosecute these felons notorious for pre-election crimes, the Inspector-General of Police, Abubakar Adamu, merely announced a couple of weeks back that politicians in Ondo and Ondo states were stockpiling arms and ammunition along with massive movement of thugs in preparation for the elections. He cited the Election Security Threat Assessment Reports submitted on August 25 by the Commissioners of Police from the two states strongly indicated the use of inciting statements during political campaigns, and that is hardly unusual.
“The Election Security Threat Analysis reveals among other indicators: arming and movement of political thugs, use of inciting statements during political campaigns, high likelihood of violence and possible cross attack by political opponents, misinformation/disinformation aimed at heating-up of the polity and deliberate efforts at de legitimizing government institutions involved in the electoral processes,” he said.
Nigerians are not new to such police problem identification style without a clearly defined method of execution and successful prosecution of election security.
For instance, in the build up to the November 16, 2019 Kogi governorship election, IGP Adamu, represented by DIG Operations, Ali, had said “the name Kogi is synonymous with violence but we are ready, we will provide level- playing ground to all candidates and remain impartial.
“They (politicians) sow uniforms of either army or police for them but we have taken notice of this we are going to take decisive action. This will not even happen, so if you are thinking of doing that please have a rethink.
“We have taken notice of some of the flashpoints and we will be serious in these areas, more so, intelligent gathering revealed that some aspirants are also organising their armies. Officers have been trained, so we want you to support us to provide level playing ground to all because of recent we observed clashes between some parties.”
But in spite of all pre-election warnings and problem identification by the police, Kogi and later Bayelsa elections were marred by violence, and ironically the same police failed woefully to solve the same problems it foresaw. Worse still in the case of the latter, a Deputy Commissioner of Police, Kola Okunola was attacked in Brass in the presidential election earlier that year.
The IGP may have warned politicians and their supporters in Edo and Ondo states to desist from any act of violence, and conduct themselves properly by playing according to the rules, and steer clear of tendencies capable of undermining the electoral process in the two states, and disclosed that the force as a “customised security architecture” ready to protect the people and ensure hitchfree elections”, performance of the security agencies in the past has not given reasons to cheer. Worse still is the frequent mere expression that the police would be neutral, apolitical, and “will work assiduously with all stakeholders in ensuring a level playing ground for all in the elections.”
For instance, despite heavy monetary and material investments in election security in the 2019 presidential and National Assembly elections recorded about 39 deaths in addition to allegations of “partisan” security officials, “compromised” INEC staff and incidents involving the military, including blocking some voters.
The Situation Room, an umbrella group led by Clement Nwankwo, the Executive Director of the Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre, said no election in Nigeria should cost the life of any citizen and condemns in the strongest terms the lack of empathy, concern and sensitivity by the police class regarding these events”
The Situation Room had called for thorough investigation into the election violence as a way of strengthening democracy, but more than a year after that, how many of such cases have been investigated, charged to court and conviction obtained? Politicians and peace True to type and election history of both states, especially Ondo, which is yet to recover from the First and Second Republic political violence, the major political parties are leaving no one in doubt about the shape of things to come.
While strategies to forestall reoccurrence are awaited, it gratified observers that the Oba of Benin, His RoyalMajesty (HRM), Omo N’ Oba N’ Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Oba Ewuare II, has stepped into the ugly pre-election violence and war of words in Edo State and called on political actors to eschew violence and embrace peace and tolerance ahead of the forthcoming gubernatorial election.
His condemnation in clear terms of the attack on Governor Obaseki and other guests at his palace, sequel to the flag-off of Obaseki’s reelection campaign was noteworthy, harsh words for the deputy governor even as he extracted assurances and commitment from the gladiators to a peaceful election are expected to have positive impact. A former member of the PDP National working Committee who does not want his name in print said a lot needs to be done to avoid election violence in Nigeria.
“It encompasses all aspects of democratic principles, practices and processes – from adhering to party constitution to free and fair primaries, internal democracy among the parties, voter education and ensuring that quality people are selected to carry the flag of the parties.
“Of great importance is readiness of INEC to conduct free and fair election, which is almost impossible where the ruling party appoints card carrying members into the Commission as electoral commissioners, and the security agencies must be visibly committed to the integrity of our elections, by arresting and prosecuting election thugs and their sponsors.”
Observers have identified elections as key pillars of democratic leadership recruitment process and have become the commonly accepted means of legitimizing government, however, election violence undermines the electoral process and queries its legitimacy of mandates therefrom and also supplants the wish of the people.
Anthony Egobueze, a political scientist who had examined electoral violence in Nigeria’s Fourth Republic (1999 – 2015) and its implications for political stability posited: “Once elections are flawed, it is an invitation to violence in the state which may snowball into political instability.”
Accordingly, the police, as with other security agencies, should match words with actions, especially since anything to the contrary is an invitation to anarchy, as no election is worth the blood of any Nigerian. State ministry of Justice owns it a duty to desist from further release under any guise of accused standing trial for election violence as successive elections should represent an improvement over the previous one for credibility and sustainability and not retrogression.