“Police are supposed to operate as an independent umpire in the elections. My fear is that the number of the policemen we have does not appear to be enough”
Rose Ejembi, Makurdi
Former Lagos State Commissioner of Police and former Public Complaints Commissioner in charge of Benue State, Alhaji Abubakar Tsav, has stressed the need for Nigerians to stop the habit of vote selling and buying if the country must get it right in the forthcoming general elections.
The social critic also advised the police to be more professional and impartial in handling security during the elections.
He also has some words of advice for the politicians and the youths on how to conduct themselves during the general elections, as well as addressing other burning national issues.
What is expected of the police as the country gets ready for the 2019 general elections?
Police are supposed to be professionally competent and impartial in handling the 2019 elections and other elections. They are supposed to operate as an independent umpire in the elections. But my fear is that the number of the policemen we have does not appear to be enough because we have not been able to meet the United Nations’ requirement, which is one policeman to 400 people. The number we have now is grossly inadequate because even the few policemen that are there who should be able to police the elections are attached to politicians and other government officials. So, that has depleted the number of policemen. But we have the Nigerian Security and Civil Defense Corps. Provided they can all come together and work under one professional order, under one supervision and cooperate among themselves, they should not work as rivals, maybe that would be able to mitigate the situation. That is exactly my fear because the number of policemen we have right now is not enough at all. And the population has exploded in Nigeria. We have grown more in number. And 2015, when President Buhari was being voted in, he approved that 10,000 policemen be recruited. The employment didn’t take place on time until later. And they have just completed their course and posted out to various places. And this crop of policemen may not be experienced enough to handle such political situation. But if the police perform their job very well impartially, and in accordance with their code of conduct, the elections will be okay. But we do know that some unscrupulously use the police to rig elections and this has been our major problem. The President (Buhari) has reassured people wherever he visits that he would ensure fair and peaceful elections in the country. So, let’s hope that takes place. But we also have to plead with the individual officers of the Nigerian Police to try to maintain the ethics of the profession by being very honest and fair to all persons. And in this case, the politicians too should be advised not to bring in their thugs because a lot of them have thugs too and they want their thugs to come and interfere with the elections, snatch ballot boxes and carry out some activities, which may not help the elections. These are exactly our fears, but if the police start preparing right now or maybe they have started preparing many months before now, I think things will be okay.
Are you not afraid that incessant herdsmen attacks will affect the elections, especially in the North?
Yes, but you would notice that when the politicians went into their primaries, the attacks stopped. It’s no longer as regular as it used to be. So, I believe that politicians may have hands in the whole thing. Perhaps, they may not interfere, but in certain areas in the hinterlands, that may interfere with the elections. Even here in Benue, the conflict between the Isherev and the Ikyurav has been very fierce. They have been moving from one area to another killing people and if you send electoral officers to such places, their lives may be put in danger.
What you are saying in essence is that herdsmen attacks have gone down?
Yes, especially when these people (politicians) started their party primaries, the attacks just ceased completely which also gives the impression that the politicians are the people instigating the whole crisis. We have the military, which includes the Air Force, the Navy and the Army. If we can deploy them in the hinterlands areas where there are crisis, maybe that can guarantee some safety of electoral officers. But again, how fair will the electoral officers be in the elections?
What are the lessons that we can learn from the primaries of the various political parties? Did they give us hope of violent-free general elections in 2019?
No, I think we have not learnt lessons because most of our politicians have taken this election as a do-or-die affair. Even in the primaries, there were some rigging and there wasn’t internal democracy among most of the political parties. That is why you can see that in most of the parties, candidates were imposed. As soon as we stop this issue of imposing candidates, that will bring in maturity in us. But every person wants to plant whomever he wants and that is not good. They should allow the people to present any candidate they want. I remember several years ago when we were young, people who became leaders did not pay anything to be leaders. They were begged by their communities to come and lead them. They found that they had leadership qualities and they begged them to come and lead them. They did not pay any amount to be leaders. But today, people pay and when you pay to such positions, it is like an investment. Because when you invest, you want profit. And when you want profit, you may even maximize profit. And that is what is happening in this country today and it’s very unfortunate.
From what happened in Ekiti and Osun states where we learnt that vote buying was the order of the day, do you think we are on the right track of our democracy?
I don’t think we are on the right track because people have suddenly realized that where you can make money and fortune is through political appointments. And that’s why people have taken politics as a do-or-die affair. People buy votes instead of allowing the electorate to come and vote for them freely. So, both parties started buying votes. This is not good for our democracy. And this shows that we have not yet started. We are still many miles away from what is expected of us. So, it’s very disappointing. And I thought there’s a law under the Electoral Act, which forbids buying of votes. But we are not enforcing it. The police and other security agencies are not enforcing it. If we had tried to enforce the law by getting one or two people jailed, maybe that would teach people a lesson. But we became disinterested in enforcing the law, we allow people to do whatever they want and that is why this thing is getting worse everyday. If you see somebody committing an electoral offense, if you have sufficient evidences against him, take him before an appropriate tribunal and if he is found guilty, convict him and send him to jail so that next time, people will not indulge in such offense. But people don’t care. They do it with pride. Like the Ekiti elections, both parties resorted to buying of votes and that was very bad indeed. The same thing with Osun election; so, it’s really very bad. We have not yet arrived. We have not yet started.
Don’t you think that poverty is responsible for the electorate selling their votes?
I think you are right. Poverty too has contributed to all these because, for instance, in Benue State, we have no industries, we have no factories, we depend solely on civil service jobs. The only people who have established good retail businesses in the state are merely surviving. Sometimes for a whole week somebody may not be able to get N1,000. So, if you come and give such a person money to do anything, he will do for you. And that is why this vote selling and buying has continued. Poverty is responsible for what is happening. We are not electing quality manpower, we are electing the highest bidder which again is not good. And our people have even lost their senses. If in four years, somebody comes to give you money to vote for him, you should also realize that this man is giving you this money only for this election. Will he continue to give this money to you everyday or every week or every month? No! So, if people concentrate more on agriculture and other businesses and when it comes to elections considering the number of churches we have in Nigeria and the number of mosques that we have too, have faith in God and abide by the teachings of the pastors and imams; if you are resolute you are not going to sell your votes, then we will start improving. But that is impossible. Some people do it out of necessity, others sell their votes out of greed.
What is your take on the unwholesome trend of arming youths as thugs by politicians during elections? Why is it that politicians will not give their own children arms, but would arm other children to foment trouble during elections?
It has become very easy for young persons to acquire weapons in this country. And this is due to failure of our security system. If the police and other security agencies are doing their job very well, they would be able to prevent the importation or proliferation of arms in this country. But they don’t care. They know people who have guns, but they will not do anything to retrieve them because some disloyal police officers themselves are on the payroll of these politicians. So, they help these people to carry arms. And the police themselves sometimes help in rigging these elections. But my advice to young persons is that these people who are employing them to use guns for elections have their children attending schools and other institutions outside this country. They are preparing their children very well to come and take over from them so that those who are using guns to kill people during elections will become permanent professional election riggers. They should think about this and not allow any politician to use them. I always see some write-ups on WhatsApp where people are educated not to allow politicians to use them to rig elections. But here again comes the issue of poverty, suffering and hardship in the country. So, some of them yield not because they want to do it, but because they want to earn a living. And the worst thing is that some of these people who use these things are introduced to hard drugs. Some of them are used to some evil charms and incantations. They cut their bodies and put some concoctions and they claim that if they shoot them, the bullets would not penetrate. This is what is destroying our society. In the past, an old man comes out and you would see young men come and lie down and begin to respect him. That is completely gone. You go where young men are doing something that is not right and try to advise them these days, they would abuse you or even beat you up. This is how our society has degenerated. But again, sometimes I blame the churches and the mosques the most because if you teach the youths well, I’m sure they will be able to do what you instruct them to do. And in the past, we had missionary schools and government has taken over these missionary schools because that is the only place the youths could have discipline. And during that time, if you commit an offense and your teacher beats you, your father would come and praise the teacher for trying to correct you. But these days, if a student is punished, he can even take you to court or his parents will even come and fight the teacher in the school. And the worst is that these teachers are not paid well. Some of them are not paid at all. And the children would come to school and give teachers loans or even take them out and buy drinks for them. How can there be discipline? There are many ills that we have in our society and unless our religious leaders wake up, we will end up one day to see young men attacking old men with guns just as it has been in some places.
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What is your position about restructuring as being agitated by some section of the country?
When you talk about restructuring, some people think that you want to make them independent. They think that a state could have its own military, police and everything of its own independent of the centre. In that case, if you see the activities of our politicians towards elections you would find that if we restructure, we are moving gradually towards a civil war because a state that feels it is strong enough can attack another state. And if you create state police, for instance, the governor of a state can use the police against the opposition and there’s nothing the Federal Government can do about it. Already, things like that are happening. In some places where these people have no state police, they use the attorney general to harass and intimidate people and the Federal Government sees and does nothing about it. Some of them have set up organizations. They call them different names. They use them to do the job of the police and that is very dangerous.
So, what do you think have been left undone by our government as we prepare for the 2019 elections?
There are so many worrisome issues. The most important thing is that our youths are not given jobs. There are some who have graduated from the universities and other tertiary institutions for several years without jobs. If you give them jobs, you’ll be able to control them. They would concentrate on their jobs and they will not be involved in youth restiveness that we are witnessing in this country. Joblessness and general hardship is contributing to our woes in this country. In the past, you had so many textile industries in the North that were providing jobs for people. All these are no longer there and so, people have no jobs. Graduates have resorted to Okada riding. Some have become drivers, some are working in hotels and they are being paid very little amount. As soon as you are able to provide jobs for these graduates, everybody will be busy and we can begin to have peace everywhere. Another issue again is injustice. What has created Boko Haram in Nigeria is the issue of injustice and when somebody believes that his rights have been tampered with and expects you to give him justice and you did not give him justice, then he goes away and begin to think of a way to get justice for himself. That is why we have violence everywhere in the states. So, jobs, injustice and fairness are all that we need. Let our government be fair to everyone. Also, in the issues of elections, let our people resist this vote buying. If there’s anything they can do, they should resist vote buying because anybody who buys your votes, you should realize that he is just making an investment and when he goes in to rule you, he will expect to recover his money and get greater share over his investment. If we don’t think that way, we are just deceiving ourselves and one day we will wake up and find that the whole country is under fire.
We will like you to appraise the just concluded presidential primaries of both the APC and the PDP?
Well, I think the APC adopted one-man and that is President Buhari, which means there was no primary. People just came and said we like him and they stood behind him. But in the case of the PDP, there were about 12 people, who wanted to be president; they went into primary election. Again, the election was marred by vote buying, which as far as I am concerned does not represent the wishes of the people. It was given to the highest bidder. And if this highest bidder gets there, he would try to recover his money. If the man is really sincere, we have many people roaming on the streets who have no food or shelter. If he bought these votes because he wants to come and improve our lot in this country, why didn’t he look after the people who are suffering on the streets? So, that is the way I look at it. Vote buying is not democracy at all. If I were in a position, I would have created a law that whoever buys votes whether in government or in opposition should be disqualified.
Between Atiku and Buhari, who do you think will rule Nigeria better as from 2019?
Well, as far as I’m concerned, Buhari has started. The job he started, he cannot complete it within four years. But if he is given eight years, maybe he will be able to finish what he wants to do. For now, he is fighting corruption. People have argued that he is not fighting corruption effectively. He is carrying out infrastructural development across the country. We have appreciated that. Then, he is giving jobs to the youths and other issues and we appreciate that. So, maybe if he is given another term of four years he may be able to complete what he has started. The new man who is coming, because there is always no continuity in this country, if Atiku wins, he may not continue with what Buhari has started. He may bring in his own policies and, therefore, all the efforts that Buhari has made this four years would be lost and that may not be good. So, left to me, we should allow continuity. When you want to marry and you see a girl outside, she may deceive you by her appearance, by the way she walks, by the way she dresses, but the moment you bring her into the house, you have only a very short time to find out who she really is. By then, you will be afraid to divorce her because if you do, they would name you a divorcee. So, that is what is in our politics.