Romanus Ugwu, Abuja
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), has revealed that its risk assessments report has confirmed that political gladiators in both Bayelsa and Kogi states have mobilised thugs from neighnouring states to use them in prosecuting the November 16 governorship elections.
Chairman of the Commission, Mahmood Yakubu, expressed the concern at the quarterly meeting of the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee (ICCES) and the Commission in Abuja, yesterday.
He also reminded the heads and representatives of the security agencies that both states have history of electoral violence, promising to share the reports of the risk assessment it conducted.
According to Prof Yakubu, “In the last two weeks, the Commission has met couple of times with the leadership of the Nigeria Police, being the lead agency in election security. At these meetings, we reviewed the security situation in Bayelsa and Kogi States and how best to secure the environment to enable the Commission to conduct free and fair elections.
“Doing so means providing security that will guarantee the safety of voters; protection of INEC officials (both regular and ad hoc staff); unimpeded movement, including access to polling units and collation centres for election officials, accredited polling agents, observers and the media; effectively and dispassionately dealing with disruptive behaviour by some political actors and persons acting on their behalf; enforcement of the restriction of movement in both States on election day; and the prompt arrest and prosecution of offenders.
“There are already warning signals in the two States. Both are politically volatile. Elections have been severally disrupted by violence in the past. Our own risk assessment, which will be shared with the security agencies at this meeting has identified some flash points.
“We are also concerned that thugs have been mobilised from within and outside the States with the aim of either influencing the elections or disrupting the process on behalf of partisan sponsors. This calls for a robust response before the elections, on election day and during the process of collation and declaration of results. Nigerians expect that by now we have learnt enough lessons from previous elections to ensure a swift security response to the increasing desperation by political actors to disrupt elections and subvert the will of the electorate.
“If that happens, many Nigerians will blame the electoral umpire and the security agencies. We must continue to rise to this challenge.
“On our part, INEC is committed to the integrity of the process. Over the last seven months, we have been working assiduously to ensure that we conduct credible elections. We cannot undermine the processes we have so laboriously established.
“We are equally confident in the assurances we have received from the security agencies of civil and professional conduct by their personnel deployed for the elections. We have been re-assured by the security agencies that election day activities at polling units and collation centres will not be disrupted by the activities of hoodlums neither will thugs be allowed to cart away results sheets or compel our Returning Officers to make declarations under duress.
“We are equally re-assured that security personnel will adhere strictly to the standard operational guidelines and deal decisively with misconduct by their personnel on election duty. We are equally confident that with the sheer number of personnel the security agencies are deploying in the two States, there can be no excuse for the processes to be undermined by anti-democratic elements.
“I am glad that we are joined at this meeting by our Resident Electoral Commissioners for Bayelsa and Kogi States as well as the Commissioners of Police for the two States. They will brief us on the level of electoral and security preparations in the two States.
“We will finalise the security deployment plan for the two elections in line with provision of Section 29 (3) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) so that the security agencies are not perceived to be running parallel arrangement with INEC. Rather, it should be INEC’s plan for the election that we should all be implementing.”