Romanus Ugwu, Abuja
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has revealed that it will review the deployment of armed security to the outer perimeters of the polling units to counter the movement of thugs with the intention of disrupting elections through the intimidation of voters, harassment of election officials, observers and the media or snatching of election materials.
The Commission’s chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, who made the disclosure in his remarks at a meeting with members of the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES), on Wednesday, said that they will equally review the efficacy of security deployment in order to determine what was got right and wrong so far.
He also emphasised that the arrest of offenders must be followed by a thorough investigation so that thugs and their sponsors are penalised under the law.
Yakubu warned that though the Commission has no power under the law to cancel elections, it will not hesitate to suspend elections anywhere officials’ report confirms disruption of the process or threats to the lives of voters, election officials and observers by acts of thuggery or community connivance.
He said that the Commission will submit proposals to the National Assembly on how the electoral legal framework can be amended to sanction violators and further empower the Commission in this respect.
“I wish to once again welcome members of ICCES to this meeting. This is the second meeting we are holding in the last one month. We consider this meeting necessary in order to review the experience with the security arrangement for the recent Bayelsa and Kogi governorship elections and discuss arrangements for the re-run elections in obedience to orders of the election petition tribunals.
“The Commission has already scheduled the re-run elections to hold simultaneously in 28 constituencies across 12 States of the Federation on Saturday January 25, 2020. We have circulated the details of the affected areas to members of ICCES.
“Ahead of the Bayelsa and Kogi governorship elections, the Commission’s appraisal of the security situation using our Election Violence Mitigation and Advocacy Tool (EVMAT) identified some flash points. At the last meeting of ICCES, we shared our assessment with the security agencies. We also had several stakeholders’ meetings in Yenagoa and Lokoja involving the security agencies.
“At these meetings, stakeholders across the board expressed concern about the possibility of violence. The security agencies made their own assessment based on which they arrived at the numbers of personnel to be deployed as well as other operational details in order to secure the process.
“At this meeting, we shall review the efficacy of security deployment in relation to field experience on election day, in order to determine what we got right and what we did not.
“The Commission believes that the purpose of security deployment during elections is to protect the voters, election officials and materials, accredited observers, the media and to safeguard the integrity of the processes generally, including the polling units and collation centres.
“Therefore, the deployment of security personnel in all future elections should be tied to specific locations and activities. All security personnel deployed to polling units and collation centres should be identified by name as is the case with INEC officials.
“This will not only enhance transparency, but the Commission and security agencies will know who to contact in specific locations during elections when the need arises. They will also be held responsible for the proper conduct of elections in those locations.
“The Inspector-General of Police has assured the Commission that this new approach to the deployment of security personnel will be piloted in the court-ordered re-run elections holding next month.
“The current electoral security framework provides for deployment of personnel in three concentric circles. In the innermost circle are the polling units where unarmed policemen are deployed while in the outer circles, armed security personnel are deployed to mount roadblocks, patrols and provide rapid response in case of any emergency at the polling units or collation centers.
“We must also review the deployment of armed security to the outer perimeters so that they are readily available to counter the movement of thugs with the intention of disrupting elections through the intimidation of voters; harassment of election officials, observers and the media or snatching of election materials.
“Arrest of offenders must be followed by a thorough investigation so that thugs and their sponsors are penalised under the law. I wish to reiterate that while the Commission has no power under the law to cancel elections, we will not hesitate to suspend elections anywhere our officials report the disruption of the process or threats to the lives of voters, election officials and observers by acts of thuggery or community connivance.
“The Commission will not return to the affected areas for as long as it takes until we are guaranteed adequate safety for all those involved in the process. We must never allow violence and thuggery to define our elections. The Commission will submit proposals to the National Assembly on how the electoral legal framework can be amended to sanction violators and further empower the Commission in this respect,” he said.
Speaking further, he expressed happiness that the electoral legal framework will remove some of the encumbrances to the full deployment of technology for the improvement of Nigeria electoral process, especially result collation and management.
“Similarly, we need to continue to deepen the use of technology for the integrity of elections. The Senate Committee on INEC has already shared with the Commission the Electoral Act amendment bill for our input. We are excited by some of the new provisions concerning electronic transmission of results.
“We are glad that the electoral legal framework is removing some of the encumbrances to the full deployment of technology for the improvement of the electoral process in Nigeria, especially result collation and management.
“The Commission will work with the National Assembly for the expeditious passage of the amendment to the electoral legal framework so that work can begin in earnest to make future elections in Nigeria more technology-based. It is long overdue, it is doable, it is achievable and it is inevitable,” he noted.