Romanus Ugwu, Abuja
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), has come very hard on the security agents deployed for electoral duties, claiming that their negligence has been fuelling thuggery and other electoral violence.
INEC Chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, chided the security agents over their actions during elections in his opening remarks during the meeting of the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES) in Abuja on Friday.
Lamenting that the deployment of security for election had left much to be desired, the INEC boss maintained that the purpose of protecting the voters, election officials and materials, accredited observers, the media and safeguarding the integrity of the processes generally, including the polling units and collations centres, has yet to be translated to reality.
“The meeting, recognising the existing collaboration with the anti-corruption agencies in tracking financial flows for illicit purposes as well as the arrest and prosecution of perpetrators of such flows, especially for the purpose of corrupting the electoral process through vote-buying, resolved that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) should be included as members of ICCES.
“On this note, it is my pleasure to welcome the Acting Chairman of the EFCC, Ibrahim Magu as well as the Chairman of the ICPC, Bolaji Owasanoye, to this meeting as members of ICCES.
“It is the responsibility of the security agencies to secure the environment for the successful conduct of elections. 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 collations centres.
“The Commission is concerned that security deployment in some of the most recent elections left much to be desired. There is more emphasis on numbers of security personnel to be deployed but less consideration on strategic deployment to protect the process, leaving the voters, election officials, party agents, observers, the media and even unarmed security personnel at polling units vulnerable to attacks by thugs and hoodlums. “Furthermore, there is emphasis on numbers of security personnel but less on synergy, coordination and collaboration among the various security agencies in line with the purpose for which ICCES was established in the first instance. We must adopt a different approach to election security.
“We must translate the new approach to reality in the forthcoming re-run elections such that Nigerians will see a qualitatively different security arrangement. No thugs and hoodlums can be more powerful than the Nigeria Police and other security agencies. It is the failure to act decisively and collaboratively that encourages thuggery and serves as an incentive for bad behaviour,” he said.
Appraising the commission further, he said: “2019 was indeed a very busy year for the Commission and the security agencies. In addition to the 2019 general election, there were governorship elections in Bayelsa and Kogi States, supplementary election for Brass 1 State Constituency in Bayelsa State, bye-elections in Plateau and Katsina States and re-run elections for Kogi West Senatorial District and Ajaokuta Federal Constituency.
“You will recall that at our last meeting held on December 11, 2019, we reviewed the security arrangements for the Bayelsa and Kogi governorship elections in particular. You may also recall that the Commission intimated you about the re-run elections to be held this month in 28 constituencies across 11 States of the Federation in compliance with the orders of Election Petition Tribunals.
“The Commission is concluding arrangements for the re-run elections scheduled for Saturday, January 25, 2020, in one Senatorial District, 12 Federal constituencies and 15 state constituencies. We will once again share the details of the states, constituencies and areas where the elections will hold with members of ICCES at this meeting.
“We will also share with you our own risk assessment based on field reports from the affected States. You will similarly recall that at our last meeting, we expressed concern about the dimension that illegal deployment of financial resources to influence the outcome of elections, including vote-buying at polling units on election day has assumed.
“Going forward, INEC has decided that although the Commission has no power under the law to cancel an election, it will not proceed with the process in any constituency where the safety of voters, our personnel and materials is threatened. Furthermore, collation of results will not proceed where the collation centres are invaded. No declaration of winners will be made where Returning Officers are threatened.
“The Commission is aware of the imperative of reform of which the review of the electoral legal framework is fundamental. We are working with the National Assembly and all stakeholders in this regard. One critical area of reform is the prosecution of electoral offenders.
“We shall vigorously pursue the establishment of the Electoral Offences Commission and Tribunal. Unless such decisive measure is taken, the present system of arrest, investigation and prosecution of electoral offenders will remain at best palliative.
“With these brief remarks, it is my pleasure to once again welcome you all to this meeting and to invite the National Security Adviser as co-chair of ICCES for his opening remarks before we go into the working session,” he said.