The security agencies must act professionally and strengthen INEC during the elections
The scale of security challenges across the country has elevated concern for the safety of lives and property less than two weeks to the 2019 general election. The pervading tension should alert the authorities to the reality that security during elections applies to the protection of critical stakeholders such as candidates, voters, polling officials, media, local and international observers, etc. And this must be done before, during and after the votes are cast and ballots counted.
Although the campaigns of the parties have been largely peaceful when compared with previous elections, there are also pockets of violence in a number of states that present some worrying signals. Recently, a convoy of the All Progressives Congress (APC) governorship candidate in Taraba State was attacked by suspected hoodlums in Wukari, with so many cars burnt. Similarly, the APC gubernatorial rally in Lagos State descended into a free-for-all fight among thugs from opposing factions of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW).
Even President Muhammadu Buhari was not spared this malaise when some urchins prevented him from alighting from his vehicle to address a political rally in Jos, Plateau State until reprieve came from soldiers. Mrs. Titi Abubakar, wife of former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), was also attacked by suspected political thugs while campaigning for her husband in Ojoo area of Ibadan, Oyo State. Amid all these, there are reports that many of the governors seeking reelection and other contenders are stockpiling arms.
Although the authorities have issued some tame assurance about containing the situation, we are not convinced that there is enough deterrence to violence given the growing desperation at practically all levels. The persistent failure of the security agencies at every election is embarrassing. Not only do they fail to nip electoral malpractices and the attendant violence in the bud, they also neglect to arrest and prosecute the violators of the process as provided by law. The overall implication of this negligence is the impression created that electoral manipulation and violence pay because there are no consequences for the perpetrators of these criminal acts. But the preparations should be geared towards the election day.
Given past experiences, delays in the arrival of election materials are usually exploited by unscrupulous politicians to manipulate the process, and with that, violence becomes inevitable. We therefore urge the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to do everything to ensure materials reach polling stations on time. It is also important for INEC to ensure that the rules and regulations governing the election are binding on every participant and that all stakeholders play fair. While an “end justifies the means” approach to politics has over the years provided the incentive and motivation for politicians and power seekers to believe that all is fair and acceptable in electoral politics, a good security network will go a long way to strengthen the capacity of INEC to conduct a credible election.
However, the success or failure of the forthcoming elections will still depend largely on the conduct of members of security agencies who must remain neutral throughout the entire process. For the men and officers of the police, army and the Department of State Service (DSS) that will be deployed for the elections, a high degree of alertness and commitment to maintaining law and order are crucial. They must, at all times, and in all circumstances, put national interest above their personal preferences. They must also exercise their duty without fear, favour or ill -will to ensure peace and justice before, during and after the elections.
This newspaper has always maintained that electoral manipulation and violence are not only violations of the law, they also constitute abuse of the constitutional right of the people to choose their leaders. Therefore, it is important for the politicians to allow the people of Nigeria to decide their destiny for the next four years. There should be no room for coercion and violence. That will only happen if the security agencies perform their duties professionally without taking sides.