IN THE ARENA
The 2023 general election may have come and gone, but the role played by officials of the Nigeria Police Force in aiding brazen electoral heist, falsification of election results, violence, ballot box-snatching, voter intimidation and voter suppression will linger for a long time to come, Louis Achi writes
President Muhammadu Buhari had at first appointed Usman Alkali Baba as the 21st Nigerian Inspector General of Police (IG) in an acting capacity, to replace IG Mohammed Adamu who retired from Nigeria Police Force in February 2021.
Shortly after decorating the new acting police boss Baba, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo had cut to the heart of the matter and minced no words as he told him bluntly that he was assuming leadership of the force at a critical time.
“The police force is our institution of first resort, the first line of defence against crime and anarchy and the first sign of the strength of the state,” Osinbajo reportedly told Alkali Baba.
According to Osinbajo: “You are assuming office at a very turbulent time in the life of our people. “There are multiple threats to law, order and public safety. The role of law enforcement agencies, particularly that of the police force as primary agency charged with maintaining law and order, has never been more important.”
The vice president had also told the IG that the challenges would certainly test him. He also noted that what appeared as the greatest test, apart from the sundry criminal turmoil traversing terrorism, banditry and kidnapping, was the 2023 general election.
Did Alkali Baba alongside his officers and men pass the test or blunder? The Nigeria Police is constitutionally the principal law enforcement and the lead security agency in the country. The force is typically responsible for maintaining public order and safety, enforcing the law, and preventing, detecting, and investigating criminal activities.
It is against the background of the Force’s core operational mandate that it could be objectively assessed in its performance during the 2023 general election. And this was not flattering.
“Failure of the police to respond to voter intimidation in the buildup to the state elections emboldened political thuggery and election violence that permeated the governorship election in Nigeria. The police have the authority to stamp out these individuals no matter who they are connected to.
“The police must move to arrest those individuals and bring them to justice to serve as deterrent in future elections… Security agencies must play it roles optimally to ensure electoral violence do not remain a tool for election manipulation in the hands of politicians,” the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG) explained.
Briefing journalists in Abuja on Thursday, the Chairman of TMG, Mr. Auwal Ibrahim Musa Rafsanjani also called for prosecution of all arrested electoral offenders in the just concluded general election.
In its post mortem of the elections, TMG said while investigators should arrest those not in police net yet, the sponsors of those thugs who unleashed mayhem on innocent Nigerians who only sort to express their constitutional guaranteed rights must be fished out and prosecuted in public knowledge also.
TMG also insisted that the security agencies must play their roles optimally to ensure electoral violence do not remain a tool for election manipulation in the hands of politicians.
It could be recalled that 48 hours before the February 25 presidential and National Assembly elections, the police assured Nigerians that it had deployed “state-of-the -art” equipment to suppress any unrest anywhere, and counselled those who were trying to threaten Nigerians or the electorate to desist from such threat.
The Force Public Relations Officer, Muyiwa Adejobi, gave the assurance while speaking on a live television programme. “Those non-state actors that issue threats, you cannot see them on that day because they will go into hiding.
“Nigeria is very safe to conduct this election. We are going to conduct this election everywhere, every corner, every angle in this country. We have no cause for any alarm; people should come out to cast their votes and we are good to good. Those non-state actors that issue threats, you cannot see them on that day because they will go into hiding,” Adejobi had declared. However, the reality was different.
Significant evidence suggested that generally the police were untowardly used by politicians during the five electoral exercises which held on February 25 and March 18. They were alleged to have worked for sitting governors in most states. There were also allegations that only very few state commissioners of police did not bow to the pressure of the presiding governors.
It is important that the states where police aided electoral fraud should be identified and due consequences visited on the culprits. Rightly or wrongly, many have alleged, especially opposition parties, that the police aided electoral fraud directly in Rivers State. The state was reportedly the worst with regards to alleged direct involvement of the police. But this scenario was also significantly replicated in all the geopolitical zones of the country with varying intensity. In Lagos State, for instance, the police were accused of leaving those who threatened and attacked voters to arrest their victims.
Even former transportation minister, Rotimi Amaechi alleged that APC contested with INEC and police, and not the PDP. Also, in Lagos, the police did not only aid electoral fraud directly but were said to have looked the other way when voters were being suppressed, threatened and battered on election day.
Majority of the policemen that manned polling units nationwide during elections were unarmed and equipped, and consequently helpless when thugs struck and carted away materials. They even lacked functional walkie-talkies to call for back-up in the event of the outbreak of violence.
The fact that even the national police can be manipulated and compromised has raised fresh concerns over the calls for state police.
Even before the international observers, in many instances, the police were accused of supervising ballot snatching and sundry electoral malfeasance.
Brazen electoral heist, falsification of election results, violence, ballot box-snatching, voter intimidation and voter suppression are getting worse with each election cycle and have become so bad that they threaten the nation’s foundational anchors.
The emerging consensus is that these scenarios consistently play out because there are no consequences to punish impunity. Strangely, the security agencies ignore or even connive with the perpetrators. For example an influential tout who was seen in a viral video threatening voters of South-east origin in Lagos not to dare go near the polling units if they were not going to vote for APC, allegedly made the threat in company of a man in police uniform.
More than three weeks after the flagrant contravention of the Electoral Act, the police claimed in one case that they were still ‘investigating’. With the failure of the security agencies, the acts of impunity by politicians get worse by the day.
It is worth noting that unfettered political participation is one of the most important indicators of the democratic quality of elections and a prime criterion for defining democratic citizenship. Unimpeded voter turnout in a transparent, free and unsuppressed election is the most important form of political involvement and crucially also is an important indicator of the state of health of any democracy.
In ensuring this outcome the police are a flagship agency that must not blunder.