Thursday, March 1, 2012

Conducting a Police Free Election in Nigeria

We want to make sure that we conduct election in Nigeria without the police, we want to conduct election without security people carrying guns, we want a situation where Nigerians will queue up, vote and go back home, the votes are counted and nobody is cheated so that at the end of elections, there will not be all kinds of litigations.” –President Goodluck Jonathan in Calabar on 21 February 2012.

Our dear president really means well for our democracy; he is making serious effort at leaving a lasting political legacy for Nigeria. He strives to be a statesman. Last year, he mooted the idea of a single term of six or seven years for president and governors in order to cut the cost of electioneering as well as remove the distraction usually engendered by pursuit of second term. In 2012, he is already eyeing the conduct of elections in Nigeria without the assistance of police and other security agencies. Beautiful, wishing thinking I dare say.

Security has been an issue in Nigerian elections. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and its states counterpart, State Independent Electoral Commissions have had to rely heavily on the police and other security agencies in the conduct of elections. In fact, towards the 2011 polls, INEC had to constitute an Inter Agency Election Security Committee made up of the Commission, the police, State Security Service, Army Navy, Airforce and other relevant agencies in order to secure the environment for peaceful conduct of elections. Even at that, there was still widespread post presidential election violence in many Northern states which claimed over 800 lives.

The situation was so deplorable that the governorship elections scheduled for 26 April 2011 had to be postponed to 28 April in Kaduna and Bauchi State. In January 2012, the governorship election in Adamawa state had to be shifted twice due to security concerns before the poll eventually held on 4 February. Security has so much become pivotal that during general elections all the security agencies as well as para-military outfits such as the Nigerian Civil Defence Corps, Nigerian Prison Service, Nigerian Customs Service, Nigerian Immigration Service and even Man O ‘War cadets are mobilized to provide adequate security during elections. On top of this, there is restriction of movement with the exception of people on essential services or on election duty.

President Goodluck Jonathan is in haste to speed-up our electoral democracy to the level of Americans and other established democracies. I was privileged to witness the US mid-term elections in November 2010. What I observed marveled me. Elections in many states were held for 12 hours usually 7am to 7pm. No restriction of movement. Thus, on your way to and from work or during break you can stroll to your polling unit to cast your vote. There were also no security agents in sight in the places where I observed polling at Washington DC and Maryland.

Though not impossible, the task of conducting election without security agencies in Nigeria is daunting and Herculean. The feasibility of it requires the buy in of all the actors and stakeholders in the electoral process. Top on the list is the willingness of the political parties and candidates to play by the rule. Party executives and candidates are the people who often engage hooligans to disrupt campaigns of opponents and elections. They are also responsible for inciting their supporters to embark on wanton destruction of lives and properties when they lose elections. If election contestants will imbibe the spirit of sportsmanship, then a police-free election will be possible.

Another sine-qua-non to an election without the security agencies is the imperative of reducing the perks of office of political office holders. The access to easy money and unchecked powers of political office holders makes electoral contest very stiff and deadly. Politicians believe in the Machiavellian principle of ‘the end justifies the means.’ Due to the lucrative nature of political offices, contestants do everything to outwit and outdo one another. They kill, maim, rig, frustrate, molest and do several other things just to emerge victorious at the polls, knowing full well that it is their ticket to unlimited wealth and influence.

For police free election to happen, the larger security issues have to be effectively tackled. We cannot continue to have ‘Boko Haram’ insurgency and hope to realize police free elections. All ethnic and social violence (armed robbery, kidnapping, etc) have to be reined in before people will have the confidence to participate in an election devoid of security agents.

The 2010 Electoral Act (as amended) also has to be further altered before the president can realize this pet project. Many sections of the Act assigned roles to police and security agents. They are to maintain law and order during campaigns (section 94(1) and effect arrests of anyone trying to compromise the electoral process (sections 59, 61 (2&3); they are also to be given a copy of election result (sections 63 (3) and 74. All the electoral offences highlighted in Part VII of the Act are also expected to be enforced by the police. Given these scenarios, I wish President Jonathan good luck if he still wants to organize a police-free and yet peaceful election?