Security agencies’ ignoble roles in the conduct of elections in the past echoed in Abuja on Wednesday, when the National Security Adviser, Mohammed Monguno, reminded them of the imperative of professionalism and their expected neutrality in the forthcoming 2019 general election. His message was clear and apposite: what happened in the past will not be tolerated by the present administration.
The acting Director-General of the State Security Service, Mathew Seyeifa; Deputy Inspector-General of Police, Habila Joshiak, who represented the Inspector-General of Police, and heads of other agencies that attended the Interagency Consultative Committee on Election Security meeting with Monguno should ensure that the directive trickles down.
In buttressing the point that the elections must be free and fair, Monguno said the “NSA is going to descend very heavily on security agencies which, as a consequence of their inability to carry out their functions, allow lives to be lost unnecessarily…I want to notify all security agencies that I will also not tolerate collusion or aiding and abetting of criminal elements by security agencies in the process.”
The use of security agencies to undermine the integrity of elections in Nigeria is a well known incubus, which no previous administration was able to extirpate. The 2007 elections, adjudged by international observers as the worst globally, and that of 2011, indeed bore the most bizarre evidence. It was after the 2007 polls that the oddity of staggering governorship elections in Anambra, Bayelsa, Edo, Ondo, Ekiti, Osun and Kogi states was inaugurated as election tribunals upturned the fraud-tainted results in these states. So pervasive were electoral malpractices abetted by security agencies that INEC profiled over 800,000 electoral offenders but lacked the capacity to get the suspects punished by taking them to court in line with the dictates of the Electoral Act.
According to the National Human Rights Commission’s technical study group reports on these polls, especially that of 2007 in Edo State, which brought Adams Oshiomhole to power, the court established that “the evidence of the witness is that police officers were in fact, doing the shooting, the thumb-printing or the ballot-stuffing.” The European Union Election Observation Mission team led by Max van den Berg did not mince words about the general election when it stated, “The election fell far short of basic international standards.”
Indeed, if any doubts existed about the partisan involvement of security agencies in the conduct of elections, they vanished in 2014 when an unwilling soldier recruited for this role in the staggered governorship poll in Ekiti State spilled the beans. Sagir Koli, a captain, in a statement entitled: “How Nigeria Army personnel were used to rig Ekiti and Osun States governorship elections 2014,” gave insights into what happened among himself, his commander, two ministers and the politicians involved.
On the strength of Koli’s revelation, a military board of enquiry was set up. Findings led to a brigadier-general being fired; three officers lost their commands; one was recommended for prosecution over bribery; nine were handed over to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission for further investigation and action; 15 officers were placed under watch and 62 officers, mostly below the rank of major, were issued reprimands by their General Officers Commanding.
This self-cleansing measure may not have happened but for the change in political leadership of the country. However, Monguno should build on the standard set by the Army in 2015. The tradition has to be entrenched that military institutions are apolitical and should be insulated accordingly. But officers who choose to violate this code of conduct should be disgraced out of service. Unfortunately, the failure of the police to emulate the Army to rein in their errant officers remains a big issue. It is a perverse incentive for their officers to carry on with this notoriety. The recent fiasco in just one bye-election into the Rivers State House of Assembly, Port Harcourt State Constituency 3 seat, showed that there is more to it than meets the eye. About 1,500 security agents, comprising the police, SSS and other services, could not guarantee security for the poll to hold.
Governor Nyesom Wike had carpeted the police for this setback and stressed that instead of doing their job, “the police brazenly collude with political thugs… to subvert the democratic process…” That this illegality pervades the country’s electoral process was evident in the way a former acting IG Suleiman Abba lost his job in 2015. He claimed in a recent interview that his failure to rig the Osun State governorship election for a particular political party was why he could not be confirmed as IG. An apparatchik of the party had on the eve of the poll told him to “deliver Osun to us and we will confirm you quickly.”
Unlike in Nigeria, police involvement in the United Kingdom elections is determined by circumstances. In its 2016 polls, for instance, Mike Whitby, leader of Birmingham Council – Britain’s biggest — The Guardian of London states, only invited the police to come and protect the ballot box and prevent intimidation amid security threats. The Abba expose is an inkling of illegalities unconscionable IGs in the past might have done during national elections.
Elections to offices are calls to public service. The earlier politicians appreciated this, the less the desperation and reduction in wanton killings that occur in every election in Nigeria. At least 30 people were killed on the April 11, 2015 election day, according to the EU Election observer team. The insecurity spiral that led to this bloodbath can be minimal if security agencies, the police especially, insulate themselves from partisan fray and see themselves as agents of the law. For the IG, Ibrahim Idris, it is just five months away from this obvious litmus test.