The national election umpire, INEC, and the Nigeria Police Force Force (NPF) have agreed terms under which the personnel of the latter will be deployed during elections. Before now they had been accused of interference with the electoral process and use of excessive force against voters. The new dos and don’ts, published for the first time, are meant to keep security personnel restricted to maintaining law and order. They will take effect, beginning with the upcoming governorship elections in Edo and Ondo states in September and November respectively.
The code of conduct, as it is called, and meant for officers of the Inter-agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES), was jointly approved by the National Security Adviser (NSA), Major-General Babagana Munguno (retd); the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu, and the Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu. The document lists the procedure for arrests and cautions to take. It makes them accountable for personnel and equipment, such as weapons and other related equipment issued to them. Duty parade must not disrupt or delay the smooth conduct of elections. “Except for personnel deployed in covert operations, all personnel on electoral assignment will ensure a neat turnout in prescribed uniform and name tags, which must be identifiable to the public.” The ICCES, however, “may from time to time approve a common means of identification for all security agencies on election duty.
“Personnel in covert operations will ensure they turn out in clean outfits, having strict regard for the authorised identification card. Officers engaged in traffic control will ensure that white gloves and armbands are worn. No unauthorised item of accoutrement/kits like cudgel, horsewhip, etc. shall be carried by any personnel on election duty. At no time will personnel deployed to Polling Units be allowed to carry firearms. Prescribed and appropriate weapons and riot equipment are to be issued to personnel, who are entitled to bear them. Clearly marked vehicles are to be used for every election exercise and/or operation. The use of personal vehicles to convey personnel for duty is highly discouraged.
“Pocket notebooks shall be carried, where important incidents encountered during tours of duty can be noted, in view of the fact that all security personnel can be personally summoned to account for their actions/inactions while on election duty,” the document stated. At venues of all electoral activities, designated officers will identify areas to be classified inner and outer rings respectively to serve as a guide in deployment. On no account should personnel deployed to the inner ring of the venue of political events or voting centres/polling units be assigned any lethal weapon except baton. Involvement of the officers at political gatherings shall be limited to the maintenance of peace and order and enforcement of extant laws.
“Officers shall at all times exercise maximum restraint while covering political gatherings or deployed at voting/collation centres. Officers shall not at any time turn themselves into spectators but shall at all times be conscious of happenings around them, observe precautionary measures and personal safety while on duty. Security personnel shall use tact and persuasion to resolve issues, when dealing with or confronted by agitated persons in the crowd. Refer cases to senior officers or supervising officers to avoid escalation where there is tension.”
On venues of political gatherings, voting, collation centres and other electoral activities, the document urged personnel to as much as possible survey and sweep the venues for Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) by the Police Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) personnel ahead of the event. In the case of an unexpected incident of explosion, “Police EOD Section shall be informed promptly, if not present at the venue, and an evacuation process shall be initiated immediately, while the area is sealed to prevent obstruction during rescue operation and loss of evidential materials.”
This is a refreshing departure from the past when INEC had tended to leave security agents to their own devices. It turned out to be a Carte Blanche for them to perpetrate all manner of illegality, including open bias for a particularly political party and candidates. By the new code of conduct , INEC intends to bring all election matters, including security, under its purview. This is welcome. in principle, we would prefer that elections be civilianized. However, given the desperation of our politicians to win at all costs, including ballot stuffing and bribing of voters, we agree a minimal role for security agencies is necessary. But our experience with that has not been salutary. The security agencies have instead made the process more problematic. If we still believe that they are involved in some way in the process, then that role must be well defined and effectively supervised to reduce the margin of error on their part.