SECURITY CONCERNS OVER THE GENERAL ELECTIONS
From the North, information in the media within the past week gives cause for grave concern. Reports say the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), last Tuesday, told the Police High Command that it would accept only its presidential candidate, General Muhammadu Buhari, as the winner of the presidential poll slated for April 9.
The Buhari or nobody else campaign that appears to have gained ground in some states in the Northern part of the country is, indeed, worrisome. It is the very stuff of which electoral crises and violence is made.
In Ogun State, the unabating acrimony between the chairman of the PDP's Board of Trustees and former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, and incumbent state governor, Gbenga Daniel, provides a likely platform for clashes between Obasanjo's faction of the PDP and supporters of Peoples Party of Nigeria (PPN) gubernatorial candidate, Gboyega Nasir Isiaka, who has Daniel's support.
In Abia, massive deployment of security agents in some parts of the state have led to fears over safety during voting. Clashes during the week led to the death of one person, even as the state was listed among the election 'hot spots' where the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will provide special security. Other states on the list reportedly include Plateau, Ogun, Bauchi, Borno, Anambra and Akwa Ibom.
In Borno State, also last Tuesday, the police reportedly foiled an attempt to detonate bombs at the North East presidential rally of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) in Maiduguri, the state capital. Assistant Commissioner of Police in charge of Operations in the state, Adamu Zakari, told journalists how the force intercepted three members of Boko Haram at West End Roundabout, few metres away from the Ramat Square venue of the rally.
Locally made bombs were recovered from one of the suspects, who later led them to a hideout where more arms and ammunition were recovered. These disturbing reports raise serious concerns about security at the polls. The Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), at the end of a national conference in Abuja, last Monday, stridently condemned the rising wave of violence associated with political activities, and expressed concern at the helplessness of the security operatives to deal with the dangerous situation in spite of the imminence of the polls.
Apparently to forestall violence and regain the confidence of the people in its ability to provide security during the elections, the Federal Government, March 29, charged the security agencies to protect both the people and national assets during the elections. The National Council of State (NCS) also approved the deployment of troops comprising both mobile and conventional policemen, and other law enforcement agencies and the military on the streets, 48 hours to the elections, to prevent outbreak of violence during voting.
Ordinarily, this gesture should offer some comfort and reassure the people of their safety during the elections. However, with the waning confidence of Nigerians in the ability of the security agencies to protect them following the agencies' glaring inability to checkmate pre-election violence, on one hand, and fears over their impartiality, on the other, it is not certain that the presence of the security agencies will impact positively on turnout at the polling units.
It is also unsettling that long before the 48 hours prior to the polls approved by the NCS for deployment of troops, some governors had already reportedly flooded strongholds of the opposition in their states with security agents, especially the military. This has heightened fears that some of them may be hiding under the NCS approval of troops deployment to over-concentrate military agents in certain parts of their states to cow and stifle the opposition. Fears have been expressed that this may be the situation in Abia.
The grave danger that this portends for free and fair elections is that the voters in such places may be too scared to come out to vote, thereby giving the ruling parties in the states and their candidates unfair advantage. This fear is genuine as past experience in Nigeria has shown that security agents tend to favour candidates of ruling parties in the states that they are deployed, to the disadvantage of the opposition.
The challenge before the Federal Government in the elections, therefore, is to ensure the impartiality of security agents deployed for the polls. They should be properly orientated to keep to the terms of their deployment which, essentially, is to secure the people and the ballot. Security agents should not be used to confer undue advantage on ruling parties at the detriment of the opposition, at any level. Their integrity should not be compromised through inducement of any kind. The State Security Service (SSS) has a special role to play in this regard.
President Goodluck Jonathan and the nation's security agencies have a historic role to play in the general elections beginning tomorrow. The credibility of the polls and the future of Nigeria depend largely on how well they do this. Nigerians expect them to play their roles with every sense of responsibility in the best interest of the people. Anything short of this may lead to anarchy, with attendant grave consequences for unity and peace in the country.