October 1 Bombing: Imperatives of Security in Election Process

It is clear that an effective security framework is fundamental to the success of any election. The prevailing situation where there is no security plan is therefore disturbing. The rise of election rhetoric deepening the divide between the South and North heightens the already simmering tension in the country and there are rumours about the stockpiling of arms around the country. It is vital to ensure that there is adequate security to prevent unscrupulous elements exploiting this time of uncertainty to wreak havoc in the country.’, ‘

An effective security framework inspires confidence in the people. As much as we advocate that, care must be taken to ensure that the instruments of state protection are not used as instruments of coercion or intimidation. Security agencies are central to elections in emerging democracies but can also pose a danger to the credibility of the process. We must strike an effective balance in which the maintenance of law order is achieved with respect and enforcement of individual rights, especially the right to vote and be voted for.

The recent bomb blast on October 1 and the security response have shown how unstable the security system is and that a crisis can be generated by any form of security breach. The Abuja explosions marked a new low in Nigeria’s security, unprecedented in 50 years of independence. It was an embarrassment not just to our security system but to all Nigerians. The politicised response from within and outside government underscored the immaturity of our political class.

The crackdown has raised the tension in the country and also exposed the underbelly of our security agencies, especially with regard to balancing effective policing and rule of law. A disturbing example is the arraignment of the suspects of the October 1 bombing without their lawyers getting access to the court. Public anger over the October 1 bombing appears to have encouraged security operatives towards looking for results outside the law, a tendency that discredits the outcome, however good their intentions.

The October 1 bombing reminds us that we need an effective security plan for elections to ensure that voters are safe and the sanctity of the election process is also protected, especially given the tendency of the politicians to use their independent militant structures to manipulate the outcome of the elections. At the core of policing elections is the underlying philosophy that security personnel are in the field to protect the mandate of the people and not the interests of a ruling party or influential groups. What October 1 shows is that the delicate security environment can be exploited by negative elements to disturb the peace, but also by overzealous security agents to trump individual rights.

The security challenge before Nigeria on the election is enormous. With an estimated 120,000 polling station scattered around the country, decaying or non-existent access roads to the hinterland and unmapped creeks, obvious deficiencies in police capacity whether in numbers or skills and the damaged reputation of security agencies, the tasks ahead are indeed daunting. Nigeria may need nearly one million men and women in uniform to police elections.

Given that more than 100,000 police personnel are in the escort business for individuals and the total population of the Nigeria Police Force is about 477,000, there is a major challenge ahead to mobilise enough personnel to cover the country effectively. Past connivance and indictment of security agencies in election rigging reinforces public distrust. The involvement of the incumbent president in the election process raises this delicate issue, especially where security decisions may be interpreted to advance the interest of the incumbent. There is, then, a need to tread a delicate path in developing a framework for the election that reinforces inclusiveness, professionalism and credibility on the part of security agencies.

Any election security plan obviously needs to be based on the INEC election plan. This plan has to be all-inclusive with participation by the Nigerian Police, armed forces, Independent National Eletroral Commission (INEC), Civil society, Police Service Commission, Ministry of Justice, non-governmental actors from civil society and other relevant stakeholders. As much as one cannot claim to have all the answers the content of such a plan, certain principles must be implicit.

The plan should assign overlapping roles to the various security agencies to ensure that no agency is put in a position where its internal inadequacies or political subservience can be allowed to scuttle the process. There have been allegations in the past that security structures were captured and used by politicians to further selfish interest at the expense of the integrity of the election process. Each agency in essence should be a watchdog over the others.

Further, such a plan must include mechanism for monitoring, especially an effective system for the post-election audit of the activities of stakeholders. This is to enable the apportioning of blame and prosecution if that becomes necessary. Such a mechanism will keep the security operatives on their toes. The plan should also contain clear reporting lines, especially making explicit the level of control that the INEC chair can exercise with respect to security issues. The inability of the INEC leadership in the past to achieve any control over the activities of security operatives during the election has sometimes undermined the commission’s authority. Various legal experts argue that this is an area requiring legislative action in the future. In the interim, however, the Commission needs to have a role in the decision-making process. Pending the required legal and constitutional reform, a multi-agency/inter-governmental working group is needed to co-ordinate relationships and provide leadership.

In addition to the above, we have to train security operatives, especially the rank and file, on what is expected of them during elections. A handbook needs to be developed (or updated if one exists) with clear guidelines on election policing and conduct. Political parties have a role in this process. An inter-party dialogue perhaps convened at the instance of the Police would be helpful in putting things in perspective and developing a code of conduct for party officials and party agents.

But perhaps the greatest watchdog on the performance of security agencies is the people. They should be educated by civil society/INEC on what performance standards should apply and how they can hold the police/security operatives accountable; they should be provided with hotlines for complaint and reports. Ensuring a secure environment for the elections in Nigeria is a collective task and the time to start doing that is now.