By Tordue Salem
The Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Ogbonna Onovo, has requested for more powers to handle election violence at polling booths in the country.
The IGP spoke at public hearing on â€œA Bill for an Act to Further Amend the Police Act 1967â€.
He requested that the police should be empowered by the Act to shoot at any citizen who was engaged in violence and electoral subversion by the use of the gun at polling stations.
The hearing was organised by a sub-committee of the House of Representatives ad-hoc committee on the review of the 1999 Constitution, headed by the Chief Whip, Mr. Emeka Ihedioha.
Onovo also asked for the amendment of the Section 4 (a) of the Police Act by inserting the word â€œlawfullyâ€ in it. The section states that â€œPolice shall while on duty safeguard the security of the lives and property of citizens during the campaign and voting so that citizens will not feel unsafe on account of holding, associating with or expressing a political opinion.â€
Mr Onovo also demanded that the police should be empowered to arrest, search and detain any person upon reasonable suspicion of concealment of offensive weapons or electoral materials at the venue of any election or any other place, whatsoever.
The police should be empowered to use reasonable force to carry out such duties under the Act; the Police should be empowered to arrest and prosecute any offender before, during and after elections; a reasonable time limit should be spelt out to enable the police to return to their routine duties after the election.
The Police should be present at the counting centres and given certified copies of all the elections for record purposes; and the police should be empowered to arrest any other person(s) who commit any other electoral offence under this Act.
Mr Onovo explained that the force is demanding powers to shoot at the venues of election because some members of the public could confront policemen or electoral officers with gun.
He added that the original act does not give members of the force the powers to do anything unless directed by electoral officers being harassed.
He said that, if amended, the nature of confrontation against the police or electoral officers would determine the kind of weapons the police would use. Among the weapons are teargas, water cannon and other lethal weapons.
â€œWe all know that when they are coming they donâ€™t come in a friendly manner but they come heavily armed. They even fire to scare people away. So, we will need reasonable force to be able to prevent them from stealing, hijacking or altering results. In this case, we have to stop them when they come with for example AK 47. So, we want to use firearms when the lives of others are in danger,â€ Mr Onovo said.
When probed further by the lawmakers on what â€œreasonable forceâ€ means, the IG said it could also include persuasion and dialogue.
Also speaking at the hearing, the former IG, Sunday Ehindero argued that it is not the Police Act that needed amendment but the Electoral Act 2006.
Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Michael Aondoakaa said told the lawmakers that the bill did not remove any power which the police have but assured that he would reconcile the differences between the bill and the proposals made by Mr Onovo.
However, member of the subcommittee were suspicious that if given the powers the police could abuse some of them. Some of them also complained that the powers could be used against members of the opposition parties.
A member, Abdul Ningi who is also the chairman of the Police Affairs Committee of the House, said if given the power to arrest, search and detain anybody on reasonable suspicion, the policemen could do so on flimsy excuses.
George Daika (PDP, Plateau) also complained that if the police were allowed a time limit to stay at election venues, trouble could ensue when they have left.