By Kingsley Omonobi
With over 800 people reportedly slain during the post-election violence of April 2011, the importance of security to life and property during important national engagements once again reared its ugly head.
Before the elections, the police, which had to work with INEC, SSS, the army, the navy, the airforce and the Defence Headquarters went the extra mile of not only sensitising the populace on the consequences of breaching the peace, the agencies drummed it into the ears of their officers and men the need to handle matters of over-reaction by Nigerians with care because they were trained to protect, not demolish their fellow citizens.
Chief of the Army Staff, Lt- General Azubuike Ihejirika, Naval Chief, Vice-Admiral O.S. Ibrahim, and Chief of the Air Staff, Air Marshal Mohammed Dikko Umar, went round the 36 states to enlighten officers and men of the three services on their roles before, during and after the elections with a view to ensuring a synergy of purpose not only among the security agencies but also with the teeming Nigerians that would partake in the elections.
The office of the National Security Adviser (NSA), after several workshops, meetings and consultations with INEC, security agencies and other stakeholders, came out with a blueprint for the agencies to enhance their work.
Under the framework, the security agencies were given specified tasks to carry out under the coordination of the office of the National Security Adviser (NSA).
The framework showed that the office of the NSA was responsible for contacting the service chiefs to assist INEC; increase security surveillance during the elections; monitor the performance of security agencies and dissuade public officials from misusing security details attached to them.
The police were to provide adequate personnel to man/keep order at polling units and other INEC facilities; provide security for election equipment and other materials during delivery, election and retrieval; and apprehend law-breakers and prosecute them; and dissuade public officials from misusing police security details.
The army was to provide surveillance in the vicinities of election as determined by engagement rules; assist in restricting movement during the election; and assist in protecting election materials where police and other agencies are unable to do so.
For the navy and airforce, they were to increase surveillance of Nigeria’s seaports, airspace, airports and continental-shelf during the election; assist in the deployment of INEC equipment and personnel where necessary; assist in restricting movement along waterways; assist in protecting election equipment/materials where police and other security agencies are not able to do so; establish standby rapid deployment squads in all states in case of serious crisis; assist in delivery of INEC materials where necessary; and prepare to evacuate civilians in case of serious crisis during election.
SSS was to monitor the elections closely and alert INEC and other security agencies on security problems; develop a framework for sharing intelligence regularly with other agencies during the elections; enforce restriction on movement of persons that may be in force; conduct mop-up operation of illegal weaponry and raid of criminal hideouts; and confine key trouble-makers and their supporters ahead of the elections.
The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency was to increase surveillance on hard drug production, movement and use, pre-emptive strikes on hard drug dealers and users’ hideout; closely monitor vicinities of election areas for drugs use likely to lead to violence.
The Customs and Immigrations were to monitor imports into the country at all ports and border crossings to prevent imports that could undermine the election process. The imports include weapons, and fake election materials. They were also to liaise closely with other security agencies to cover porous boundary routes.
Towards achieving these goals, DG of the SSS, Mr. Eyo Ita, at a sensitisation workshop, listed the challenges expected ahead of the elections, saying, “Political violence is a challenge to all of us, not only the police. Desperate politicians are getting increasingly violent. To some politicians, failure is unacceptable, unthinkable and unimaginable, thus the recourse to religious and ethnic sentiments and inciting statements to prod hoodlums and thugs”.
Other challenges, he pointed out, were that of security agencies synergizing to tackle threats of corruption, threats of terrorism, bickering among security agencies, poverty and unemployment which has created a large pool of idle hands that could be used to cause violence during elections and factionalization of political parties.
At a point following the recalcitrance of politicians and their cronies to heed the advice of security agencies to act within the law resulting in the destruction of billboards of opponents, attacks at campaign venues, SSS invited scores of political leaders to its headquarters in Abuja and took them to the detention facilities where they were made to experience what it would be like if they were caught inciting or causing violence.
For the airforce, it deployed its aircraft including the Mi-35 helicopter gunships towards ensuring that INEC’s sensitive materials such as ballot papers, ballot boxes, result sheets, polling booths, etc, got to all the nooks and crannies of the country as well as airlifting security personnel to remote areas.