February 28, 2023

Where was the promised security?

PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari, as the Commander-in-Chief, promised to provide “adequate security” for the 2023 general elections. The president promised: “Your vote will count.” Securing the election and preventing its corrupt monetisation were central to the high confidence the electorate approached the elections with.

To further reassure the people of the readiness of his government to rise above narrow partisan interests and conduct a historically memorable election, Buhari ordered large contingents of the military to complement the Police Force. 

Lagos, in particular, the only state in the Federation where the lives and property of non-indigene voters are constantly under threat, received the lion’s share of the military mobilisations.

In many parts of the country, voters saw a totally different picture altogether. In states like Lagos, Rivers, Imo and Kogi, which were foreknown as the potential security flashpoints of the 2023 general elections, hoodlums deployed by local political warlords operated freely.

 They engaged in vote suppression, disenfranchisement of voters in certain neighbourhoods populated by some ethnic groups, threatening the lives of voters and officials, snatching and destroying ballot materials.

Admittedly, some of the troops performed creditably in some areas, meting instant punishments to thugs caught in the act of disrupting the elections. 

Our elections have repeatedly shown the Police Force’s ineffectiveness in offering real security services expected of them. The Nigerian ruling elite has weaponised poverty and is using it to boost their hold on power.

 The typical poorly paid Nigerian police officer is unable to stand firm and do his or her duty because they are victims of weaponised poverty. They look forward to election duties in the hope that some politicians would pay them to protect their political thugs rather than the voters, officials, and electoral materials.

In truth, the Nigerian police officer goes on electoral duty unarmed and in no position to respond to the menace of political criminals. How can someone who cannot defend himself be expected to confront and overcome hoodlums armed to the teeth? When trouble arises, it is either they look away or they are seen begging the lawbreakers.

The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, must devise a more effective way of ensuring the safety of their officials, voters, and electoral materials. 

The largely failed effort to minimise human interference in the 2023 elections so far owes a lot to poor security arrangements. Political thugs were effective in their ability to overawe the law enforcement agents in ensuring that the electronic transmission of results did not happen in many polling units.

We can never have free, fair, and credible elections unless the security of lives and property is assured.