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Uncertainties Over Police Assurance Of Security

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Suleiman Abba, IGP

TODAY, when arguably the most closely contested presidential election in Nigeria’s history would hold, one key issue that has been on the front burner is security, which necessitated the initial shift from February 14 to today, March 28. And the Nigeria Police, constitutionally mandated to provide the needed security during such periods especially, seem to be fraught with arduous complexities.

Just before the postponement of polls on February 2, the Inspector General of Police, Suleiman Abba at a meeting with Officers of the rank of Commissioners of Police (CP) and above, reiterated the Force “preparedness to perform its constitutional and statutory responsibilities of providing adequate security for the nation and the entire citizenry.”

On the same day, he ordered the constitution of a Special Investigative Team to investigate offences emanating from elections in the country. Again on February 14, Abba restated the resolve of the Police to ensure the security of lives of Nigerians during the period.

At the last meeting “to perfect strategies to ensure peaceful conduct of the polls” with Senior Officers, zonal Commanders and CPs, while again reassuring that Police would make sure nobody disturbs the peace at polling stations, Abba said prudence would be applied in using the available logistics.

At the last meeting, Abba identified transportation and communication as two important components in policing, but the vehicles coming in bits out of more than 2000 approved is not very comforting, but  “you can hardly get all you want as it is part of human nature, but we will continue to ask for more, we would use the logistics available but most importantly is the judicious use of what we have”.

For financial resources to upset other requirements, the IGP hinted, “I will be able to send enough lubricants and fuel for those vehicles”.

The logistics spread across the country is no doubt a thing of concern to the all Nigerians who feel that adequate preparations for the election were made before the earlier shift.

Coupled with this, the inadequate personnel to man the elections in the country is also challenged as besides the less than 500,000 personnel capacity of the entire Nigerian Police Force, cannot adequately serve the 150,000 polling units spread across the country. Then the disenchantment of some middle class officers who even threatened to embark on a strike just before the Election Day in protest for their unpaid arrears.

The latter was initially not taken seriously, as the Force Public Relations Officer (FPRO) Emmanuel Ojukwu said “it is the handiwork of detractors outside the force who are bent on truncating the electoral process. They did not threaten any strike and would not go on strike, because anyone that does so would face the full wrath of the law”.

But IGP Abba told journalists in Abuja when questioned that the Officers should have commended him for lobbying for them to get their harmonized salaries instead of grumbling about arrears, which would be paid anyway.

“The earlier agitations was for payment of arrears of promotion as at the time I took over, policemen were promoted for about 30 months, without drawing benefits for those promotions. Which meant that officers were wearing the rank but were on their old salaries…I succeeded in getting officers being paid on their new rank by January 2015.

“Arrears will be paid, but if you have been patient for almost three years, you should be at least happy. Anybody saying anything is just trying to incite, the officers are happy that they have started drawing benefits from their new ranks”, he said.

Although the Ekiti state command of the force had earlier, as contained in a statement by the state PPRO, distanced officers of the command from the planned action as it is against the law. But one of such officers said “this is the opportunity for us to get our arrears, they started giving us the salary because elections are by the corner and they anticipated our actions, so we were paid our harmonized salaries, without the arrears.

“If we don’t get this arrears now, we would never get it. The only assurance that we would be paid is for the government to start paying us part of the arrears as the elections approaches, if not the guarantee that we would give our best during the election, even if we are forced to participate, is not there”. He stated.

On the issue of personnel, the IGP had assured that there are enough personnel to do the job, according to him “We have about 150000 polling units and there are enough deployments arranged for each of the polling units, and in collaboration with all stakeholders, they will do everything possible to prevent the commission of but the eruption of violence.

“There are intervention teams arranged to intervene where the need arises. That is our stance and that is our arrangement, any other strategy we will keep it to ourselves,” he said. The legal frameworks empowering the police is explicit in the provisions outlining the duties and responsibilities as well as what constitutes an offense. For instance, the Police Act Part ll (4) states “the prevention and detection of crime, the apprehension of offenders, the preservation of law and order, the protection of life and property and the due enforcement of all laws and regulations with which they are directly charged, and shall perform such military duties within or outside Nigeria as may be required of them by, or under the authority of this or any other Act.”

The Police Chief obviously zealous to avert any form of electoral misdemeanor, advised voters to leave the polling stations immediately after voting for the reason that “If you remain, it is likely you will commit an offence. You may utter a word that the other person may perceive as intimidation”.

Though this advice was not well received, it was informed by the palpable apprehensions and public anxiety that the process would be marred by violence and the unmitigated dissatisfaction that would trial the results, who ever wins. But the Abba while speaking to Commanders of the Special Protection Units (SPU), Counter Terrorism Unit (CTU) and Police Mobil Force (PMF) formations across the country on strategies for election security assured that besides the special forces and the conventional Police officers, “there are intervention teams arranged to intervene where the need arises.”

Coming on the heels of this despite a High Court ruling in Lagos that the Military must not be part of the election process in the country as it is unconstitutional, the Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant General Kenneth Minimah said the role of the Army in the election is not to meddle in the process like “carrying electoral materials or being stationed at the polling booths”, but to provide back-up security for the elections so that “whoever wants to provoke or invoke violence, will meet organized violence waiting for him”, Minimah said.

As Nigerian vote for the candidates of their choice, the presence of the security operatives and military officers stationed especially in volatile areas is to further assure Nigerians that their lives are safe, but the concern is that will the presence of the military hanging around election points, at least 300 meters away, Police officers and other security operatives at polling units engender the desired peaceful process, at least during the voting process.

Also, will the disenchantment among the middle class officers of the Police Force affect their performance at the polls, will there be a spill over effect on the junior officers. Then the spat of inter-agency of rivalry that has bedeviled the polity, it would not be strange if a soldier is said to have disarmed a Policeman on duty, or beat up another security operative at a polling station.

But what is apparent is that, with collaboration and expressed readiness from the State Security Service (SSS), the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), the media, Civil Society Organisations and other interest groups, to monitor and observe the conduct of the elections, security concerns are toned down ahead the d-day.



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