INTRODUCTION: In line with its commitment to ensuring that security agencies meet public expectations in providing the enabling environment for peaceful conduct of free, fair and credible election, CLEEN Foundation has, in collaboration with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), conducted observation of the conduct of security officials during the 2011 elections.
Preliminary statements of each of these elections were issued and widely circulated and published in the mass media. Sequel to the declaration of the gubernatorial and state legislature elections in Imo State as ‘inconclusive’ and subsequent scheduling of supplementary elections on May 6, 2011, CLEEN Foundation embarked upon observation of the conduct of security officials in the election. Roving Observers were mobilized and deployed to the four local government area councils (Mbaitoli, Ngor Okpala, Oguta and Ohaji Egbema) and one ward in Owerri Municipal Council where elections were billed to hold. This statement presents the preliminary findings of CLEEN Foundation observers on the conduct of security officials.
It would be recalled that there were serious concerns about security implications of the supplementary elections in Imo State. The background to this fear was the rising tension in the state over the inconclusiveness of the previous election on April 26. Apparently in reaction to this development, the state government imposed a curfew in the entire state from 10pm on May 5th till 6pm of May 6th, the election day, which was interpreted differently by other stakeholders. In furtherance of the security build-up, the Nigeria Police Force deployed 10,000 police personnel to the state. The Nigerian Army followed suit by deploying troops from its base in Obinze, Imo State. This heavy presence of security officials in the state portrayed the picture of a state under emergency rule. The huge presence of armoured personnel carrier mounted by the military at a major traffic interception near Asumpta Catholic Cathedral in Owerri, the State capital, symbolised this picture. It was under this state of security anxiety that the roving observers went to work.
1. Contrary to fears that the heavy presence of security agents would intimidate and deter people from coming out to exercise their franchise, voters from all social backgrounds turned out to vote across the four LGAs where the elections held.
2. But for the death of two persons in Ngor Okpala LGA, who were reportedly shot by security officials while snatching ballot boxes with arms, the elections went without major incidents of pre and post election violence. Undoubtedly, high security presence enabled this outcome.
3. Roadblocks mounted by soldiers and mobile policemen hindered free movement of roving election observers. In at least two locations, mobile policemen delayed passage of observers even when they were showed accreditation badges and approval letters from INEC.
4. The roadblocks did not result in interception of diverted election materials. Rather many cases of recovered ballot materials and arrest of suspects were due to the intelligence offered by community activists and party loyalists. In a particular incident near the INEC Office in Oguta LGA, it took the intervention of soldiers to apprehend suspected thugs with election materials.
5. Security officials were generally adjudged to have displayed impartiality. However, there were isolated incidents of suspected involvement of security officials in electoral malpractices and in, at least one incident, a security official was arrested alongside a newly elected representative with diverted election materials.
6. In most cases, security officials had arrived at polling units by 8.30am and remained at the duty post till the end of the elections.
7. The pattern of deployment of security officials to polling units was arbitrary. While some polling units had up to 10 security officials, some units had only one security official. There is one reported case of a polling unit in Umuagwo, Ohaji Egbema LGA, where no security official was posted.
8. In some polling units, security officials were hostile toward observers. For instance, in Polling Unit 012, Afara, Mbaitoli LGA, security officials failed to intervene when some party agents manhandled and threatened observers.
9. Heavy presence of security officials was not the determinant of security of the polling units. Some polling units with fewer security officials were considered very safe while some units with heavy security were considered very unsafe. The determinant of security appeared to be the degree of polarization in the community and people’s perception of the integrity of the electoral process. People felt very unsafe in areas, such as Oguta, where elections were delayed due to late arrival or non-arrival of election personnel and materials.
10.INEC’s inadequate logistic preparation was a major threat to security during the elections. Across the four LGAs, election materials did not get to the Polling Units on time and where they did were incomplete. For instance in Mbaitoli LGA, accreditation of voters did not start until noon due to late delivery of materials and voters almost went on rampage but for the intervention of security agents. Similarly, there were complaints across the LGAs that ballot papers brought by INEC officials did not tally with the number of registered voters in the polling units leading to suspicions that some of them might have been diverted for illegal thumb printing. In one dramatic case at polling Unit 17, Ward 4, Okpalla village in Ngor Okpala LGA, voters refused to vote when they were told by the Presiding officer that he would use a ‘Ghana-must-go’ bag in lieu of the absent ballot box. His explanation that the polling clerk forgot to bring the ballot box from the collation centre was not accepted by members of the community who wanted to brutalize him but for the intervention of soldiers.
11. Finally, voters’ lack of confidence in the neutrality of INEC officials in Imo State was palpable and made the task of security agents doubly difficult. In many instances voters were reluctant to give the officials benefit of the doubt on issues, which could have been easily resolved had there been trust and confidence. A typical example of this was the refusal of voters in some polling units in Mbaitoli LGA to accept the new result sheets used in the rerun as genuine because the colour was different from the ones used in the previous elections. Unknown to them this was done by INEC headquarters to forestall falsification of result sheets.
1. Security agencies should ensure that security officials who creditably discharged their duties should be rewarded while those suspected to have played partisan roles are made to face disciplinary action accordingly.
2. There is need for improved communication between headquarters to security officials in the field. Field security officials should be briefed about any developments, especially policy changes that have been introduced after their deployment to the field. Such briefings would minimize to the barest minimum confrontations between security officials and other stakeholders in the electoral process. For instance, the obstruction of election observers with security escorts would have been averted if the authorities had briefed security officials in the field that accredited security officials would accompany some observer teams.
3. Security agencies should, without further delay, parade all persons, including security officials, apprehended for electoral offences. This is to enable the media, civil society and the concerned members of the public to follow the cases. The present silence and non-disclosure is likely to fuel suspicions that the arrested persons have been let off the hook.
4. The security agencies should institute a review of their conduct during the 2011 general elections to document lessons learned for future elections.
5. INEC headquarters should embark on comprehensive review of its performance on logistics in the general elections, with a view to finding out why it could not deliver election materials on time to polling units even in places such as Imo State, which is easy to navigate by road and the longest distance from the state capital being about one hour by road. This is an important complement to securing future elections in Nigeria.
6. Similarly, INEC should also pay serious attention to improving public trust and confidence in its ability to deliver credible elections in Nigeria, especially in the southeast and south-south regions of Nigeria, where lack of trust and confidence in the organization appear to be lowest.
Finally, CLEEN Foundation wishes to thank the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) and INEC for facilitating our election observation exercise.
Innocent Chukwuma-Executive Director