In developing countries, a major challenge of democracy which election management bodies, EMBs, have to confront is the conduct of secure and violence-free elections. The factors accounting for this include: One, the wider insecurity which may have implications for the electoral process and the tendency of the causal social forces to exploit political processes for pursuit of their in interests. Two, the dependency of EMBs on security agencies to provide adequate security during elections whereby such agencies may be overstretched, particularly in large country like Nigeria with 155,000 voting points and 9,000 collation centres; and three, low knowledge of electoral personnel about security issues like crowd management, dealing with suspicious persons, risk management, recognition of IEDs etc.
In this regard, Nigeria is by no way an exception. Hence, ahead of the country’s general elections, slated for February 14 and 28, security tension has become heightened, particularly, as the elections are coming amid grave, devastating and unprecedented security challenge, mainly constituted by Boko Haram terrorist organisation.
Incidentally, two closely-matched candidates – General Muhammadu Buhari of the opposition All Progressives Congress, APC, and President Goodluck Jonathan of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP – evince confidence in popularity and credentials for victory, with the former appearing to believe only fraudulent means can cost him electoral success. Consequently, and indeed worsening the situation, the build-up to the elections has already been characterised by provocative utterances by leading political actors and cases of violent attacks by supporters of both main parties.
The knowledge of this grim reality is obviously not lost on the Independent National Electoral Commission, Nigeria’s statutory body saddled with the responsibility conducting elections. Therefore, expectedly, Attahiru Jega, a Professor of Political Science, the Chairman of INEC, unveiled the mechanisms the Commission is putting in place for election security and violence free elections at the launch of Mitigation of Violence in Election (MOVE) Project by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, IFES, at Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja, on Friday, January 23.
The pivotal strategy of the Commission is the establishment of the Interagency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES) and a Standing Committee of the Commission on Security, with overall task of improving the management election security. This, as presented by Professor Jega, has led to an integrated mechanism, currently being implemented to ensure secure and violence free elections in February elections.
The integrated mechanism has three basic components namely:
· Planning and Implementation, carried out through ICCES;
· Knowledge and Training, undertaken by INEC’s Electoral Institute; and
· Monitoring and Implementation, using the International IDEA’S Election Risk Management Tool.
In the course of the elections, these are coordinated through the INEC Situation Room at Headquarters in Abuja and Election Support Centres at State offices nationwide. These bodies are run by the Chairman, Commissioners and Directors to ensure rapid intervention when cases are reported. The Situation and Election Support Centres are to work in constant touch with the security agencies to aid effective and proactive measures in the event cases are reported.
The Planning and Implementation component of the INEC mechanism is the central work of the Interagency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES) set up in 2011to serve as the collective framework for security agencies and INEC to secure the electoral process. ICCES comprises INEC, the Police Force, Armed Forces, State Security Service, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), National Drug Law and Enforcement Agency, National Youth Service Corps, National Intelligence Agency, Nigeria Prisons, Nigeria Customs Service and Nigeria Immigration Service. Core of its functions includes coordination and design of election security plans and assessment of security threats across the country.
The INEC Electoral Institute (TEI), in collaboration with CLEEN Foundation and other development partners and agencies, is saddled with the responsibility of providing knowledge and training programmes on diverse aspects of election administration, security and risk management. Also, through TEI, INEC will develop and implement a Basic Security in Election Duty (BaSED) training programme for INEC field officers to equip them with an understanding of key security procedures and practical strategies to ensure their safety in the field.
The third component, Monitoring and Reporting, is being driven by the implementation of Election Risk Management (ERM) tool, devised to help build INEC’s capacity to understand, analyse, prevent and mitigate outbreaks of election-related violence. Following its pilot implementation in Osun governorship election, the tool has been used to track and map some of the factors and indicators of election risk. For instance, with the ERM tool, there have been three emerging results concerning risk that can emerge from complaints related to PVCs distribution exercise and party primaries. Hopefully, the Commission will take pre-emptive measures in these regards.
The INEC mechanism analysed above, with which the Commission pursues the task of secure and violence free elections reflects a great deal of knowledge and expertise deployed in the election management and security. Although, pilot implementations of these components have been made and INEC has consistently shown its preparedness for credible and peaceful polls, it is important to stress the Nigerian existential realities place the task of conducting free, fair and violence-free elections in the hands of all stakeholders, including the political parties and their candidates, electorate and the security agencies.
Echoing Professor Attahiru Jega, INEC Chairman, there can be no perfect preparations and outcomes, unless the dramatis personae in the electoral process are committed to supporting the Commission to achieve the goal. For a fact, Nigeria is characterised by multiplicity of cleavages, mobilisation of which is the dominant pattern of political conduct. But as Jega said: “Certainly there are certain national issues that should be above politics and on which the political elite must pursue consensus. The conduct of secure and violence-free elections must be high among these national issues.” Nigerians across the bridges – of religion, ethnicity, class and political parties – must therefore rise in consensus to reject electoral violence.
INEC should also explore the option of extensive anti-electoral violence campaign to the grassroots, where the most potential recruits for political violence live. It should involve relevant Non-Governmental Organisations and citizens of goodwill in various communities to drive this campaign, while also embarking on public orienation amd sensitization programmes across the country. These programmes should target youth, students, artisans other members of the public.
Adebayo Taiwo Hassan is a journalist with Premium Times.