Let us pray that by September 28, 2016, the security agents should be able to tell Nigerians that the insurgents and terrorists who were about to descend on Edo state, have all retreated back to their habitats in Sambissa forest, Borno State, Falgore or Gomo forests in Kano, or perhaps, the Bauchi forest, in Bauchi State.
Since the advent of democracy in 1999, several things, many of them quite unbelievable, have happened in the country. For instance, election in Nigeria has largely become a do or die affair in which innocent blood is shed with reckless abandon. And this may not change any time soon.
Added to this is the fact that Nigeria is a nation of many possibilities; nothing really is impossible in the country. Those who have followed the history of Nigeria right from independence in 1960, will attest to this assertion.
So, it was not too strange last Thursday when the nation was gripped with anxiety over the possibility that the Edo gubernatorial election which had been fixed for Saturday, September 10, 2016, could be postponed. Unfortunately, this hint was dropped, not by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), which is statutorily mandated to preside over all electoral matters in the country, but by the Police and the Department of State Services (DSS).
When the possibility of a postponement first hit the headlines, people started talking in hushed tones all over the place with INEC re-affirming the date for the election. The police and the DSS responded with outright blackmail. They simply told INEC that their officers and men will not be available to provide security if INEC will go ahead with the election. That boxed INEC into a tight corner.
At this juncture, the electoral umpire had no option than to swallow its pride, thereby leading to the shifting of the election less than seven hours after it had affirmed its readiness to proceed with it. That was how the preparation for the election, which had reached its peak with President Muhammadu Buhari and other chieftains of the All Progressives Congress (APC) leading a colourful campaign in Benin to drum support for their candidate on Tuesday, September 6, 2016, about 48 hours before the proposed election, came to an abrupt, dead end.
While the debate to hold or postpone the election was raging, I knew right from the onset that there was practically nothing INEC could do to assert its independence in the circumstances it found itself. I came to that conclusion because I have seen a lot of mischief at play in the operations of some security agencies particularly in this country and even abroad. Outside the country, it takes a discerning mind to actually get to know this, but in Nigeria, it happens almost every day.
Here is an example of the sort of mischief sometimes played by our security agents in Nigeria. Years ago, some protesters, armed with placards and drums, had made their way into a government secretariat somewhere in the South-West, where the governor’s office was also located. The protesters were protesting over an alleged government interference. That day, I was having audience with the commander of the strike force in the state with his operational headquarters within the secretariat complex.
The security agents tried as much as they could to prevent the protesters from getting too close to the governor’s office. When they saw that the protesters were hell bent on encroaching further, their commander devised an ingenious method to dispatch the protesters. Pronto, one of the security agents, removed his uniform and put on a kaftan and with a stick in hand, he mingled with the protesters for a few minutes. Next, the disguised security agent used his big stick to hit one of the protesters on the head. This was predictably followed by commotion.
In the case of the postponed election in Edo, the rumour mill is agog with stories of behind-the-scene moves by gladiators in the election to perfect their rigging plans. That was why the security agents who have nothing to do with the conduct of the election aside providing security, went out of their way to order a postponement of the election.
In the ensuing melee, the other security agents swooped on the protesters with an alibi: “you can see now, they have started fighting”. As an eyewitness, I knew it was the security agents who simulated the attack and turned round to blame the protesters for turning violent in their protest. It was a decoy to make arrests and drive the protesters out of the complex. That is the extent of mischief our security agents are capable of causing in order to have their way. I can go on and on, but let us leave it there for now.
From the above narration, it was wise for INEC to have succumbed to the blackmail mounted against it by the security agents. If it had not done so, who knows, anything could have happened and INEC could have been worse off.
Down memory lane, the concocted security scare that eventually led to the last minute postponement of the election in Edo State, falls within a similar but nauseating pattern that was pioneered by Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd), the former National Security Adviser (NSA), now languishing in detention in Abuja over allegations of financial impropriety. Barely two weeks to the presidential election in February last year, Dasuki had caused the election to be postponed by four weeks. In his own case, Dasuki did not drop any hint of postponement in Nigeria, he did it at Chatham House, in faraway London.
The same reason Dasuki gave for his call for postponement of the presidential election was what the security agents gave as their reason for the postponement of the Edo election. But with recent revelations, it has become distinctively clear that the period of that ill-advised postponement of election in 2015 was solely devoted to things that were at variance with the security of lives and property.
In the case of the postponed election in Edo, the rumour mill is agog with stories of behind-the-scene moves by gladiators in the election to perfect their rigging plans. That was why the security agents who have nothing to do with the conduct of the election aside providing security, went out of their way to order a postponement of the election. It is like a landlord organising an important business dinner for his associates in his house, only for the guests to be turned back at the gate by the maiguard with a terse statement: “Oga has cancelled the dinner”. If Oga, had indeed, cancelled the dinner, is the maiguard the appropriate person to break the news to the distinguished guests?
Regrettably, what the unfortunate scare tactic put forward by the security agents has done is to rubbish the image of the entire national security apparatus in the country as meddlesome interlopers. It has also raised a fundamental question about the competence and professionalism of the leadership of our security agencies, especially the police and the DSS, in this circumstance. This is not to talk about the extra cost of the postponement to the tax payers at a time the country is reeling under the heavy yoke of economic recession.
The point is, the police and the DSS said they had information that insurgents and terrorists were preparing to wreak havoc during the election in Edo. Although no one else is privy to such information, but such a sensitive issue, if any at all, could have been discussed at a closed-door meeting with the hierarchy of INEC, before it hit the airwaves. But it seems the security agents were too desperate and in a blind hurry to truncate the election by all means, which was why they threw decency and protocol to the dogs.
For now, the whole country is still waiting to see the faces of some of those “imaginary” insurgents and terrorists that so scared the police and DSS leadership as to stampede them into rail-roading INEC to postpone the election. In the alternative, let us pray that by September 28, 2016, the security agents would be able to tell Nigerians that the insurgents and terrorists who were about to descend on Edo state, have all retreated back to their habitats in Sambisa forest, Borno State, Falgore or Gomo forests in Kano, or perhaps, the Bauchi forest, in Bauchi State. Perhaps, then we shall congratulate them for a job well done!
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