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This letter, dedicated to the security agents in Nigeria, is the fourth in the series of the letters targeted at the relevant critical stakeholders in Nigeria’s electoral process. It will be recalled that we commenced with the letter to politicians.

The series is to be concluded with the letter to the judiciary who are the electoral adjudicators. However, before delving into the fulcrum of our discussion, it is crucial that we expose ourselves to the essence of elections in a democracy and the various roles of security agents. To this end, it is indubitable that elections are the soul of democracy. Without elections, the entire democratic process will definitely come to naught. In this regard, where elections are conducted in an atmosphere that does not ensure openness and fairness of the elections, and every vote does not actually count, the purpose is defeated. A free and fair election can hardly be achieved where the system is corrupt and persons involved in the electoral process have cast upon themselves the untoward task of reducing the election to a mere farcical process. It is not uncommon to see cases where elections have been resorted to for the sole purpose of seeking to legitimize an otherwise illegitimate process of filling political offices.

In this regard, perpetrators bring innumerable vitiating elements into play to ensure that elections are only elections in name. It is on this account that Nigeria has a buoyant, but unenviable, history of failed elections. At the conduct of elections, the effectiveness of manipulative tendencies of politicians come to fore. In Africa, election-related violence has spiraled into conflagrated cyclones that threatened to consume national security. The failure of electoral process is usually attributable to lack of effective election preservation mechanism. Absence of credible supervision and security protection provides the unwholesome platform for the manifestation of malpractices in an election. Outcomes of elections produced in this corrupt electoral context render such elections a mere sham. Where the electoral process is a sham, the resulting purported democracy is equally a sham.

The system of government practised in such a society becomes anything but democracy. As rightly opined by one of the greatest jurists of all time, Lord Denning, “You cannot put something on nothing and expect it to stand. It will collapse.” Thus, our view is that, in such situations, what obtains can but only qualify as civil rule, not democracy. For conceptual clarity, elections go beyond mere voting on the election day and announcement of returns. It is rather a process that comprises all the stages involved in the conduct of elections, starting with the registration of voters to the return of winners after the declaration of results. The above process cannot be achieved in an atmosphere controlled by insecurity and hence security in an electoral process is paramount. Security on the other hand, adopting the ‘Webster Dictionary, is, “freedom from danger or anxiety.” In the context of elections, it implies the insulation of the voters from harm in the course of exercising their franchise. Thus, having a credible election demands that voters must be free from danger, apprehension, harm, disturbance or injury in the exercise of their franchise.

For the purpose of this discourse, therefore, we shall adopt a functional noun phrase of ‘security agent’ to denote, state agents employed to ensure security of the nation and maintain law and order. Broadly speaking, these security agents in question fall into four broad categories, viz: men of the Nigeria Police; men of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps; men of the Armed Forces, comprising the Army, Navy and Air Force; and men of the State Security Service. Although monitoring of elections is basically the responsibility of the officers of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), election observation by other organisations is in the realm of independent entities who move round to ensure compliance with international standards and best practice. Essentially, therefore, security agents would seem to have no active role in the electoral process other than maintenance of security, law and order; ensuring or guaranteeing a conducive atmosphere for the conduct of the elections.

This ought to be the primary responsibility of security agents in the conduct of elections in Nigeria. Regrettably, however, experience has shown over time in our past electoral circles that our security agents surpass this boundary into actual participation in the electoral processes not merely by casting their votes as members of society but in the manipulation of the electoral process. To the politicians, the security agents are part of the electoral rigging infrastructure that must be provided and catered for in the preparation for the elections. They are often vital tools in the manipulation of election outcomes. Apart from being used to coerce the electorate into voting in a particular direction, they are used to terrorise political opponents and potential voters of the opposition during the conduct of elections. In other instances, they actually assist in multiple thumbprinting of ballot papers, alteration of results and carting away of ballot boxes. Instances equally abound of where they provide security cover for political thugs of their patrons. The security agents are also procured to effect the arrest of opposition stalwarts and influencers and detain them throughout the period of the election in order to curtail their influence in favour of their sponsors.

Thus, in maneuvering of electoral outcomes, the security agents’ escapades know no bound. This evil by the security agents is often perpetrated under the guise of securing electoral materials and maintaining law and order. Prior to the latest Electoral Act, the roles of the security agents were not clearly defined in our laws. That explains why advantage is taken of the fluid situation by the security agents to perpetrate all kinds of electoral evils. Military men were deployed to send jitters and fears into the minds of the opposition’s supporters and the electorate, by extension. When voices of dissent were raised against this, the response had always been that the President/Commander-in-Chief of the Armed forces can always deploy them at will, where considered necessary. The point must be quickly made that this ‘terrorism’ by military men in the name of securing election materials also contributes to the apathy experienced in our elections. No member of the electorate is ready and willing to be harassed by these security agents, hence the decision to stay indoors while the election goes on. This gap provides veritable ground for rigging, as multiple voting takes place by way of illegitimate proxy votes.

Ordinarily, by the apportionment of responsibility in Nigeria, it is the police that are responsible for the prevention and detection of crimes; the apprehension of offenders; the protection of life and property etc. In the circumstances, the police inevitably constitute an integral part of the electoral process in Nigeria due to the role expected to be played in the maintenance of peace. Apart from the Nigerian Police, another security agency responsible for the basic maintenance of peace and security is the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, which is a para-military outfit. However, by the Armed Forces Act, the military is meant to be restricted to the defence of external aggression against the country, except where occasionally invited by the President/Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces in aid of the civil authorities.

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