As the March 18, 2023, Gubernatorial and State Assembly elections approach, the Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre (RULAAC) is worried about feelers and indications that the elections may be marred by more violence, more brazenly manipulated and compromised than the previous highly disputed February 25, 2023, Presidential and National Assembly elections.
These fears stem from the experiences from February 25, 2023, Presidential Election where security agents, especially police officers on election duty, did nothing - in most cases - to prevent the commission of electoral crimes including threats, intimidation and attempts by political bandits to force voters to vote for a particular political party or candidate - against their will-, attacks on voters and election officials (including the abduction of some election officials), ballot box snatching, vote suppression, disruption of poll and destruction of electoral materials.
Although police claimed that they made some arrests after the elections, it is not clear what they did with those they claimed to have arrested, as of the date.
In the run-up to the March 18 governorship and state assembly elections, there have been renewed threats with fresh videos threatening violence against voters who may come out to vote for candidates not favoured by those issuing the threat. This is more prevalent in Lagos.
We are not aware of any arrests made or efforts to rein in electoral hooliganism.
Because no action was taken against political bandits and compromised security agents who were involved in electoral banditry during the past Presidential elections, the perpetrators and others are likely to be emboldened to engage in even more audacious acts of violence which may alter the outcome of the elections and increase the tension and instability in the country.
There is sufficient basis to fear about the willingness and commitment by the police - which is the lead security agency for election security - to maintain neutrality, integrity and professionalism, and to provide equal security to all without bias or partisan allegiance. The police need to support the electoral process and democracy by staying out of politics.
The morale of police officers deployed for election duty is low and not a few of them are grumbling over the alleged non-payment of their arrears of salaries and election duty allowances. This will, no doubt, affect their morale and performance and influence their actions during elections.
RULAAC calls on the Police leadership to sound a note of warning to all the State Commissioners of Police to resist the temptation to become puppets to state governors of their various state commands. They must not see themselves as agents or tools for the state governors to be used to harass or intimidate opposition political parties or candidates. They must remain neutral and ensure that all personnel under them also remain and act with neutrality, integrity and professionalism.
Security is the most essential condition for free, fair, peaceful and credible elections.
We call on Commissioners of Police, especially in particular states of high stakes such as Lagos, Imo, Enugu and Rivers to commit themselves to ensure their neutrality and the neutrality and professionalism of their personnel in line with the provisions of the 'Standard Operational Guidelines/Rules for Police Officers and other Law Enforcement Agents on Election Security Duties' adopted by the leadership of the NPF and other security agencies.