The use/abuse of security agents to rig elections in a young democracy

INEC Chairman,  Attahiru Jega
INEC Chairman, Attahiru Jega

By Wale Adedayo


Former Cross River State Governor, Donald Duke, a few years back detailed how elections are often won from ‘The Source’ through pecuniary baits thrown at electoral officials and lateness in meeting the logistics needs of its staff by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). But Duke did not talk about the use of security personnel to ‘legally’ direct the course of an election against what the majority of the electorates would have wanted. Yes, the use of mobile policemen as it was done during the Second Republic by the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) to snatch ballox boxes is no longer fashionable, there exist other subtle means, which took place in Ekiti State recently using the same security agents, especially soldiers and officials of the State Security Service (SSS).


It is my belief that Nigeria’s remains a young democracy, where the institutions of democracy in a developed polity are either weak or non-existent. A developed democracy has independent Judiciary and Security Agencies that are not tied to the apron strings of political office holders. The Civil Society (NGOs, etc) in a developed democracy do not depend on direct or indirect largesse ‘activated’ by political office holders, as they largely depend on dues by members and donations from the public to run their organisations. The mass media in a developed democracy are also independent with journalists properly remunurated as an insurance against being influenced by pecuniary baits from politicians.


Maybe one would not have written this piece if Duke had touched on how the Police, Army or SSS can be used to rig an election without the most discerning critic knowing about it. Afterall, the usual phrase, “preventing electoral violence” would be adopted to justify whatever these security agencies do. But for those involved, it is often very difficult to explain to the uninitiated that it is ‘legally and procedurally’ possible to aid one side in an otherwise ‘transparent’ electoral process with security agents.


Voting on election day should ordinarily be through a voluntary effort by eligible voters. But in a young democracy like ours, experience has shown that the electorate in many places, if not all, get ‘encouraged’ to go out and vote. All the major political parties are involved in the ‘encouragement’ of voters, no matter what their leaders say. These encouragements range from, firm promises (depending on the locality) to money and other physically attractive means of persuasion. Those used for ‘persuasion’ are usually well-respected in their localities and averagely honest. They must/should be persons with means, who will not disappear with the items in their care.


If we start from the almost mundane, which does not involve any gift for persuasion, mobile phone recharge cards are key on election days for any politician worth his/her salt. In the urban and semi-urban centres, mobile phone recharge cards could become scarce on election days because of the need to call persons who may not want to vote. The local coordinator has to keep up the pressure on the phone until the person is sighted by ‘watchers’ strategically located at polling areas to confirm the arrival of such people. Of course, once a key voter wants to vote, it is certain the person will have at least five others who will follow him/her either immediately or later, which is where recharge cards for such a person comes in.

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The rural areas are the most interesting. Money, in different amounts regularly exchange hands, as a ‘catalyst’ to move voters from their homes to the polling units. It is also on such days that last minute promises of appointments, road repairs and provision of other amenities are made before villagers are convinced they should troop out to vote. However, the money involved are usually not much, until recently. During the 2007 and 2011 elections in Ogun State the maximum amount – for a voter, who insists on it – was N1,000. Many often get as low as N100, while others regularly reject it.


After the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) lost the first election that was later cancelled to the Peoples Party of Nigeria (PPN) in Itako area of Ijebu Ife, a meeting with the residents was arranged for me a day to the next election. The mostly female gathering refused ‘offers’ we gave, which people in other places also got. The old women insisted they wanted proper drainage in Itako as their houses are regularly flooded in the rainy season. They did not even took a bottle of coke. But they promised ACN would get their votes the next day if we promised that after the election, the drainage will be done. I did the needful concerning a firm promise in the Ijebu way. We won that adugbo resoundingly.


Engr. Olanihun in Ijebu Imushin also acted to secure Itamarun, Imushin Ward I, votes for the PPN on the day of the gubernatorial election in 2011. Most ACN members and leaders kept away from the polling unit citing the intimidating presence of policemen and soldiers there. They insisted Olanihun had ‘taken care’ of the security agents acting on instructions from ‘above’. And despite a promise not to leave Ijebu Ife that day until the election was over, I reluctantly did following pressures from a leader, Dr. Bankole Osisanya (Banky), who argued ACN might lose the election in our area if one did not intervene. Upon getting there, Olanihun embraced me, and I insisted my people should be free to move in the place. Egbon ‘graciously’ agreed. But the needful, which is not meant for public consumption was done for those involved at their own levels. And, as pointed out earlier, even among the security people, not all of them need a politician’s money.


In my polling unit, Okeliwo/Ibelu, Oke Ife, Ijebu Ife, it was a different story. The PPN coordinator phoned the security agents that there was a fight going on. A Toyota Hilux loaded with soldiers and policemen soon stormed the place with voters running helter-skelter. Meanwhile, there was not a single disturbance. It was just a mischief done by the PPN leader to instigate chaos and in the ensuing melee get his boys to steal our ballot box. The tactic failed. I engaged the soldiers, who had already wounded a resident, and were threatening to shoot. But common sense prevailed and they left. We had to spend the next one hour going from house to house to encourage people to come out and vote as they were scared of being killed. The PPN coordinator did his job, no doubt. If a ‘lesser’ leader had been on ground against him, it would have been another story.

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But the story was a bit different at Ehinkule Ilase polling unit, just by Agbo Oodua in Isapodo, Ijebu Ife. A ‘strong boy’ sent by the local PPN ccordinator awed the scores of people at the polling unit and sought to steal the ballot box. It was the ‘activated’ security agents, who saved the day – but mainly soldiers. The then Secretary to the Ogun State Government, Dr. Gbemi Onakoya, and former Commissioner for Commerce, Engr. Ayinde Awobadejo, were apparently behind the scenes. Even with their arrival, the ‘strong boy’ could neither steal the ballot box nor destroy it. They were contained. These coordinators also did their jobs, using a different tactic, which failed.


The coordinator of a political party could also come in the form of Chief Omoolomo, a former Action Congress (AC) Chairman in Ajebandele Ward of Ijebu East Local Government. Omoolomo ALONE ensured nobody tampered with the ballot ballot of Orita J4 on the day of the 2007 gubernatorial election. The man is well respected for his prowess in traditional matters, despite being a Christian. A bus operated by ‘strong boys’ of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was put in check by the AC chairman, when they vainly sought to snatch the ballot box in the area. The leader of the boys was losing so much water from his body when I arrived at the scene as Omoolomo had done ‘native’ justice to him. We became friends after I joined the ACN in 2010 as he later told me, the boy should have died because the ‘native’ justice has no solution in his Ilaje, Ondo State hometown. The AC leader did his job, no doubt about it. And he was very successful in it apart from the boy that our intervention saved as I had to race to the scene from Ijebu Ife.


Each of the major political parties have key leaders in the local governments and wards of the local governments, who handle these last-minute electoral issues. And, they know themselves because towards an election, it is the house of the key leader in a local government or ward that residents regularly go to for any meaningful assistance. It is also the centre of strategy sessions, for those involved in one. In places where they cannot attack themselves because “Ilu wa ko gbodo baje,” these coordinators meet informally at different levels. But the common denominator for the most successful among this set of people is an ability to forcefully resist ‘Super Glue’ behaviour. They are open-handed to the point of being silly with  money and other necessary assistance. You’ll see them at naming ceremonies and other places doing the needful on behalf of their political parties or principals. They are the ones, who give confidence when locals are arrested by the security agents. They get such people out of detention. Once such coordinators, who are often party leaders, are taken out of circulation by security agents, except a miracle happens, his/her party would have lost the election – because, usually the political party at the Centre in Abuja regularly protects its own. Thus far, it is coordinators of the All Progressives Congress (APC) who get picked up, not those of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which controls the security services from Abuja.

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The reign of impunity among Nigeria’s security agents also throws fear into the heart of citizens, who would otherwise have wanted to vote during an election. Till date, only a pitiful percentage of policemen and soldiers engaged in extra-judicial killings have been convicted in a court of law. The authorities concerned hardly do anything about illegal killings of civilians, thus entrenching a culture of timidity instead of a vibrant populace that should act independently to protect democracy and due process wherever it is being threatened in the country. It is against this background that unnecessary shooting into the air around a town where election is pending in unnecessary unless it is designed to scare voters away from voting. A case in point is that of Osun State, where gun-wielding SSS operatives allegedly were shooting into the air a few days back. It was an unnecessary scare tactics in a young democracy, whose citizens hardly respect law enforcement agents as people who follow due process in what they do.


And in a polity, where it is the political leadership that dictates who to arrest and those to leave alone, a design to cage such coordinators of a political party towards an election has no other goal than to cause the defeat of the party these category of leaders belong to. Outgoing Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi’s election system was dislocated with the massive arrest and intimidation of his coordinators barely 48 hours to the last election in that state. Some were picked up about eight hours to the election in the dead of the night. The message to the electorate, especially those sympathetic to the APC was not lost. Many stayed at home. I am very sure it was a field day for the PDP because there would have been nobody to check any illegality they might have perpetrated. If the arrested APC coordinators, who were released after the election without ANY charge being preferred against them, had been on ground, it is possible more voters would have come out or the level of intimidation reduced.


It is certain that Nigeria has not matured to the level where the leadership of the law enforcement and security services will act without promptings from the political leadership of the country. Being a system, where the political leadership in government do not draw a line between partisan and government issues, it will be difficult to assuage hurt feelings that persons being hounded into detention are indeed those who deserve to be caged. From the First Republic till date, a major feature of the Nigerian democratic experiment has been the use of the security services to intimidate and hound the opposition into silence by those controlling the levers of power at the centre. There is need to beam some searchlight in this area as well, because if the coordinators of the ruling party at the centre are left alone and those of others arrested, it calls to question the fairness of such an election being conducted by a Federal Government agency. It is very important those who do not understand our flawed political/democratic process in Nigeria put measures in place to ensure the Ekiti State experience is not repeated in Osun State on Saturday.


Just my two cents.

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