Despite the vital place that election holds in democracy in this 21st century, the organization of free and fair elections remains a real challenge for new democracies in West Africa, particularly Nigeria (Reynolds, 2009; Hounkpe & Gueye, 2010). The political process leading to democratic governance has been misconstrued by the majority of Nigerians as an opportunity to better one’s livelihood and consequently, politics is seen as the gateway to paradise on earth (National Human Rights Commission, 2007; Omotola, 2010). On the downside, this lifestyle built on the looting of taxpayer’s funds has turned the quest for elective office into a very dangerous business. Politics today is the cause of a great number of deaths in Nigeria through the acts of violence, thuggery, political assassinations, and crimes that are linked with the quest for power. In the course of all this, many criminal offenses are committed. Security personnel is often mobilized to harass or intimidate political opponents and voters or take sides in undermining free, fair, and credible ballot.
The 1999-2019 elections in the Fourth Republic of Nigeria’s democracy were not free from the activities of thugs, ballot box snatchers, armed robbers, kidnappers, assassins, confusions, arsonists, who often have a field day during these elections ( Bekoe, 2011, National Democratic Institute, 2012 ). Election malpractices and violence have thus become a recurring decimal in Nigeria’s political history and constitute enormous concern to the survival of Nigeria’s democracy (INEC, 2011). Of interest, however, is the role of security personnel in aiding and abetting election malpractices in the country. Assessment of electoral security in Nigeria’s democracy particularly since the beginning of the Fourth Republic in 1999, indicates that the public is wary of the security personnel made up of the army officers, Nigeria Police, Civil Defense Corps, and State Security Service who have turned into small gods aiding and abetting electoral irregularities in the country (National Democratic Institute, 2012). Their authority, power, and access to firearms have on many occasions been used to intimidate the population and in extreme situations, reacted violently to constitutionally protected rights and activities such as opposition campaigns or rallies (Alemika, 2003). In the past electoral process in Nigeria’s Fourth Republic—the 1999-2019 general elections—these security agencies have been very lethal and overly forceful in disbanding legally constituted gatherings and engaged in running battles with the civil society and opposition curtailing them to exercise their constitutional right to demonstration, assembly, and balloting (INEC, 2011, Jega, 2012).
Section 214 of the 1999 Constitution lays down the functions of the Nigeria Police to include protection of life and property, preservation of law and order, prevention and detection of crime (Nigeria’s Constitution, 1999). Accordingly, the main role of the Police during an election is to protect life and property, to preserve electoral law, to prevent and detect electoral crime, to maintain order, and to create, by means of effective policing, a favourable climate in which a democratic election can take place. The poor skills and irrationality by which the police perform this function have however often led to the loss of life, injuries, and destruction of property as the police conduct has always catalyzed instead of diluting chaos (Hounkpe & Gueye, 2010). The systematic and reciprocal suspicion by the citizens towards the Police seriously complicates the involvement of the Nigeria Police in the electoral process. They are perceived by all key stakeholders in the process as biased in favour of those in power. This atmosphere makes engagement between the police and indeed the entire security forces in the country and the majority of stakeholders potentially explosive. From the foregoing, therefore, it can be argued that the success or failure of any election or electoral processes in Nigeria depends largely on the conduct of the Nigeria Security Agencies especially the Police and its officers on Election duties.
The election has been recognized as one of the salient determinants of the quality of democratic government. Elections in Nigeria however continue to suffer wanton abuses and gross violation of its sanctity. While it has been argued that the roles of security agencies are very critical to the success of election as credible election requires among others high degree of neutrality, alertness, and commitment of security personnel to maintaining law and order, ensuring the security of voters, candidates, and election materials, the Nigerian Police is however not effective in carrying out the function of ensuring the security of voters, candidates and election materials and peaceful elections as they are found to continuously show non-challant attitudes to stealing of ballot boxes and papers during elections in the country. In the 2011 general elections especially in Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe state general elections, they were not neutral and vigilant but showed open support for candidates and connived with and aided party thugs and gangsters in their nefarious act of rigging, victimization, and intimidation of political opponents during the election in the state. Because of their authority, power, and access to firearms, the Nigerian Police can intimidate and have on occasion intimidated the population. In extreme situations, they react violently to constitutionally protected rights and activities such as opposition campaigns or rallies. The findings of this study reveal that it is how security officers in Nigeria perform their roles of electoral security that needs attention and not the issue of whether these roles are being executed. There is no doubt about the fact that security agencies have great roles to play in electoral security in Nigeria, however, attention must be given to the way in which these roles are being executed by the security agencies especially the Nigeria Police. The Nigerian government has been making frantic efforts at reforming the country’s electoral process, we, however, argue that any electoral reforms that exclude reformation of the security agencies is an incomplete exercise.
Furthermore, effective collaboration among the various security agencies and with the INEC in the country and the way they manage confidential information and security reports is critical to election success in Nigeria.
The security agencies are responsible for the general maintenance of law and order. They are expected to ensure security during voters’ registration, party congresses and conventions, political campaigns/meetings and rallies, voting and post-election events such as election tribunals, and crises that may be the fallout of elections. These are roles that traditionally belong to the police, but popular vigilance is inevitable for these functions to be carried out. Special training, orientation programs prior to elections should be conducted to sensitize the various security agencies on their roles in elections. This should be done to improve the role of the police during elections. Security officers redeployed specifically for electoral responsibilities should be remunerated. This remuneration should be in the form of an electoral allowance for the security officers paid differently from their normal salaries. This reward should be handsome enough to enable them to stand their grand against being bribed by desperate politicians. The role of the security agencies in the electoral process is very crucial. However, there is no provision of such in the Nigeria Electoral Act of 2006 as amended in 2010. Although the 1999 Constitution and Nigeria Police Act elaborate the general functions of the Police, there is a need for specific details of the role of the Nigerian police and other security agencies in relation to the election. Therefore, the functions of the various security agencies during elections should be specified in the Nigeria Electoral Act.
While local and international monitoring groups have been very keen at reporting cases of electoral misconduct in Nigeria, often, the activities of the security agencies are not covered. Legislation that will enable them to monitor the activities of the various security agencies during elections should be enacted. Civic vigilance is necessary during elections. If the police engage in compromising roles, people around should alert the media who should then investigate such story and findings should be tendered at election tribunals if relevant as evidence. Police authorities should instantly punish their personnel involved in such electoral misconduct. To mitigate violence in elections, there is a need for adequate security planning between the election management body (INEC), police, and other security agencies involved in the elections. Civil society organizations and the National Orientation Agency should embark on early civic education while political parties should educate their supporters on proper conduct all through the electioneering period.