Council of State okays plan for elections as worries mount

2011-03-30
THE GUARDIAN Newspaper

NIGERIA’S highest advisory body, the National Council of State, met yesterday with the issue of security before and during the April elections dominating the talks.

The National Security Adviser (NSA), Gen. Andrew Owoye Azazi and Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Attahiru Jega, briefed the members on the security and logistics preparations for the elections, which begin on Saturday.

The Council resolved to deploy the military, paramilitary, police and other security agencies in the states in order to guarantee security during the polls. But while the military would be deployed to guarantee security outside the voting areas, the police and other security agencies will provide security within the parameters of the voting areas.

At a parley with the Nigeria Police over security arrangement for the elections yesterday in Abuja, political parties faulted the security arrangement for the polls.

Through their representatives, the parties said the number of policemen for the polls should be increased to give voters some sense of security.

Governor of Kwara State, Bukola Saraki and his Anambra and Gombe states’ counterparts, Peter Obi and Danjuma Goje, told journalists after the meeting that all members of the Council pledged “our commitment to a free and fair election and to abhor violence.”

The Council, Saraki said, frowned at the use of ethnicity and religion as bases for canvassing for votes from the electorate by political parties’ candidates.

The NCS, chaired by President Goodluck Jonathan, comprises of Vice President, Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Chief Justice of the Federation and former Chief Justices of the Federation, State Governors, Attorney- General of the Federation and former Presidents and Heads of State.

At yesterday’s meeting, only former military leader, Gen Ibrahim Babangida, was absent among the nation’s former leaders.

Inspector-General of Police, Hafiz Ringim, told journalists after the meeting that towards violence-free elections, deployments of military, police, paramilitary and other security agencies would start from 48 hours to the elections date.

Ringim said: “Forty-eight hours or more before the elections, there would be increased deployment of mobile policemen, conventional policemen, and other law enforcement agencies as well as the military. This is with a view to ensuring that no chances or opportunities are allowed for thugs, rogues and vagabonds to disrupt the exercise. Apart from this deployment, at the polling unit, there shall be police and other law enforcement agencies whose duty it is to ensure proper conduct of electorate and voters as well as security of election materials as well as INEC officials.

“Second, there shall be patrol in and around all voting areas by armed policemen as well as armed military officers. The fact remains that this country as well as the law enforcement agents representing this country are determined and will not allow any act by political thugs to disrupt the conduct of the elections.

“We shall see to the prosecution of this exercise as determined by the just-concluded meeting chaired by Mr. President. We have also done all the proper deployment of logistics and proper funding of the men that would be used for these exercises.

“For the avoidance of doubt, I want to make it clear that anybody within the vicinity of this election process that is found to be doing any act or behaving in any manner inimical to the peaceful conduct of this election shall be arrested and shall be prosecuted. The much talked about distances or that people would be allowed to stay or not, they would be allowed to stay there as long as they conduct themselves peacefully. Anybody that is found to be in a position to threaten the conduct of the election shall be arrested and prosecuted.”

Jega stated that INEC is “now well-prepared and well-positioned to conduct elections which will go a long way to satisfy the aspirations of Nigerians for free and fair elections. We have prepared adequately in terms of logistics, in terms of the training of our members of staff and in term of effective liaison with security agencies in order to provide security before, during and after the elections.

“There is a lot that have been put into this exercise and we plead for the support of all Nigerians to make the elections free and credible and to also make them non-violent. We preach peace and we want to work towards peace and to ensure there is no ugly incident on election day. I am very pleased that one of the key issues at the Council of State today (yesterday) was the commitment of all stakeholders to promote peace and to ensure that voters are adequately educated. And the security agencies are, of course, adequately and sufficiently mobilised to also ensure there is security cover for both INEC personnel and materials and those who have come out to exercise their franchise.”

The National Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Abubakar Kawu Baraje, called for increase in the number of security agencies that would be posted to polling units.

He suggested that there should be at least five securitymen instead of the two announced by Ringim at a polling booth.

“Police said they are going to coop other security agencies to maintain law and order during elections, but what I am saying is the possibility of bringing one, each from these agencies and at the end of the day you will have five in a polling station. And none of them would be armed, how do you guaranteed that there will not be exchange of hot words, which may degenerate into violence. We are thinking that the police should increase the number of officers at the booths. Maybe if we have three mobile policemen with two regulars and other security agencies, they will be adequate to overcome any trouble,’’ he said.

The Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) representative, Buba Galadima, said if the party’s presidential flagbearer, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, does not poll up 80 per cent of the total votes, then the election would be deemed to have been rigged. He expressed the readiness of the party to go to court in the event of any rigging.

However, Ringim, represented by Deputy Inspector-General of Police (DIG) for Operations, Audu Abubakar, assured all stakeholders that the police would guarantee maximum security.

 

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