Thursday, 14 April 2011

Preliminary Statement issued by the National Human Rights Commission and the CLEEN Foundation on the Conduct of Security Officials in the National Assembly Election held on April 9, 2011



Background

One of the most important preconditions for free, fair and credible election is the guarantee of security of people and materials involved in the electoral process. Security, in this respect refers to the absence of harm and threat to the personnel of the electoral management body, politicians, electorates and the general public during voter registration, campaigns, primaries, polling, collation and declaration of results and post-election dispute resolution. It also refers to the safety of election materials.

Historically, elections in Nigeria have been characterised by violence due to political intolerance, lapses in the conduct of the elections as well as inadequate, ineffective, partial and generally unprofessional security personnel at the polling units and collation centres. Beside violence, there have also been reports of complicity of security officials in several electoral malpractices, including ballot box snatching and stuffing, disruption of voting and alteration of election results. These security lapses and challenges contributed to the lack of credibility associated with past elections in the country.

The realisation of the significance of security in elections and the enormous powers security agencies exercise prompted the efforts to embark on observation of their conduct during elections. This novel practice started in 2003 when the Police Service Commission (PSC) with technical assistance from the CLEEN Foundation designed a Guideline for the Conduct of Police Officers on Electoral Duty as well as observed and issued reports on police adherence to the guideline in each of the three strands of elections conducted by INEC in 2003.

During the 2007 elections, the Police Service Commission and the National Human Rights Commission also monitored the behaviours of police officers deployed for election duties and issued reports. One of the consistent findings of the 2003 and 2007 was that armed security agencies attached to political office holders were sometimes used to disrupt elections, to aid ballot snatching and stuffing, and to intimidate and scare opponents. Fortunately, this finding has led to the directive by the Nigeria Police Force prohibiting armed security aides from accompanying political office holders to the polling stations during 2011 elections.

However, events in the build up to the April 2011 elections highlighted security as both a weak link in the preparations and a very important ingredient in enhancing the credibility of the elections. These included the spate of bombing of public spaces leading to scores of deaths; maiming and assassination of political aspirants; contradictory directives by INEC and security chiefs on whether voters should stay at the polling stations or go after voting; and the disappointing postponement of the national assembly elections from April 2 to 9 due to logistics problems faced by INEC. The most dramatic being the election eve bombing of INEC office in Suleija, Niger State, which killed and injured a number of youth coppers among other INEC officials. These incidents underscored the need to pay special attention to security and security officials in the elections.

In the on going elections, the National Human Rights Commission, CLEEN Foundation, OSIWA and the UNDP are collaborating to observe the conduct of all security personnel deployed on election duty and not just the police as was the practice in the past. The need to extend the exercise to other security agencies involved in elections is based on the fact that they all play important and complementary role to the police during elections and have become very visible in their functions at polling stations in the fourth republic elections. These agencies include Federal Road Safety Commission, Civil Defence Corp, Immigration Service, Custom Service, Prison Service and the armed forces complement the police in security elections


The functions of security agencies during elections

The Guideline issued by the Police Service Commission Foundation identified six major function areas for the police during elections, which are relevant to all security agencies involved in the electoral process. These are:
1.      Safeguarding the security of lives and property of citizens during campaign and voting, so that citizens will not feel unsafe on account of holding, associating with or expressing a political opinion;
2.      Ensuring the safety of electoral officers before, during and after elections;
3.      Providing security for candidates during campaigns and elections;
4.      Ensuring and preserving a free, fair, safe and lawful atmosphere for campaigning by all parties and candidates without discrimination;
5.      Maintaining peaceful conditions, law and order around the polling and counting centres;
6.      Providing security for electoral officials at voting and counting centres; and ensuring the security of election materials at voting and counting centres and during their transportation thereto. It is the duty of the police to ensure that election materials are not stolen, hijacked, destroyed or fraudulently altered by any group or person.

In carrying out these functions security agents are expected to exhibit the qualities of alertness, approachability, professionalism, impartiality, fairness, restraint in the use of force, prompt communication with superior in event of imminent security threat, adequate knowledge of the electoral law, wearing of identification tag, and collaboration and cooperation with relevant legitimate electoral, security and civil society officials.These were the qualities and factors we paid special attention to in observing the conduct of security officials during the national assembly election of April 9, 2011 across the country.


METHODOLOGY

A total of 370 observers were deployed across the 36 states of Nigeria and Abuja the Federal Capital Territory, at a ratio of 10 observers per state. In each state, seven of the observers were stationed in particular polling stations to observe conduct of security officials from the time they arrived to the end of the elections. The remaining three were roving observers who covered each of the three senatorial districts in a state. However, the selection of polling stations that were observed was based on purposive rather than random sampling methodology, given the volatile nature of the exercise.

The checklists used in the observation consisted largely of close-ended questions to enable generation of quantitative measurement of the findings. However, incident sheets were also provided to enable recording of particular incidents the observers witnessed. The checklist has a total of 26 questions, designed to elicitanswers to questions bordering on punctuality, professionalism, impartiality, politeness and alertness of the security officials in each polling units. Observers were to complete the checklist through observation and interview of randomly selected voters and security officials in each poling unit.

A total of 393 completed questionnaires were returned indicating that 393 polling units across Nigeria were observed during the National Assembly elections. The findings that follow are basedon analysis of the checklists and media reports on the elections. Caution is advised on generalisations based on the findings given the small number of polling stations observed, the preliminary nature of this statement and more importantly the use of convenience rather than classical random sampling methodology in the observation. However, the report provides important insights and analysis that have not been explored elsewhere.

Findings and Recommendations


1.      Punctuality
Observation reports indicated that Security officials arrived 55% of the polling units before 8.00am when polling was supposed to commence. This early turnout was however not nationally representative. The North Central zone recorded the highest percentage of polling units with early arrival of security officials respondents (70%),while the South East had the lowest (31%). Given the general complaints across the country of late arrival of electoral officials to polling units, it would appear that in many cases, security officials arrived earlier than the electoral officials, and correspondingly did not accompany officials to the polls as the electoral regulation stipulated. Observers also reported that security officials stayed at the polling unit until the end of the voting exercise in most polling units. Only 27% of polling units did the security officials leave the unit during the polling exercise. The South-south (42%) and Southeast (31%) zones respectively had the highest number of polling unit where the security officials left the units during the exercise. The most common reasons given for leaving the polling unit was refreshments. However, this is not to suggest that the polling units were unmanned in a large number of cases. In most of polling units (78%) security officials were present at the polling units at all times.

2.      Deployment
Generally, three or more security officials were deployed to the 48% of polling units and 28% of polling unit had at least 2 security officials. Consequently, 48% of polling units were deemed to have adequate security while another 25% were said to have very adequate security. The South-south zone had the highest number of polling units with three and above security officials(67%), while the South East zone had the lowest (38%). Moreover, it was observed that there was inequitable distribution of security officials to polling units as some polling units with equal number of voters had more security officials.The security officials were easily identifiable in 85% of polling units as the officials complied with directives to wear identifiable nametags.

3.      Conduct of the security officials at the polls
Responses from Nigerians across various social strata so far suggest that there is a high level of public satisfaction with security officials in the 2011 National Assembly elections. This was confirmed by the observers’ reports.  Firstly, in 89% of polling units observers felt the security officials were approachable.  This perception was consistent across geo-political zones. Secondly, security officials in most polling units (81%) were considered to be impartial. There was significant variance across geopolitical zones on perception of impartiality as 21% and 19% respectively of South West and North Central polling units were said to have security officials that displayed partiality. It would appear however that this result is not reflective of the varying levels of allegations of collusion by security agents across the country. Complaints appear strongest in the South East and South-south zones. The strong showing of opposition parties in the polls in the North Central and South West zones might explain why there are fewer allegations of partiality by security officials among the politicians in these zones.Thirdly, in most of the polling units (78%) security officials were perceived to have followed instructions of presiding officials. It is hardly surprising therefore that security officials were rated to be of very good conduct in most polling units (79%). In fact, in 70% of poling units security officials who acquitted themselves well were recommended for commendation. The opinions expressed by observers confirmed the feelings of cross sections of Nigerians as reported in the mass media that the security officials performed creditably during the National Assembly polls.

4.      Safety and security of the polling units
One of the criteria for the conduct of free, fair and credible elections is the degree of safety and security at the polling units. Lack of safety and perception of insecurity lead to disenfranchisement as eligible voters tend to stay aware from the polling units and those who turn out to vote are sometimes compelled to vote against their consciences. As earlier indicated, the 2011 elections were conducted against the background of fears of security threats magnified by the claim of some security chiefs that the modified open ballot system, which allowed voters to remain at polling units, was a major security risk. Reports from observers across the country however indicated that these fears were misplaced as most polling units were considered ‘very safe and secure’ (35%) and ‘safe and secure’ (49%). Only 1% felt the polling units was not safe and secure at all.

This strong feeling of security and safety of the polling units is underscored by the fact there were no security threats in 79% of polling units. Among 13% of polling units where there were threats, security officials were adjudged to have handled the threats very well. The security officials did not use force to handle the situations. In fact, among the few polling units where security officials used force, most observers (80%) felt use of force was necessary. The conduct of the police was considered commendable even in cases of use of force as observers felt the force deployed was proportionate to the identified threat.

The likely reason for the minimal use of force at the polls was the fact that the security officials generally complied with the instruction not to carry arms to the polling units. In 74% of polling units security officials were not armed with firearms. However, there was significant variance across geo-political zones with the South-south recording 21% of polling units where security officials were armed with firearms. This is not surprising given the spate of political violence in the region and the allegation by some opposition party elements that security officials attached to the Joint Military Task Force (JTF) in the Niger Delta were deployed for election duty.

5.      Security to collation centres
Experience from previous elections has shown that it is not sufficient to provide security to polling units. The security agencies need to guarantee security of polling materials and safety of electoral officers to collation centres. Against this background, the guideline for security officials to escort polling officials to the collation centres was issued. Moreover, armed security officials were deployed to strategic locations to monitor movements of electoral materials. The reports of observers showed that the system functioned largely well. In majority of the polling units (66%) security officials accompanied the polling officials to collations centres. However, in a considerable proportion of polling units (13%) the security officials did not provide security for transportation of the ballot boxes after the election. Observer reports showed particularly that this regulation was not very well followed in the South East zone. Only in 44% of polling units did security officials provide security for movement to collation centres while the situation was not clear in other polling units. The large number of units where there was no security for movement to collation centres lends credence to the widespread perception that collation of results was the weakest link in the conduct of the 2011 National Assembly elections. The reports of sporadic incidents of snatching and diversion of ballot boxes occurred during the movement to collation centres.

RECOMMENDATIONS

The National Assembly has generally and rightly been adjudged to be substantially free, free and credible. However, election observation conducted by CLEEN revealed a number of lessons especially in the conduct of security officials, that need to be addressed to guarantee the success of the upcoming presidential, gubernatorial and house of assembly elections. 

        I.            Mandate protection
The observation team showed that the modified open ballot system which allowed voters to stay back enhanced the security of the polling unit. The system needs to be reinforced and conflicting statements issued by security chiefs should be streamlined.

     II.            Early deployment
The security agencies should ensure that security officials are deployed early enough as they arrived on time only in 55% of the polling stations observed. While there, they should have enough provision to sustain them throughout the voting exercise.

   III.            Security reinforcement during movement to collation centres
Reports of sporadic snatching of ballot boxes during the movement to collation centres suggests the need for reinforcement by armed escorts during transport of results to collation centres.

  IV.            Redeployment of suspected partial security officials
In cases where security officials played suspected partisan roles such officials should be redeployed and investigated accordingly. There is need for a comprehensive review of the performance of security officials involved in the elections in several South East and South-south states

     V.            Enforcement of Regulations on firearms
The absence of firearms at the polling units enhanced security and more effective management of conflict. This regulation, especially the regulation which prohibits incumbents from coming to the polling units with armed escorts, should be enforced.

  VI.            Timely prosecution of election rule offenders
Early and open trial of suspected violators of election regulations arrested in the last election will help check security breaches and enhanced credibility of the role of the security agencies on elections.

VII.            Post-election reviews
Security agencies should embark on post-election review of security after each election with inputs from independent observers, INEC Monitors and the mass media.



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