Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Preliminary Statement by CLEEN Foundation on the Conduct of Security Officials during the Bayelsa State Gubernatorial Election held on Saturday, 11 February 2012



INTRODUCTION


In its traditional style under every election in Nigeria, CLEEN Foundation has once again during the Bayelsa gubernatorial election of Saturday 11 February, 2012 focussed attention on election security with a view to enhancing the effectiveness and accountability of security personnel on election duty especially members of the Nigeria Police. In this connection, prior to the said Bayelsa election, CLEEN Foundation in collaboration with the Justice for All Programme (J4A) of the DFID facilitated a one day intensive training for all Divisional Police Officers in the State. The training centred on duties and acceptable standards of behaviour expected of security officials during election as stipulated under the electoral legal and regulatory frameworks. It was expected that the DPOs would step down the training to their men who would be deployed for election duties.

CLEEN Foundation also recruited, trained and mobilised a team of election observers to observe the conduct of the security personnel in order to measure their effectiveness and adherence to the benchmarks of acceptable behaviour. Furthermore, CLEEN foundation published in two national dailies a summarised version of the Police Service Commission’s Guidelines for the Conduct of Security Personnel on Election Duty with the aim of co-opting the general public in this all important exercise of ensuring effective and accountable policing of elections.  The publication provided the public with hot-lines for complaints, reports and comments on the conduct of the security officers, the security situations and the election proceedings in general. This interim report therefore presents our findings during the just concluded gubernatorial election in Bayelsa State.

BACKGROUND

Governorship election did not hold in Bayelsa State during the April, 2011 general elections owing to the Court of Appeal decision, which held that the tenure of former Governor Timipre Sylva would not expire in May, 2011. Following appeal to the Supreme Court by INEC against the aforesaid decision, the nation’s apex Court overruled the Court of Appeal and held that the tenure of Governor Sylva and his counterparts in four other States indeed expired on the 28th of May, 2011. This landmark decision occasioned the immediate vacation of former Governor Sylva from office and swearing in of the then Speaker of the State House Assembly, Hon. Nestor Binabo, as Acting Governor.

The legal tussle and political manoeuvrings that preceded the election created an ominous atmosphere of insecurity in Bayelsa State, and these against the backdrop of other security peculiarities of the State foisted a sense of tension that interrogated the possibility of a peaceful, free and fair election. The undiminished status of ex-militants with their continuing access to weapons, the predominantly riverine geographical space of the State with its transportation problems, high rate of unemployment, and the high stakes involved in controlling the huge fiscal resources of the State government are amongst the fundamental security challenges that dogged the conduct of the governorship election.

OBSERVATIONS

There was heavy presence of security personnel on the streets of the State capital, Yenagoa, with several ‘stop and search’ road blocks at strategic locations restricting unauthorised vehicular movements while scrutinizing every authorised road user to prevent any threat to the security of the election.

The arrival of President Goodluck Jonathan to his native Otuoke town in Ogbia Local Government to exercise his franchise occasioned a beehive of activities in the community, with significant presence of presidential entourage, crowd of supporters and admirers, pressmen, and a huge body of security personnel comprising of SSS, Army and Mobile Policemen with full accoutrement of sophisticated arms and ammunition.

Most of the polling stations observed had at least one security personnel. The pattern of deployment of officers generally followed that of previous elections with more officers in polling units in the city than those in the rural areas. However, there were instances of high concentration of security officers in some rural areas than in the metropolis. This was noticed in Igbeneiri Open Space 008 in Gbarii 1 and in the 7 wards of Bassambiri. It should also be noted that some other polling stations had no police presence, like in Jane Compound 020 in Brass LGA, Ikensi Town Square 001, Seleogono School Building 020, and Biokponga Town Square 017, all in Nembe LGA. Some pooling units without visible security officers had men of the SSS ensuring security. This was noticed in Emeyal1 Obenewa 002 in Ogbia LGA.

Across Yenagua Local Government Area most security personnel arrived the polling centres by 8am with the INEC staff and the materials, and accreditation of voters commenced between 8: 30 -9:00 am. However, the same could not be said of other Local Government Areas. In Ogbia LGA for instance, as at 9:30am when our observers arrived at Imiringi Town Hall INEC ad-hoc staff (NYSC members) were seen still sorting out and collecting election materials for their respective polling stations. There were five policemen at this collation centre effectively guarding the materials and process. Also at Community Town Hall, Otuoke NYSC members on election duty were seen still collecting election materials as at 10:20am.

The high armed military and mobile police presence along the streets of Yenagua and some LGAs increased peoples’ fear of insecurity and caused many people to stay at home without voting. A low voters’ turn out was generally noticed. This was noticed in Igbeneiri Open Space 008 in Gbarii 1, with several armed military men standing at various locations throughout the community. We observed that the presence of the armed military men was to maintain peace and security that came to a near break down in the early hours of the day.

In Yenada Market Square 011, Epie III, Yenagoa LGA although accreditation started at 8am, most of the registered voters came after 12noon when voting had started. They insisted on being accredited and allowed to vote since they had to trek long distances to come to the polling Station; and when it became obvious that they would foment serious trouble in spite of the presence of two Policemen and three Civil Defence agents, the presiding officer accredited them and allowed them to vote.

Two election observers heading to Kana Town Hall Sagbagma LGA were asked to jump into the sea by unidentified political thugs as the Kana community was not in need of any external observer. After serious begging and the intervention of other passengers, the checklist and other observation materials were ceased and thrown into the sea, while the observers were asked to return to their homes.

Discrepancies were noticed in the manner in which ad hoc INEC Staff managed procedural irregularities and possible conflict situations. For instance, in unit 15 in ward 3 at the Fakulu Primary School in the Epie Community in Yenagoa LGA and Yanada Market square 011 Epie 111 accreditation continued even after 12:00 due to pressure from the masses that could not be contained by the police.

Security officials posted to polling centres were generally unarmed. Minimal use of force was also recorded across the state. At Torofini Water Side, it was reported that a number of heavily armed youths invaded the polling station and snatched the ballot box. The police and other security agent acted swiftly in safeguarding the lives of the electorate and INEC officials without registering any casualty.

In most cases, security operatives were observed to have conducted themselves professionally, applied proportional force only when necessary, acted impartially, were approachable, alert and also wore easily identifiable tags.



RECOMMENDATIONS

Training of security officers for electoral duty should be intensified to ensure that they are sufficiently at home with their duties during elections and internalise the Guidelines on the Conduct of Security Personnel on Electoral Duties.

INEC should properly train and brief ad-hoc staff to avoid procedural hiccups that often lead to confusions with potentials for creating tension and possible break down of law and order.

Adequate logistics should always be made available for the movement of security officers to their polling stations especially those deployed to difficult terrains such as riverine areas. This should include accommodation for officers deployed, and dedicated speed boats and vehicles. In addition, provision should be made for feeding of police officers on election duty.

Security men should ensure the safety of voters and election observers/monitors who have to travel through difficult terrains to get to their polling stations of assignment such as those who have to travel by boat.

INEC should ahead of the elections make adequate arrangements for early and secure transportation of election materials and personnel. Resources should be made available for INEC to procure its own speed boats rather depending on commercial operators, state and local government boats.

Strategic deployment of security agencies should be made to identified hotspots.  However, in order to avoid clashes between security agencies and ex-militants and cultists, government and opinion leaders and traditional rulers should reach out to ex-militants, members of cult groups and members of Bayelsa Volunteers to desist from interfering with the electoral process.

Civil society, the media and political parties should prior to every election embark strategic non-violence sensitization programmes especially targeting youths.

We congratulate INEC, the Nigeria Police Force, other security agencies and the people of Bayelsa State for the peaceful conduct of the elections. We also thank the Justice for All (J4A) programme of the UK Government’s Department for International Development (DfID) for its generous support towards the observation of this election.

The CLEEN Foundation is a non-governmental organization established in 1998 and registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), to promote public safety security and accessible justice. CLEEN Foundation is a member of several networks across the world and also has observer status with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

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