Osun: X-raying Kukah’s peace committee and ‘militarisation’ of electoral environment

All is set for the off-cycle gubernatorial election in Osun State slated for Saturday, July 16, 2022.

Part of this preparedness is what many see as ‘militarisation’ of the electoral environment reflected in an unwieldy deployment of security operatives in the state.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has been preparing for the exercise for a very long time.

The highest echelon of the Nigeria Police has also deployed thousands of personnel, apart from the battery of other security personnel from other security agencies.

Inspector-General of Police, Baba Alkali, on Tuesday, said about 21,000 operatives would be deployed for the exercise.

“We shall be deploying a total of 21,000 police personnel for the exercise of the Osun elections as part of the election security plan. All three senatorial districts, 332 wards, and polling units have been appropriately mapped out and put for the deployment of adequate personnel who will be on the ground to maintain peace and order before, during, and after the election.

“The police will be deployed to protect the facilities of INEC and its personnel. This deployment is not meant to intimidate any law-abiding citizen, rather it is to deter misguided elements that may threaten the conduct of the election and violate the Electoral Act. It also serves as a strong warning that government is determined to protect the citizens,” the IGP said.

Apart from the INEC and security agencies, there are also other stakeholders who have already stationed themselves or their representatives in Osogbo, the state capital, to ensure a hitch-free exercise.

There are the representatives of all shades of election monitoring teams (local and foreign observer-groups) and those of the National Peace Committee founded by Matthew Hassan Kukah, bishop of Catholic Diocese of Sokoto and chaired by Abdulsalami Abubakar, a former head of state.

Candidates of thirteen (13) out of the eighteen (18) political parties taking part in the election signed a peace accord on Wednesday. It was supervised by The Kukah Foundation.

Over the years, the off-season gubernatorial elections held in many states of Nigeria have been bloody and anything but credible, despite the armada of security personnel deployed to ensure violence-free exercise, even after the peace accord.

Whether in the days of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) or in the current All Progressives (APC) dispensation, the story has been the same.

In November 2019, The Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), one of the domestic observer groups that observed the Kogi State governorship election, had decried the spate of violence and ballot box snatching that took place across the state, despite the deployment of huge police personnel and assurances by the Nigeria Police.

Adele Jinaidu, a professor, and chairman of CDD Election Centre in Lokoja, had at that time said there was widespread violence, intimidation of voters, vote-buying, abductions, gunshots and massive rigging that may undermine integrity of the governorship election in Kogi State.

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In the same vein, Executive Director, Justice and Peace Development Initiative (JDPC), Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, Rev. Fr. Lawrence Emehel, who monitored the Kogi governorship election as a member of Nigeria Civil Society/ Situation Room, gave gory graphic details of the exercise, concluding that what took place did not qualify to be called an election.

It was observed that despite the presence of police personnel who were armed-to-the teeth in Kogi, many casualties were recorded, occasioned by the violent activities of political thugs, who used various lethal weapons to draw tears and blood from innocent citizens.

Nigerians have also noted that the interventions of the National Peace Committee seem not to be yielding the desired result.

Only recently, Kukah blamed political actors for electoral violence in the country. He urged them to play by the rules.

Although a peace accord has been signed, the INEC and other inter-agency committee members including the police, the Army, Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), among others must be seen to be doing their utmost best to ensure that the Osun election goes on smoothly.

Apart from ensuring that there will be no violence, the agencies must also ensure that all those intending to perpetrate fraud are frustrated on the Election Day.

There were manifest cases of open vote buying in the last Ekiti gubernatorial election.

Ene Obi, convener, Nigeria Civil Society/ Situation Room, said although the Ekiti State election was violence-free, it could not be said to be a credible exercise as a result of widespread open vote buying.

Obi, who also is the Country director, ActionAid Nigeria, suggested that security agencies monitoring election must be able to arrest those perpetrating such electoral heist and not just looking out for violence perpetrators.

Speaking on Channels Television morning programme- Sunrise Daily- Thursday, she said: “Vote buying was a huge issue in Ekiti and there were no sanctions. Police and other security agencies are looking away from that.”

She also noted that the non-use of cubicles in the Ekiti election made it possible for voters to show party agents their thumb-printed ballots and also enabled voters take snapshot of their ballots before dropping them inside the box as demanded by those who had promised them money.

The Civil society activist also deplored a situation where voters folded their thumb-printed ballot papers in such a way that showed which party they voted for.

Ene said such huge error must be corrected for the Osun election to be credible, adding that those were some of the things that security agents must check.

Also featuring on the same programme, Abdulganiy Raji, a professor and INEC’s resident electoral commissioner (REC), Osun State, said that the Commission was working with other stakeholders to ensure “free, fair, credible, inclusive and conclusive” election on Saturday.

A political commentator, who spoke to BusinessDay on condition of anonymity, said: “Our electoral process is faulty ab initio. A situation where politicians compromise the umpire, security agents and the electorate to get victory is a terrible process. Although no system is perfect, Nigeria’s I think should be among the worst. That is why we have a situation where the country instead of making progress; it is dying.

“At our level in politics, we still bombard states with policemen, officers of the Nigeria security and Civil Defence Corps, and many others, yet at the end of the day you will still hear about violence and all manner of electoral malfeasance being perpetrated under the watch of such security agents. It is a failed system. And the saddest thing of all is that there is no hope for improvement in the nearest future. How do you deploy over twenty, thirty thousand security personnel to a state for an election in a country with shortage of policemen? Apart from the fact that it has some negative psychological effect on the voters, it also creates security risk in places where the personnel were deployed from, particularly in a society of ours with serious security challenge.”

Tonnie Iredia, a professor and former director general of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), who spoke on the Channels Television Sunrise Daily programme Monday, said it was difficult to understand why the deployment of huge number of security personnel, yet there are still cases of snatching of ballot boxes.

He also said that the presence of massive security agents could discourage voters from coming out to exercise their franchise.

On the relevance of the National Peace Committee to the security of the elections in the country, some Nigerians believe the panel may have become anachronistic as there is nothing to show that politicians and their parties take the committee seriously beyond just taking part in the so-called peace accord.

Paschal Onyisi, a political analyst, told BusinessDay that the committee may have outlived its usefulness.

“Yes, General Abdulsalami Abubakar and Bishop Hassan Kukah may have meant well when they floated the NPC in 2015 following the fear that Nigeria was going to disintegrate or that war was by the corner. Well, they may have also achieved something that time, but I am not sure if the committee has achieved its objective in any other election since then. What I see now is a situation where all the parties and their candidates will file out to sign a peace accord and go back to foment trouble, because of their desperation to win by all means,” Onyisi said.

According to him, “You can determine the success or otherwise of the NPC intervention from the body language of the politicians. Bishop Kukah still mentioned that recently, that politicians are the major problem. Look at the attack the other day on the residence of Lasun Yusuf, Labour Party’s (LP) candidate for the election. Also, a mysterious fire reportedly gutted a section of Akin Ogunbiyi, Accord Party candidate’s house. The question is; where were the security operatives? Must their activity begin and end on Election Day, or one, two three days to election? Protection of lives and property of Nigerians must be every day concern of government. Those who sponsored the attack are they not aware of the peace accord?”

Gbenga Adedeji, a rights activist, advised Nigerians to look beyond the peace accord mantra, as according to him, what matters to politicians is electoral victory they pursue with every ounce of their strength.

“I think what seems to have happened over the years with the peace accord is that it has lost its essence or politicians have seen it to be so. In fact, some politicians now think that some of those behind it have overtly become partisan, so there is that trust deficit. That is why, though the politicians manage to participate in the signing activities, they do not abide by the letters of the agreement, which is unfortunate,” Adedeji said.

He added that the security agencies can be of immense help in making elections credible if they decide to do so, “but it depends on where their interest lies,” he said.

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