Role Of Security Agencies In Safeguarding Electoral Process

I like to begin my analysis or discussion of the topic “Safeguarding the electoral process: The role of security agencies” by examining the concept of electoral process and the concept of security agencies. In other words, what do we mean by electoral process? What do we mean by security agencies? Explanation of these two concepts and our agreed understanding of the same is sine qua non for a fitting x-ray of the topic in a manner that the ordinary citizen will benefit from our discussion. Indeed if we backtrack, it will be apposite to understand the concept of election from where the “electoral” in “Electoral Process” is derived.

An election is a formal decision-making process by which a population chooses an individual to hold public office. That is to say, it is the act or process of choosing someone for a public office by voting. Elections have been the usual mechanism by which modern representative democracy has operated since the 17th century.

However the very first election in Nigeria was held in September 1923. This was consequent upon the Clifford Constitution of the preceding year which provided among others for the election of few indigenes from Lagos and Calabar into the colonial legislative council known as the Nigerian Council. In fact this council became the first elected Legislature in Black Africa.

The franchise was limited to Males who were either British Nationals or Natives of the Protectorate of Nigeria, with a residency of at least 12 months prior to the election and an income of not less than £100. Several local, regional and national elections have been held in Nigeria since then, each with its peculiar procedural and security challenges that have in some cases shaken the emerging nation to its foundation.

We will continue to educate our children and youths on the evils of divisive politics. It is sad that the subject of history has been removed from our Junior and Senior Secondary School Curriculum and examinations. Our history is the chronological record of significant national or cultural or traditional events, often including explanations of their causes and after effects or results.

It is that branch of knowledge that records and explains past events in all facets of our development as a nation and in particular, our political development and the challenges and the efforts of the founding fathers and mothers who made great sacrifices to ensure that we remained together, lived together in peace, and pledged that though tribe and tongue and religion may differ, in brotherhood (and indeed sisterhood) we shall continue to stand. We need to reintroduce the teaching of history in our schools.

The history of the political struggles of our national heroes and the dream of our nationalists who made sacrifices to ensure that we have a country where each and every one of us will live a decent life and enjoy equal opportunities, rights and privileges. We learn from our history the dangers in political intolerance, hooliganism, political crisis and civil unrest.

We are a nation that has gone through all that. The history of the development of our electoral process and the general national political development clearly reveals that we wanted to be a democratic country where all citizens enjoy equal protection of the security agencies subject to our responsible behaviour and respect for law and order.

Electoral process

Electoral process can be described as the method by which a person is elected to Public office. It is in simpler terms the taking and counting of votes leading to the election of a person by an identifiable population for public office. In the wider sense, electoral process includes registration of voters, compilation of Voters Register, registration of political parties, campaigns, nomination of candidates for election, accreditation of voter, voting, counting of the ballot papers, and release of results.

The electoral process is an essential element of democratic change, consolidation and stability: but in the early stages of transition in particular, it can have flashpoints with the potential to encourage the re-emergence of conflict, and if badly designed, can entrench forces that do not promote democratisation.

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If poorly managed or policed, security will be undermined and it can lead to chaos, instability and bloodshed. A flawed electoral process is inimical to democratic positive change. It is critical therefore to say that managers of the election process never lose sight of the inextricable links, potentially both positive and negative, between electoral processes and the wider process of  democratic change.

Security agency

A security agency is a governmental organisation which conducts intelligence activities for the internal security of a nation. Security agencies in Nigeria include Nigeria Police Force (NPF) which was formed in 1930, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and the Department of State Security (DSS).

Security agencies are the domestic cousins of foreign intelligence agencies, and typically conduct counterintelligence to thwart other countries’ foreign intelligence efforts. For example, the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) of Nigeria is responsible for foreign intelligence and counter intelligence.

Its primary duty is to procure timely intelligence from the external domain to enhance government foreign policy formulation and action, effective governance and national development. The NIA was established by the National Security Agency Act 1986 which dissolved the National Security Organization (NSO) and restructured Nigeria’s security services into three separate entities under the Office of the Coordinator of National Security or the National Security Adviser at the present time. These are:

  • State Security Services (SSS) – now Department of State Security (DSS) – Responsible for domestic intelligence • National Intelligence Agency (NIA) – Responsible for foreign intelligence and counterintelligence operations • Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) – Responsible for military intelligence.

Security agencies normally have “security”, “intelligence” or “service” in their names. Private organizations that provide services similar to a security agency might be called a “security company” or “security service” or “security services provider.”

In Nigeria, those terms are often used for organizations that have nothing to do with intelligence gathering. These private organizations are not Security Agencies and they fall outside the boundaries of our discussion since they do not normally play any security or intelligence gathering role in the electoral process.

Security agencies and the electoral process

All the local security agencies – NPF, DSS and NSCDC have critical roles to play in every stage of the electoral process in Nigeria – especially at this time when the nation is confronting the menace of terrorist insurgency, organised crimes, political and sometimes ethnic intolerance, rascality and lawlessness of the political class.

The NIA also has a role to play in the election process especially in the area of foreign intelligence and counterintelligence with an eye on Nigeria’s neighbours, our boarders and foreign terrorist organizations that may threaten our democratic process or want to assist local terrorist groups or insurgents in undermining the democratic process and national security. All offices of the election management body in all parts of the country need security protection round the clock before, during and after election.

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Other stages of the electoral process where the role of the security agencies ought to be very visible and tagged extremely important are during electioneering campaigns, political party congresses to elect candidates, distribution of election materials, during accreditation of voters, during the actual voting, collation of results, announcement of results, and soon after announcement of results.

In other words, the security agencies are to provide cover for electoral officials, election observers and also ensure a safe and secure environment for the process from voting to collation and announcement of results. They have a duty and responsibility to ensure that electoral integrity is not compromised.

They must ensure maintenance of an atmosphere free of fear, intimidation or manipulation on election days. However, the security agents posted to polling stations must be conscious of the fact that the Presiding Officer of the station is the Chief Security Officer at the polling station, All security agents deployed to the polling unit are expected to be answerable to him or her and may only arrest persons engaged, or suspected to be engaged in electoral offences, or violating the electoral laws at the poling unit on the instruction of the Presiding Officer.

Security strategy

Working in collaboration with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) the security agencies, should have Election Security Strategy that cover all phases of the electoral process and aimed at protecting electoral integrity. These phases are:

  1. Pre-election Phase
  2. Election Day Phase
  3. Announcement of Results Phase
  4. Post-Election Phase The effectiveness of the security strategy will be enhanced by good coordination between INEC as the election management body and the security agencies. A coordination mechanism will have to be established to smooth the progress and sustenance of effective information sharing and decision making at the national, and all other levels of all the agencies.

In addition to this, the NPF should develop an Election-Time Community Policing Strategy that clearly sets out guidelines that will enhance effective policing at the local government and rural community levels and also reinforces the code of conduct for police officers in their handling of issues resulting from intra or inter party conflicts, with a clear demarcation or distinction of such conflicts from electoral offences.

Neutrality of security agents

To effectively safeguard the electoral process, each and every security agent must remain absolutely neutral and professional in dealing with all parties. There should be zero tolerance for disrespect of the law and the disregard of the constitutional and civil rights of the citizens, voters and contestants alike.

The security agencies or their agents must not be seen to be propagating or espousing the interest or agenda of any politician or political party. Furthermore, use of excessive force or violence under any guise whatsoever by security agents should not be tolerated.

The misbehaviour of a single security agent is capable of compromising the electoral process and creating an atmosphere of insecurity. Conclusion and recommendations To safeguard the electoral process and electoral integrity, the security agencies must be properly coordinated and they must be guided by a robust security strategy that is structured towards ensuring the guarantee of

  1. Neutrality of all the agencies and their personnel,
  2. Security of INEC staff and facilities,
  3. Security of candidates,
  4. Security of voters,
  5. Security of observers,
  6. Security of electoral materials, and
  7. Security of polling.